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Ocean Monarch Oil Rig, Threat to Marine Environment

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Tags: Marine Environment, Ralphs Bay, Derwent River

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.