NCWQ Environment Report: July 2021

NCWQ Environment Report July 2021

NCWQ July Environment Report By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser. Researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) have shown that without major disturbances from cyclones, coral bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, coral reefs can recover as measured by hard coral cover.  But that the composition of coral species can change.  However, if the frequency and severity of disturbances increases, as expected from climate change, recovery could be more difficult.

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NCWQ Environment Report: May 2021

NCWQ Environment Report, May 2021

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser. This report focusses on water quality in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). As noted in the Position Statement by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA),  pollutants in land-based run-off are a major threat to water quality of the GBR and particularly inshore marine ecosystems and consequently to the long-term health and resilience of the GBR.  

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NCWQ Environment Report: February 2021

Environment Report Feb 2021

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Renewable technology has advanced, helped by the support and funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). Security and reliability of supply has led to an interest in systems off the main electricity grids and in batteries. In this report, Wave, Hydrogen, Bioenergy and Waste Energy, and Hybrid systems are investigated as have Lithium-ion and Vanadium batteries. Although not renewable, Small (Nuclear) Modular Reactors (SMR) are also considered as a major push for renewables is reduction of emissions. The safe disposal or recycling of end-of-life products such as solar panels and wind turbine blades is discussed.

Australia is fortunate to be well supplied with many of the natural resources and essential minerals needed in the above systems. Which system is best suited depends on the situation. Australia can make a significant contribution to development and manufacture of renewables.  However, further work is needed on how components at the end of their life will be recycled or otherwise deposed of in an environmentally safe manner.

Current situation with Australia’s electricity supply:  When the cost of electricity rose by 35 % in real terms between 2007-8 and 2017-18, distributed energy resources (DER) such as rooftop solar boomed. Electricity demand peaks started to change and electricity was no longer a one-way flow. The increasing affordability and penetration of smart appliances, batteries, smart meters and other digital technologies changed consumer expectations.

The Energy Security Board (ESB) has published the 4th annual check-up on the Health of the National Electricity Market (NEM) which covers Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, as recommended by the Finkel Review. The assessment found that improvement had been made in generation capacity (reliability), emission reduction, competition and network investment. But system stability (security) and investor confidence remained critical.  The ESB expressed concern about security constraints in some parts of the NEM and the increasing pressure on distribution networks from growing rooftop solar penetration. In the next three months, the ESB will focus on the following areas:

  • Resource adequacy through the transition to lower emissions and new generation technologies.
  • Essential system services and scheduling and ahead mechanisms –to keep the lights on as change happens.
  • Demand side participation – unlocking opportunities for energy consumers to make the consumption choices that suit them best – such as investing in their own locally based generation
  • Access and transmission – providing networks to meet future needs including connection of renewables, at the lowest possible cost.

Detailed designs for each of the reforms will be developed for further consultation in March, before final recommendations are made to energy ministers in mid 2021.

The ESB has also  published a consultation paper on Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) setting  out options for how REZs could be implemented in the near term, addressing the questions of how to establish and maintain a REZ,  and seeking  input from stakeholders. Longer term options for transmission access and congestion management will be further considered

Renewable energy contributed 24 % to Australia’s total electricity generation in 2019.

Wind                            8.5%,
Hydro                          6.2%,
Small-scale solar         5.3%,
Large-scale solar         2.2%,
Bioenergy                   1.4%,
Medium-scale solar    0.4%

Clean Energy Council. Clean Energy Australia Report 2020

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates that NEM will need than 26 gigawatts (GW) of new variable renewables in the system as 63 per cent of coal-fired generation is set to retire by 2040. DERs, like rooftop PV, are expected to at least double by 2040. Likewise in Western Australia, rooftop PV is expected to double by 2030 from today’s installed capacity.

As more solar, wind and battery-stored energy, and less coal and gas are generated, emissions across the NEM, at present approximately 25 % lower than in 2005,  are expected to be 40-60% lower by  2030 and 70-95%   by 2042.

Wave Energy is about to be harnessed and fed into  the King Island’s fully-functional renewable energy microgrid which currently combines wind, solar and bio-diesel generation technology with battery storage. King Island is situated in the path of massive swells propelled by westerly ‘Roaring Forties’ winds blowing uninterrupted across the Indian and Southern Oceans. Melbourne based company, Wave Swell Energy, has designed and constructed the 200 KW Uniwave device to be partially submerged in shallow waters off King Island’s coast.  Wave Swell Energy CEO, Dr Tom Denniss explains the Uniwave 200 will use “oscillating water column” technology to push air into a chamber fitted with an electricity-generating turbine, functioning like an artificial blowhole, using changes in air pressure to spin the turbine as waves force their way through an opening on one side of the device. Having no moving parts in or below the water line, ensures ease of access, minimises the cost of operation and maintenance, and precludes any detrimental effects on marine life. ;;

Wave Energy
©CSIRO, Stewart Wilde

CSIRO research has shown wave energy could contribute up to 11% of Australia’s energy (enough to power a city the size of Melbourne) by 2050, making it a strong contender in Australia’s renewable energy mix. Strong Southern Ocean winds generate consistently large waves which travel northwards to Australia’s southern coastline, providing ideal conditions for wave energy production.

