Pearling industry concerned about seismic exploration
The pearling industry wants new measures to protect wild pearl oysters from the effects of oil and gas exploration in the coastal waters of Western Australia’s far north.
The Pearl Producers Association is concerned about the impact of seismic exploration near the Eighty Mile Beach Marine Reserve in the Kimberley.
The area is the only place left in the world where the highly revered Pinctada Maxima pearl oyster is still harvested by drift diving.
PPA executive officer Aaron Irving said the survival of the wild pearl stocks was critical to the ongoing viability of the pearling industry.
“While we know a lot about oysters at Eighty Mile Beach, what we don’t know is the effect of seismic exposure on pearls down the track,” he said.
“Also we have to consider the purpose of seismic exposure. What if the exploration proves successful and drilling commences or pipeline is laid?
“The PPA just wants to ensure the long-term survival of a low environmental impact and iconic Australia industry.”
Seismic exploration involves analysing soundwaves from seismic sources – often air guns – to map potential oil and gas reserves.
The activity has become more common near Eighty Mile Beach of late, triggering the PPA’s call for protection.
Mr Irving said the PPA wants the marine reserve to be extended slightly and its multi-use status changed to a special purpose zone – pearling.
He said the PPA was working with the oil and gas industry to undertake research on the effect of seismic activity on pearl oysters.
But the engagement so far had failed to recognise the “significance and the enormity of the potential problem”, Mr Irving said.
“The pearling industry could be potentially at a point of no return,” he said.
“Our proposal to provide a modest extension around the most important area of the pearl oyster bed that’s currently unprotected and also designate the area as a special pearling zone…is just about precaution.
“And it’s about providing for the future of an iconic Australian industry.”
Retiring Federal Member for Perth Alannah MacTiernan has joined the PPA’s push for protection of wild pearl oysters off the Kimberley coast.
Ms MacTiernan said she became aware of the issue while serving as deputy chairwoman of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia inquiring into the potential for the north’s aquaculture industry.
She said she had written to Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler seeking support for the PPA’s call.
“I am advised that several fields in Commonwealth waters adjacent to pearl fishing grounds in the Kimberley region have become highly prospective, triggering a number of service providers pressing to undertake seismic surveys in the area,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“The coast off Broome has the only significant wild stock pearl oyster fishery in the world and these fishing grounds are of strategic importance to the premium attached to Australian pearls.”
The ABC has contacted Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt for comment.