HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.34 pm]: I have risen a few times to talk about the issue of the proposed Ocean Reef development and the concerns I and a number of Greens who live in the area have to ensure that it meets the highest possible standards of environmentally sensitive design. I remind members that we are talking about sacrificing considerable amounts of our natural heritage in order to build this project. We are specifically talking about land and sea areas that have previously been recognised as vitally important Bush Forever sites and parts of a class A marine reserve. Tonight, I want to bring members’ attention to a further concern that has been raised with me directly by the abalone fishing industry; that is, what will happen to the abalone on the reef immediately to the north of the proposed marina? The last few years have seen some major changes to abalone distribution. The warm water event of 2010–11 saw water temperatures near the coast rise to three degrees, and sometimes up to five degrees, above average. This resulted in massive fish kills and major impacts to seagrass meadows in Shark Bay, and the loss of 99.9 per cent of abalone around Kalbarri, which was previously one of the best sites for commercial abalone fishing. The abalone in Perth were stunned and did not grow that year, and the abalone north of Perth were killed off in massive numbers. Roe’s abalone were the dominant biomass on rocky west coast shores, but two years later the Department of Fisheries found that there had been no recovery of the abalone and that the gaps left by the abalone have not been taken over by another species. Attempts have been made to reseed five sites with abalone, but the abalone fishers and the department have both told me that no natural recovery has been seen outside these areas—none. The northern range of Roe’s abalone used to be all the way up to Shark Bay and now abalone fishing is not permitted north of Moore River. Regarding climate change, we know that the heatwave that disturbed the west coast marine environment that year was associated with an extreme La Niña event, but modelling of El Niño and La Niña under climate change suggests that we are going to see extreme La Niña events much more frequently, which is going to raise the risk of similar mass kills in the future.
Beyond the impacts of what we know are record-setting climate change events on abalone, there are concerns about the impacts of the proposed marina on abalone. The current, which is close in to Perth’s shore, flows north, and any impacts of the marina will be seen north of it. There are 3.5 kilometres of reef with abalone just to the north of the proposed site, and that is 40 per cent of abalone stocks in the Perth metropolitan area. I have just finished describing how most of the abalone to the north of Perth, where they used to be the dominant biomass, were wiped out in the heat event. Past builds in the Perth metro area have seen localised collapses of abalone stock, and these collapses have been substantially larger than expected. For example, when I met with the professional fishers, they told me that the existing Ocean Reef marina was expected to impact abalone stocks up to 200 metres north of the marina, but instead we have seen the abalone completely disappear from 300 metres of reef and take another 200 metres to recover. The construction of the Mindarie Marina was anticipated to affect about 200 metres of reef, but instead the abalone have been wiped out for commercial fishing from the whole 1.2 kilometres of that reef, although recreational fishers have been able to find some. The construction of Two Rocks Marina shortly after saw the reef 600 metres to the north lose all its abalone. That was when no impacts were anticipated. We do not know why the abalone die. Consistently, far more abalone have died than expected, and the populations do not seem to recover. We do not know whether those deaths have been caused by the builds or something that has happened at the same time as the builds. However, the estimated impact on abalone to the north of the proposed Ocean Reef marina considers only the same factors that the previous models considered. It is very hard to trust a model that consistently underestimates the size of the impact.
I have asked questions of the Minister for Fisheries about abalone research and he was kind enough to offer and provide a briefing for me and my office. Unfortunately, that briefing clarified that we do not have sufficient existing research to explain what has happened in the past and why the devastation has been so large. Apparently, the reef will be monitored closely during the build, but I remain concerned, as do the abalone fishermen, that we will simply be watching a lot of abalone die unnecessarily.
The reef to the north of the proposed Ocean Reef marina is a hugely important piece of the metropolitan abalone fishery. Both commercial and recreational fishers rely upon it heavily. Our roe abalone population has already taken some pretty heavy hits over the past few years. I am concerned that without the appropriate research and data, we do not know what will happen if and when the marina build goes ahead.