Wind/Solar Hybrid systems: Other off the grid sites have followed King Island’s lead and installed hybrid control systems, along with enabling technology to better manage the variable renewable generation and reduce diesel fuel consumption .e.g.

  • On Rottnest Island, the hybrid control system coordinates the generation (wind, solar and low load diesel) with enabling technologies, including a dynamic resistor and demand management of the desalination plant. The resistor solved the problem of fast fluctuations in power created by wind turbines. By integrating renewable resources with the island’s desalination plant and water storage facilities, when there is surplus renewable energy it is used to create clean drinking water.
  • Completed in 2020, the Agnew Hybrid Renewable Microgrid (Australia’s largest hybrid renewable energy microgrid) is comprised of four key components managed by an advanced control system:  five 110m wind turbines, each with a rotor diameter of 140m, delivering 18MW, a 10,710-panel solar farm generating 4MW, a 13MW/4MWh battery system and an off-grid 21MW gas/diesel engine power plant. In favourable weather conditions, the power station has delivered up to 85% of the mine’s power requirements with renewable energy.

Hydrogen: Western Australian gas distributor ATCO has built a Clean Energy Innovation Hub at its headquarters in Perth producing hydrogen from solar panels on site to blend with natural gas and test in domestic appliances. Existing home appliances can handle around 13% of hydrogen so it is expected the existing gas grid could be safely converted to handle 10% hydrogen using current technology.

Hydrogen hybrid power station system: Horizon Power is planning to build Australia’s first remote microgrid using renewable hydrogen generation in Denham, Western Australia. 704 kW of solar will power an electrolyser to produce hydrogen for storage which can later be used in the fuel cell to deliver electricity when it is needed.

Bioenergy and Energy from Waste: With the Logan City Biosolids Gasification Project: Biosolids (treated and partially dewatered sewage sludge) from Loganholme Wastewater Treatment are dewatered in a centrifuge, dried in a paddle dryer, and treated at high temperatures before being processed by a gasifier to produce a biochar containing carbon, phosphorus and potassium that could be used as an environmentally friendly soil conditioner.  Gas produced during the process is to be utilised within the system as part of the biosolid drying process. An onsite solar power system will also help to support the facility to be almost entirely renewable and energy neutral.   The facility is expected to be fully operational by July 2021.

Batteries: One of the biggest criticisms of renewable energy has been that the output of wind and solar farms can vary with the weather and time of day. Battery storage is increasingly being  used in microgrids and the national electricity grid (at both the transmission and distribution levels) as it can respond faster than other energy storage or generation technologies, and help maintain grid stability by turning on and off in fractions of a second.

Lithium-ion is the most common battery chemistry used to store electricity.

The world lithium resources in 2017 are estimated to be 15 700 kt:-

Chile                7500 kt, (48% of world resources)
China                3200 kt (20%)
Australia          2803 kt (18%)
Argentina         2000 kt (13%)
Other countries (Portugal, Brazil, USA, Zimbabwe)  each   < 1%.

The resource data do not, however, include Canada.   Australia was the world’s largest producer, 21.3 kt for 47% of world production. Champion, D., 2019. Australian Resource Reviews: Lithium 2018. Geoscience Australia, Canberra.

Lithium-ion battery manufacturers are primarily based in Japan and China.

However, Energy Renaissance, Australia’s first lithium-ion battery manufacturer, is building Renaissance One, a new A$28 million battery manufacturing facility in Tomago. When operating at capacity, it is expected to be able to provide enough batteries to power every public school, hospital, fire station, SES unit and new home built in Australia. More than half of the batteries produced are expected to be exported through the Port of Newcastle. Oct 13, 2020

Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia has recently been expanded to 150 MW and 193.5 MWh of capacity and is now the world’s largest lithium-ion battery.   Research by engineering consultants Aurecon showed the battery had already delivered $150 million in savings for South Australian energy consumers, as well as creating 158 jobs and more than $300 million in economic benefits for the state.

Edify Energy have installed at grid scale 25 MW / 50 MWh lithium-ion battery alongside their solar farm at Gannawarra in northern Victoria. It will power 16,000 homes for two hours in the event of a major outage and provide services to help to maintain a stable network frequency, which in turn boosts the system strength of the local grid.

It is important to be vigilant in ensuring the environment is safeguarded. Serious environmental issues with lithium mines polluting rivers and killing fish and other livestock have been reported e.g. Ganzizhou Rongda lithium mine in Tibet. In Chile, a mayor issue is the water consumption associated with lithium mining. For every tonne of lithium produced, 500,000 gallons of water is used.  In Salar de Atacama, mining activities consumed up to 65% of the region’s water, causing havoc for local farmers.

Recycling the waste is also a problem. Fluids from the batteries could leak into landfills and be released into the environment.  Research in Australia found that just 2% of the country’s 3,300 tonnes of lithium-ion waste is recycled.

Cobalt is an essential mineral for the lithium-ion batteries. It offers the highest energy density and is key for boosting battery life.


Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest supplier of cobalt producing  around 70% of the world’s cobalt.  Roughly 20% of Congolese cobalt comes from artisanal mining which is often carried out by hand, using basic equipment in dangerous working conditions. Frequent fatal accidents in unsafe tunnels and prevalent child labour have been reported.

To combat violation of  environmental and human rights standards, several companies within the industry are supporting cobalt blockchain technologies, which use a method of chemical “fingerprinting” to track down where cobalt has come from. However, while end user companies such as electric vehicle, smartphones and laptop manufacturers wish to use cobalt produced ethically, there’s only a limited number of battery factories in the world that can produce products in certain ways and cobalt from all over the world tends to be batched together making it to be difficult to apply tracing right down the supply chain. The Congolese government is endeavouring to develop artisanal mining standards, identifying parameters and means of evaluation to ensure the consistent enforcement of these standards.

China’s refineries, fed in large part by feedstuff from Chinese owned mines, supply 80% of the world’s battery-ready high-grade cobalt.

Australia produces roughly 4000 tonnes of cobalt per annum – around 3% of global production – despite possessing over 16% of the world’s cobalt resource.

Cobalt Blue’s Broken Hill cobalt project in New South Wales, designed to operate as both a cobalt mine and a refinery that produces battery-ready cobalt sulphate is a collaborative 3 year partnership with the Australian Government’s Future Battery Industries Project and major domestic lithium, nickel and manganese producers to assess whether Broken Hill cobalt can supply a future Australian battery industry.;   AUSTRALIANMINING 44 JUNE 2020;;

Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries(VRB):  Energy is stored in an electrolyte solution containing the element vanadium, which commonly exists as ions with different charges and does not lose efficiency over time. This allows the flow battery to reliably charge and discharge indefinitely in contrast to a lithium-ion battery, which relies on repeated chemical reactions that cause degradation over time and eventually lead to performance losses.

BatteriesThe main advantages of VRBs are that they offer almost unlimited capacity simply by using sequentially larger storage tanks, can be left completely discharged for long periods of time with no ill effects, can be recharged by replacing the electrolyte if no power source is available to charge it, and suffer no permanent damage if the electrolytes are accidentally mixed. The electrochemistry of the transition element Vanadium and the evolving design of VRBs offers a path to large scale energy storage units.

The first major (800MWh) VRB storage plant is under construction in Dalian, China.;’s%20EDR%20of%20vanadium%20increased,in%202016%20(Table%202).

At a site near Neuroodla,  approximately 430km north of Adelaide, a project led by Yadlamalka Energy with hardware from flow battery specialists, Invinity Energy System, is building a system with  a battery (2 MW / 8 MWh of capacity) charged by a 6 MW solar array. It will be connected to the NEM, providing energy to the wholesale market and frequency control ancillary services.  The project will have the ability to provide vital support for the electricity grid in South Australia, which relies heavily on intermittent renewable energy sources, and also shift renewable energy generation into more valuable evening peak pricing periods, improving competitiveness in the market.

The liquid vanadium solution is estimated to last the 25 year life of the battery and can then be reused in other energy storage or metallurgical applications. The remainder of the battery made from common materials like steel, polyethylene and rubber can be disposed of through common municipal recycling at the end of the battery’s life.

Nearly all of the world’s vanadium is derived from mineral concentrates (typically vanadium-rich and titanium-rich magnetite) separated from mined ore, or as a by-product of steel-making slags.

China dominates world vanadium resources with 42%, followed by Russia at 23%, and Australia at 18%. However, because vanadium can be recovered as a by-product or a co-product of steel slags, the estimated world resources are not fully indicative of available supply.

Bibliographical reference: Summerfield, D., 2019. Australian Resource Reviews: Vanadium 2018. Geoscience Australia, Canberra.  Should VRBs be a contender in Australia’s renewable energy mix?

Solar:  Australia has more than 2.3 million rooftop solar power systems installed across the country with panels which have a life of 15 to 25 years. A typical crystalline silicon PV module contains glass, polymer, aluminium, silicon, copper and small amounts of silver, tin, lead, and other metals and components.  Australia does not regulate recycling of end-of-life PV modules unlike the EU which mandates European countries to adopt PV waste management programs. Producers there are responsible for the take-back and recycling of the panels they sell.

While the cost of recycling is higher than landfill, and the value of recovered materials is smaller than the original, most PV waste will end up in landfill. If lead and tin is leached into soil and groundwater, there could be health and environmental problems. Currently the aluminium frames and the terminal boxes (20% of panel weight) are recycled.

However there are other possibilities:-

  • solar-grade silicon from PV waste could be recovered for second-use applications in solar panels or repurposed for value-added application in the anode of the 3b generation of Lithium-ion batteries. for electric car batteries,
  • copper and silver could be recovered.

Two Australian facilities offering PV recycling, Reclaim PV and Ecoactiv offer pickup services in most areas of Australia, and are continuing to expand their collection abilities, and increase their recycling capabilities. August 31, 2020


The Australian continent has the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent and consequently some of the best solar energy resource in the world. The regions with the highest solar radiation are the desert regions in the northwest and centre of the continent. With appropriate legislation and further research and development, could Australia have a thriving PV manufacture and recycling industry?

