Oil leases a threat to fishery ecosystem

offshoreoilrigThe issuing of oil drilling licences off the coast of South Australia poses a serious potential threat to the ecosystem that underpins the nation’s most valuable fishing industry, a Flinders University oceanographer has said.

Associate Professor Kaempf said that the seasonal upwelling of nutrient-enriched water across the continental shelf break near Kangaroo Island is the principle agent that fuels high abundances of phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, including the pilchards which attract juvenile Southern Bluefin Tuna to the region.

The haunting images of the massively destructive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have an immediate relevance, he said.

“Apart from potential overfishing of juvenile tuna, future oil disasters pose the biggest threat to the unique ecological environment produced by upwelling in the region. Even a small oil spill could cause damage in the Great Australian Bight similar to that caused by the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico,” Associate Professor Kaempf said.

Associate Professor Kaempf recently completed a study that revealed a chain of processes that begins with localised upwelling in submarine canyons cutting through the shelf break south of Kangaroo Island.

The upwelling produces nutrient-rich water, which collects southwest of Kangaroo Island in a subsurface pool approximately 100 kilometres square, and equivalent in volume to 40 million Olympic swimming pools. In summer, the pool moves further onshore into the surface ocean layers off the southern tip of Eyre Peninsula where the nutrients and light catalyse high levels of primary production, the trigger of a highly productive marine food chain.

“The canyon upwelling is unique because of its depth – it is one of the deepest in the world, guaranteeing particularly high nutrient fluxes,” Associate Professor Kaempf said.

Some of the new drill leases approved by the Federal Government are, ironically, in the same area flagged by Environment Minister Peter Garrett for potential marine sanctuaries.

Associate Professor Kaempf said industrial exploitation and marine pollution of any kind must be limited to zero in the area.

“Environmentally and economically, we cannot risk this resource: without the nutrient enriched water, the eastern Great Australian Bight would be a marine desert,” he said.

The study’s findings will soon be published in the prestigious Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans.

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College of Science and Engineering International News Research

0 thoughts on “Oil leases a threat to fishery ecosystem

  1. Great work Prof! It is our duty as students to fight the government’s haphazard and greedy approach to oil exploration in our backyard! Do your bit and voice your opinion in any way possible!

  2. Are Governments and Oil companies completely insane? When will enough be enough? Why are we searching for further oil reserves when we should be weaning ourselves of the stuff anyway? I’m at a complete loss to understand how anyone can justify the granting of leases for exploration in the face of the most catastrophic oil well disaster in history? Smart ape? I think not.

  3. In addition the flow on from any destruction or radical change to an environment can also be devastating.

    more work to find other sustainable energy sources is needed rather than the polluting aspects of oil exploration.

  4. I was under the impression that tapping leaking oil reserves at sea could help the environment by stopping the oil from seeping into the environment uncontrollably (well, until a feared oil spill occurs), so could it be a mixed bag?

    Regardless though, it’s sad we still rely on oil. It’d be better to see more sustainable and safer approaches to human energy consumption be pushed towards, like solar and fusion nuclear power.

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