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Adjournment - Ocean Monarch Oil Rig, Threat to Marine Environment

27 November 2018
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I rise tonight to speak about a 
matter of concern in relation to Diamond Offshore's Ocean Monarch oil rig 
that has been drilling for gas in Bass Strait and is now anchored in the 
Derwent River near the entrance to Ralphs Bay. Ralphs Bay is the only 
known spotted hand fish habitat in Tasmania. It is a very sensitive area, 
very shallow and very precious.

Previously this oil rig had been moored in Fremantle. Those waters are 
occupied by the invasive Didemnum perlucidum, otherwise known as the white 
colonial sea squirt. As its name indicates the sea squirt colonises 
pervasively and smothers ecosystems. It is known to reproduce very 
rapidly on bare metal, such as you would find on oil rigs. The Western 
Australian Department of Fisheries notes that the white colonial sea 
squirt is widely established in many ports, marinas and other locations in 
Western Australia and mentions its establishment serves as a cautionary 
tale of what can happen if a pest is not detected or recognised or 
attempts not made to eradicate it at an early stage.

The department highlights the importance of prevention and early detection, 
which increases the opportunity of it not becoming established in the 
first place. It provides advice on good vessel management to prevent the 
spread of marine pests requires, and says to check pests on vessels before 
travelling. The white sea squirt, which has colonised other places around 
the planet, has had a terrible impact on local marine systems. It 
overgrows sponges, corals, biozones, hydroids and molluscs. It has been 
found in some areas, such as southern Brazil, to overgrow mussels and is 
potentially damaging to the bivalve industry. In Western Australia it is 
overgrowing blades of the sea grass in the Swan River estuary and 
decreasing the plant's rate of growth and photosynthesis. It has 
decreased habitat for native species.

This species is a curse, it is a potentially invasive species. We need to 
do everything in Tasmania to keep it out. I wrote on the 23 November, on 
behalf of the Greens and people who have contacted my office, to the EPA 
Director about our concerns. He has confirmed in writing that no visual 
inspection has been done on the oil rig to test for the existence of the 
white sea squirt. That oil rig has come from Western Australia. First of 
all, it originated in Singapore. Some cleaning was done in Singapore. 
That was done in April last year. After that it travelled to Western 
Australia and it inhabited the waters which we know are plentiful, 
unfortunately, for the white sea squirt. Following that, it went to the 
Bass Strait and it has now come to Tasmania into our Derwent River. 
However, there has been no inspection of that oil rig since it has been in 
Australian waters. The last inspection took place in Singapore.

The response of the EPA was to issue an environmental protection notice. 
That has been provided to the company, Ocean Monarch, an American company. 
They are required, prior to anchorage, to develop an environmental 
management plan to submit to the Director's approval and it includes 
schedule 2, 2.9 - 

Identification of any marine pest that may be brought into the area where 
the rig will be anchored.

And 2.10 - 
Measures will be implemented to prevent any marine pest being brought into 
the area where the rig will be anchored and released from the rig into the 
environment.

I note that the environmental management plan has yet to be released. It 
is still sitting with the EPA. My question to the minister is: can the 
minister confirm that a visual inspection was done for this highly 
invasive white sea squirt before the oil rig anchored in the Derwent River?

Ms Archer - Did he answer that question?

Dr WOODRUFF - No, he did not answer that question. He has answered it by 
issuing a management plan but the management plan details have not been 
released. We do not know, importantly, whether any visual inspection has 
to be done of the oil rig and whether it will be done by the company or 
whether it will be done by an independent body. 

We have is an oil rig which has been anchored for some time in waters 
known to have the white sea squirt inhabiting them. It has now come to 
Tasmania without any visual inspection in between. It is sitting in the 
Derwent River. It represents a potentially significant threat to our 
native species. We need to have some immediate response from the minister 
to indicate that the visual inspection for that sea squirt was undertaken 
before it put anchor into the Derwent River.