Wind Farms
Wind farms overlooking  the landfill. Photographer: Benjamin Rasmussen for Bloomberg Green

Wind: On average, wind turbines last about 25 years. Wind power is carbon-free and about 85% of turbine components, including steel, copper wire, electronics and gearing can be recycled or reused. But the fiberglass blades built to withstand hurricane-force winds, can’t easily be crushed, recycled or repurposed. American Wind Energy Association in Washington claims landfill is safest and cheapest.;

However, a consortium of French research institutions, wind turbine designers and manufacturers and utilities giants Engie and Suez, ZEBRA (Zero wastE Blade ReseArch) aims to develop  and manufacture the first 100% recyclable thermoplastic wind turbine blades. This includes developing new resins and composite materials that reduce the amount of resources required in the production of blades, while also allowing the materials to be recycled when wind turbines are decommissioned. Australia has some of the best wind resources in the world. These are located mainly in the southern parts of the continent (which lie in the path of the westerly wind flow known as the ‘roaring 40s’) and reach a maximum around Bass Strait.

Small modular nuclear reactors: While not renewable, these units (SMRs) address a major reason behind renewables – cutting carbon emissions. A desire to reduce the impact of capital costs and to provide power away from large grid systems has driven interest in SMRs. There are a number of advantages:

  1. modular allowing SMR to be used as a single unit or in combination with other units which can be brought online incrementally for greater power output. Designed to “plug in” to existing power networks, so they can essentially replace an aging power.
  2. a high level of passive or inherent safety features to cater for any malfunction and which may provide more protection from natural (g.seismic or tsunami according to the location) or man-made (e.g. aircraft impact) hazards. Also the emergency planning zone required is designed to be no more than about 300 m radius.
  3. produced largely in factories providing short construction times and reduced siting costs.
  4. use only a small amount of fuel and refuel approximately every two years.
  5. compatible with the existing electricity grid so their operation would be expected to enhance reliability of the grid and secure supply, especially when renewables are part of the energy mix.
  6. easier to cool during operation and after shutdown.
  7. zero-emissions. Published on the 17th July 2020 by ANSTO Staff (Updated December 2020)

Australia accounted for 12 per cent of world uranium production in 2018–19  (7,618 tonnes), and is the world’s third largest producer.

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (2020), Australian Energy Update 2020, Australian Energy Statistics, September, Canberra. Could SMRs be a contender in Australia’s energy mix?

NCWQ Environment Report: November 2020

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

This report covers recommendations from the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements which aimed at increasing national co-ordination to prepare better for natural disasters, responding more rapidly, and ensuring the recovery endeavours make communities more resilient.  The status of the flora and fauna and their habitat in the aftermath of the fires is also considered

Follow up on 2019-2020 Black Summer Bushfires:

Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements:  The devastating effect of the 2019-2020 bushfires with the possible causes and potential remedies were reported in my NCWQ Environment Report April 2020. While the catalyst for the Commission was the 2019-2020 Black Summer fires, the inquiry investigated Australia’s readiness for and response to all natural disasters. Recommendations include

  1. New federal powers to enact a national state of emergency to allow the Federal Government to deploy troops and its full resources in exceptional circumstances without a request from the States or Territories. State and Territory Governments would continue to be responsible for disaster management with the creation of a new authoritative disaster advisory body to improve the co-ordination between governments.
  2. A ­nationally consistent guide on air quality to monitor smoke pollution and be updated in real-time since more than 450 people have died as a result of the toxic smoke during the Black Summer fires.
  3. A national data system where information, analysis and knowledge on climate change can be shared easily.
  4. Downscaled climate projections (i.e. projections on very coarse resolution made locally relevant down to a local scale by adding resolutions spatially and temporally) be produced by the Australian, State and Territory Governments to help  assess future natural disaster risk and plan responses. These projections to be underpinned by an agreed common core set of climate trajectories and timelines, and subject to regular review.
  5. A new national fire danger rating system and once released, a ­nationwide education program to improve fire warning literacy.
  6. Review of vegetation management and of the assessment and approval processes for hazard reductions, whether prescribed burns, or mechanical slashing to clear land, by all levels of government. Fuel load management strategies to be more transparent.
  7. Development of a national aerial fire fighting capability which includes a very large or large air tanker, helicopter capability, and extra pilots and support staff.
  8. A national app for all natural disasters so information on the warning system could be readily available. Inconsistencies and ­differences between state and ­territory apps caused ­issues for border communities and tourists.
  9. Update of the current strategies of states and territories or development of a new strategy with technology that allows communication across jurisdictions. And a national register showing the number of emergency services personnel, equipment and aerial assets that can be drawn on or moved around if needed.
  10. A single national scheme for the regulation of charitable fundraising
  11. Development of a national mechanism to communicate risk of hazard prone areas to households and prospective buyers and clear guidance on the risk mitigation  by insurance companies and actions that will be recognised when insurance premiums are set.
  12. Greater consistency and collaboration between governments on the collation of data related to Australian flora and fauna.

Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements – Report


Loss to Australia’s biodiversity and Responses:

 Threatened ecological communities (TECs): Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) has listed 37 TECs as having some of their estimated distribution in areas affected by bushfires in southern and eastern Australia between 1 July 2019 and 11 February 2020 and identified 25 of the 37 as a priority for management intervention in at least one fire-affected Natural Resource Management region.  The Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel (the Expert Panel) identified 19 of the 37 TECs as priority matters for funding in Tranche 1 of the Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program. At the request of the  Expert Panel and DAWE,  Professor David Keith, the Centre for Ecosystem Science, University of NSW, in collaboration with other ecological community experts, assessed the  threats, impacts and priorities for responses to the bushfires and compiled a  table of fire-related threats and recommended candidate management actions for fire-affected Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) listed ecological communities and a table of the state/territory recognised ecological communities that are likely to have been most affected. Candidate management actions for the latter table are to be released when available.

Keith DA, Auld TD, Barrett S, English V, Gallagher R, Gray R, van Leeuwen S, McIlwee A, Mitchell D, Tozer MG, Williams RJ, Yates CJ, Neldner J, Buchan A, White MD, Rogers D, West A, Seddon J, Simpson CC (in prep) Terrestrial Ecological Communities in Australia: initial assessment and management after the 2019-20 bushfires. Report to the Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Expert Panel and the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Centre for Ecosystem Science, University of NSW, Sydney.

Plant Species: Many plant species were at risk from the cumulative impact of the 2019-2020 fires and other stressors like high fire frequency or severity, drought, herbivory, or disease.  Of the 26,062 species impacted, 486 were prioritised as requiring immediate action to assess impacts and support recovery. Species with more than 80% of their range burnt, or were already listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered under the EPBC 1999 Act  or state/territory listings, or were identified as at high risk under two or more prioritisation criteria requiring unique management actions were listed as priority species. The list included rainforest trees and shrubs like Monga Waratah (Telopea mongaensis) and plants from subalpine vegetation like critically endangered Bredbo Gentiana (Gentiana bredboensis). Some species considered threatened before the fires, like the Forrester’s Bottlebrush (Callistemon forresterae), Betka Bottlebrush (Callistemon kenmorrisonii), and Grey Deua Pomaderris (Pomaderris gilmourii var. cana) have increased risk of extinction.

Gallagher RV. 2020. National prioritisation of Australian plants affected by the 2019-2020 bushfire season – Report to the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

Betka Bottlebrush


Animal Species: A provisional list of 119 animal species [92 vertebrates (17 bird, 20 mammal, 23 reptile, 16 frog, 16 fish species) 22 crayfish, 5 other invertebrate] have been identified as requiring urgent management intervention, based on the extent to which their range has potentially been burnt, how imperilled they were before the fires (e.g. already listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered), and the physical, behavioural and ecological traits which influence their vulnerability to fire. At imminent risk of extinction because most of their range was burnt or they were already highly threatened are the Kangaroo Island Dunnart, Pugh’s Frog and the Blue Mountains Water Skink.  Having potentially lost a substantial portion of their range, other species like the Smoky Mouse, Koala and Giant Burrowing Frog require emergency intervention and strategic response to support their recovery.


Pugh’s Frog  Photo: Stephen Mahony


Many of approximately 320,000 invertebrate species in Australia have very localised ranges. Assessing the impacts of fires is challenging because of limited information on distribution and susceptibility to fire, and few monitoring programs. But 191 invertebrate species were known or presumed to have been severely impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires with a further 147 species prioritised for further assessment. Forty-nine species considered threatened on the list before the fires included freshwater mussels, shrimps, burrowing crayfish, land snails, spiders, millipedes, bees, dragonflies, bugs and butterflies.

Purple Copper Butterfly Photo: Simon Nally/OEH



Two broad management actions to assist in recovery were recommended (1) rapid on-ground surveys to establish the extent of population loss and provide a baseline for ongoing monitoring; and (2) protecting unburnt areas (within or adjacent to recently burnt ground, or in suitable habitat away from the burnt areas) that provide refuge.

The Australian Government is providing up to $10 million funding through competitive grant programs as part of its $200 million investment for the recovery of wildlife and habitat affected by the 2019–20 bushfires. Projects could include:

  • provision of supplementary shelter, nest boxes and artificial hollows
  • controlling pest animals
  • controlling of invasive weeds (including through Indigenous fire management practices)
  • seed collection and propagation of native plants for use in revegetation
  • revegetation of burnt areas using native plants
  • regenerating or protecting sensitive areas, including waterways

NCWQ Environment Report: July 2020

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Summary: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic  and since more than 70% of all new diseases emerging in humans are thought to have been caught from animals, factors  contributing to  zoonotic transmission are explored e.g. conditions in wildlife wet markets, illicit global wildlife trade.  Environmental and cultural issues are raised. The focus of this report has been on China since the COVID-19 pandemic began there. But there is no reason to suppose a similar pandemic could not begin elsewhere in Southeast Asia, South Asia, sub‐ Saharan Africa, or Latin America.

To avoid another pandemic, global cooperation is essential.  The unanimous passing of the EU and Australian led resolution at the World Health Assembly for an inquiry into the origins of and the international response to COVID-19, is encouraging. To a certain extent, nations and regions can undertake measures to ban wildlife sections in wet markets, enforce strict hygiene regulations, legislate on animal welfare, enforce wildlife trade legislation and undertake public outreach campaigns on these issues. However global illicit wildlife trade  can only be achieved through global cooperation.

Wet markets: For many low and middle-income countries wet markets provide fresh meat and other perishable goods for people who lack access to refrigeration. They are the predominate food-source for billions of people, particularly those living below the poverty line. The food is cheap and perceived to be fresher than in grocery stories. Given that food moves quickly in a wet market situation to prevent it spoiling and research in food safety have shown that the likelihood of foodborne disease increases with the length of value chains, there are some grounds for this belief.  Unfortunately hygiene standards in some markets leave a lot to be desired,

Wet markets with wildlife sections: Some wet markets in parts of Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania have a section for trading in exotic wildlife, slaughtering and selling live animals on site.  Not only are the products seen as  fresher, not expensive but also the market  provides rare types of creatures that serve as status symbols or are believed to possess unique healing elements.  Aguirre, A. Alonso, Catherina, Richard, Frye, Hailey   and Louise Shelley. Illicit Wildlife Trade, Wet Markets, and COVID‐19:  Preventing Future Pandemics.  World Medical and Health Policy · June 2020

In China, the wildlife trade is estimated to be a 520 billion yuan (US$740 billion) business employing more than 14 million people. A wide variety of exotic species from quail, to ostriches, snakes, crocodiles and civets are bred. About 7.6 million people are in the fur and leather industry valued at about 390 billion yuan. The rest help breed and process animals for food.

In addition, many animals are poached, imported, and exported illegally for food, medicine, trophies, and pets.  For example, although it is against the law, the critically endangered migratory songbird, the Yellow-breasted Bunting  is trapped at its wintering grounds in China  and eaten as a delicacy.

2014 study that surveyed more than a thousand people in five Chinese cities found radically different practices in different parts of the country. In Guangzhou in the southeast and a frequent destination for yellow-breasted buntings, 83% of people interviewed had eaten wildlife in the previous year; in Shanghai, 14% had, and in Beijing, just 5%. While only the rich can afford soup made with palm civet, fried cobra, or braised bear paw, frogs are a common and inexpensive wildlife dish.

According to a report in the South China Morning Post on January 29, 2020, Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market which was identified as the likely source of many early cases of COVID-19,  had a section that sold some 120 different wildlife animals across 75 species. According to other reports, the wet market sold live animals including, but not limited to wolf cubs, camels, peacocks, bats, pangolins, pigs, crocodiles, and dogs. 14, 2020

In Indonesia wildlife wet markets selling slaughtered bats alongside other exotic animal meats continue to operate under conditions similar to those in China. At North Sulawesi’s Tomohon “extreme meat” market, bat carcas­ses, charred dog bodies, pig heads, eviscerated pythons suspended from meat hooks, whole cooked rats on sticks were photographed for sale. In Jakarta’s Jatinegara market, live bats — slaughtered for their hearts, which are considered good for asthmatics — were displayed in cages wedged against others ­holding known coronavirus vector species such as illegally caught civets, monkeys and snakes. April 28th 2020

Animal Welfare Concerns: In places where wet markets are most common, such as China, animal welfare regulations are still developing. For example, there is no legal requirement to “humanely” slaughter animals by first stunning them and rendering them insensitive to pain. However one survey found over 70% of respondents supporting the improvement of rearing conditions for farmed animals. Around 65% agreed to establish laws to improve animal welfare

Hygiene in wet wildlife markets has long been a major concern. Stressed and frightened animals who may be infected with diseases can urinate, defecate, and excrete other biofluids in essentially the same areas where they are killed and their meat is taken by customers. Substandard hygienic practices are contributing to the transmission of a broad range of infections, including COVID-19.

Malta, Monica ,  Rimoin, Anne W.and Steffanie A. Strathdee  The coronavirus 2019-nCoV epidemic: Is hindsight 20/20? EClinicalMedicine. 2020 Mar; 20: 100289.

The Risk of Transmitting Zoonotic Diseases: More than 70% of all new diseases emerging in humans are thought to have been caught from animals, some of which, such as bats, primates and rodents, might have lived with the viruses for thousands of years.

In the past half century, deadly disease outbreaks caused by novel viruses of animal origin include

  • Nipah virus in Malaysia,
  • Hendra virus in Australia,
  • Hanta virus in the United States,
  • Ebola virus in Africa,
  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus),
  • several influenza subtypes,
  • SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus and
  • MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) coronavirus.

Bats have served as a reservoir species with the following animals as transmission hosts

  • pigs for Nipah virus
  • horses for Hendra virus,
  • primates and bats for Ebola,
  • civet cats as for SARS and
  • dromedary camels for MERS-Co.

Bat viruses tend to be very stable but once the virus has jumped to a new host species, it can mutate and grow in potency before leaping again into humans.

Forum on Microbial Threats; Board on Global Health; Institute of Medicine. Emerging Viral Diseases: The One Health Connection: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Mar 19. Workshop Overview. Available from:

COVID-19:  A few years ago, scientists traced the origin of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus to a fruit bat found in Yunnan province, but about 4% of its genes were new. A coronavirus isolated from pangolins is a 99% genetic match to the one that has killed many people in Central China according to a study by a team of Chinese civilian and military scientists. This suggested pangolins could be an intermediate host.

The emergence of disease from wildlife and spread to and among humans has been driven by

the escalated need for food production to meet present and future demand leading to the intrusion of agriculture into previously untouched areas of the native environment   As

populations grow  and expand geographically there are increasing opportunities for contact with wildlife and disturbance of  habitat.

  • The impact of climate change resulting in disturbances in ecosystems and a redistribution of disease reservoirs and vectors.
  • Increased globalization and travel significantly increasing the chance, extent, and spread at which disease transmission occurs.

Forum on Microbial Threats; Board on Global Health; Institute of Medicine. Emerging Viral Diseases: The One Health Connection: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Mar 19. Workshop Overview. Available from:

As a consequence of environmental destruction, bats, reservoirs of zoonotic viruses, seek new areas to feed, sometimes causing them to come into contact with livestock that will be eventually sold in open markets. Viruses that are transmitted from animals to humans are very dangerous to human life due to the absence of herd immunity among the human population. Aguirre, A. Alonso, Catherina, Richard, Frye, Hailey   and Louise Shelley. Illicit Wildlife Trade, Wet Markets, and COVID‐19:  Preventing Future Pandemics.  World Medical and Health Policy · June 2020

Traditional Medicine:  The Chinese traditional medicine industry, which heavily relies on ancient belief in the healing powers of animal parts, is a massive driver of the wildlife trade.

Traditional medicines containing threatened wildlife parts such as pangolin scales, leopard bones, saiga horn and the bile of captive-bred bears are still legal in China. The Beijing Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM), which provides guidance for medical institutions in the municipality on treatments using TCM promotes a treatment containing bile extracted from the gallbladders of caged bears as part of an official COVID-19 treatment plan

Illicit Global Wildlife trade and threat to biodiversity: The global trade in exotic wildlife, sold for meat, parts and as exotic pets, is now the world’s fourth-largest contraband market after drugs, humans and guns. Trade in protected species is estimated at least $22 billion each year globally and demand is growing fast, but largely under-policed. The main corridor of trade, South-east Asia, includes China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, with China still the biggest market, having outlawed the consumption of protected species only in recent years. But US and Europe’s markets are increasing.

China has banned ivory but continues to allow commercial farming of certain animals for their parts, including the critically endangered tiger.  In addition to civets and the critically endangered migratory songbird, the Yellow-breasted Bunting, being  served as delicacies, the endangered pangolin, the world’s most illegally trafficked animal, is in demand for its scales and meat in cuisine and traditional medicine. Other products such as tiger bone and rhino horn are increasingly sold as status symbols or cures for everything from cancer to hangovers.

Breeding centres are allowed to operate under loopholes in Chinese domestic law, arguably against the spirit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The Department of Agriculture and Environment says Australia’s unique wildlife is highly sought after abroad as pets and has been reported in Asia, Europe and North America. Data since 2017 shows Border Force has made about 500 seizures of illegal wildlife products a year, including turtle shells, ivory and animal skins, most of them imports. Australia now has some of the toughest penalties in the world – up to 10 years’ jail and $210,000 in fines.

Chinese Legislation: In February, the Chinese Government  banned the consumption of most terrestrial wild animals as food in the wake of COVID-19, although the ban does not cover use of wildlife products in traditional Chinese medicine or as ornamental items. This temporary ban covered some 20,000 captive enterprises and 54 different species allowed to be traded domestically.

The Chinese government has now issued a new draft list of livestock that can be farmed for meat including dietary staples such as pigs, cows, chickens and sheep, as well as “special livestock” such as a number of species of deer, alpaca and ostriches.  Two species of fox, raccoons and minks can be kept as livestock but not for their meat.  There is no mention of the species of animal which are suspected by scientists to have spread the virus to humans, such as pangolins, bats and civet cats. 

As China’s parliament prepares new laws to permanently ban the trade and consumption of wildlife, local action plans published this week suggest the country’s fur trade and lucrative traditional medicine sectors will continue as usual.

With a national plan, Chinese authorities have pledged to buy out breeders in an attempt to curb exotic animal breeding. Two major wildlife breeding central provinces, Hunan and Jiangxi, have already outlined details of a buyout program to help farmers switch to alternative livelihoods. Hunan has set out a compensation scheme to persuade breeders to rear other livestock or produce tea and herbal medicines. Authorities will evaluate farms and inventories and offer a one-off payment of 120 yuan ($16) per kilogram of rat snake, king ratsnake and cobra, while a kilogram of bamboo rat will fetch 75 yuan and a civet, 600yuan. These buy back and compensation schemes are commendable.

Still, the numerous exceptions in the Chinese legislation allow breeding of some wildlife to be used for traditional Chinese medicine, as long as they are not consumed as food for humans. If breeding centres for endangered species like tigers or pangolins could be permanently closed, it would be much harder for products to be laundered through legal channels and sold as more valuable wild product.

Global Problem needing Global Remedies: Some organisations are calling for blanket bans.  However, there are dangers. The trade could be driven underground where hygiene regulation would be near impossible. A black market could encourage corruption and even increase the risk of the trade being controlled by organised crime. 

Some measures to address the problem could be taken at the national or even regional level.

  • Banning wild life sections in wet markets. There is widespread support for closure of unregulated wildlife markets across Southeast Asia: In a March poll commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund, about 5,000 people in Hong Kong, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, 93 percent of participants supported governments taking action to eliminate illegal and unregulated wildlife markets.
  • Enforcing strict hygiene regulations,
  • Legislating animal welfare,
  • Undertaking public outreach campaigns about the dangers of wild life sections in wet markets and exotic meats,
  • Enforcing legislation to combat illicit wildlife trade in endangered or exotic animals

However cooperation is needed at the global level on law enforcement to combat illicit wildlife trade

Australian researchers have developed a “Border Force-ready” test on echidna spines to detect whether wild echidnas are being laundered out of New Guinea. After the success of that trial, the team is hoping to develop a similar test for pangolin scales, which are trafficked by the tonne across the globe.

Training Program to help prevent spread of animal to human diseases: Since the majority of emerging infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, are zoonotic, a $4.3m program funded by the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security (IPCHS)  at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade  and  led by scientists from Schools of Veterinary Science in Universities across Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific, will engage with government animal health authorities and educators in the Asia-Pacific region to strengthen the capacity to detect, respond, control and prevent animal disease outbreaks that could affect human health, animal health and farmer livelihoods.  Program leader, Associate Professor Navneet Dhand, from the University of Sydney  said transboundary animal diseases, which travel quickly across borders, and zoonotic diseases, are increasing in frequency due to a range of factors including population growth, urbanisation and increasing global air travel. The program will run for three years in Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The rapid transmission of COVID-19 and its huge economic and health impact has demonstrated the need for this training.;

The IPCSH is partnering with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to strengthen health security of the above countries, including through National Bridging Workshops (NBW) that aim to bring human and animal health colleagues together to identify priority areas for action and collaboration. To better prevent and control infectious diseases of which 75% are zoonotic, systems for human health and animal health need to be closely linked.

Coronavirus inquiry resolution adopted at World Health Assembly. On the 19th May 2020 at the 73rd World Health Assembly, an EU and Australian led resolution for an inquiry into the origins of and the international response to coronavirus stablished at the earliest possible opportunity, was adopted unanimously. The review will identify the source of the virus and the route of introduction from other animals to the human population, as well as consider lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.

NCWQ Environment Report: February 2020

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on impact of lack of reliable water on regional communities and industries and the environment.   

The Problem: In my NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, November 2019, I drew attention to the fact that many billions of megalitres of water can flow out to sea while other parts of the country suffer extreme drought.  The freshwater flood plumes can cause environmental damage to the reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Drought significantly impacts the environment, industries and communities including Murray Darling Basin.

Regional towns were running out of water with dam levels dangerously low.  While some rain has fallen, emergency water restrictions remain in place in some areas. e.g. While the level and volume for Stanthorpe increased from 9.5% and 196 megalitres (ML)  at 3rd February 2020 to 17.5% and 362 ML. at 17th February, water carting is continuing to Stanthorpe. Water remains in Storm King Dam as a contingency for emergency events and to provide a habitat for aquatic life.

Rain has fallen across Murray Darling Basin recently but not enough to end the drought.  The flows in many rivers will be boosted and dam storage levels lifted but threats to water quality persist, including contamination from bushfire debris.

Rainfall Projections: Rainfall in the near future (2030) and late in the century (2090) has been projected by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology  for clusters of Natural Resource Management Regions including the following:-

  • The Wet Tropics cluster which contains the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Areas, as well as a high proportion of the Great Barrier Reef catchment,
  • The Monsoonal North East with the Mitchell, Gilbert, Norman and Staaten River catchments, all of which flow into the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Burdekin region, 
  • The Central Slopes cluster comprising NRM regions to the west of the Great Dividing Range from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the central west of New South Wales with a number of important headwater catchments for the Murray Darling Basin and
  • The Murray Basin cluster comprises NRM regions across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The cluster extends from the flatlands of inland New South Wales to the Great Dividing Range.

In the near future, natural variability is projected to predominate over trends due to greenhouse gas emissions for all of the above clusters. However for the Wet Tropics and Monsoonal North East Clusters it is noted that because global climate models offer diverse results, and models have shortcomings in resolving some tropical processes it is difficult to provide confident rainfall projections.

By late in the century, 

  • for the Wet Tropics, projections generally have low confidence,
  • for the Monsoonal North East, projections generally have low confidence
  • for the Central Slopes, climate models indicate decreasing winter rainfall with high confidence. There is a good understanding of the physical mechanisms driving this change (southward shift of winter storm systems together with rising mean pressure over the region). Decreases are also projected in spring, with medium confidence. The direction of change in summer and autumn cannot be confidently projected due to the complexity of rain producing systems in this region, the large spread of model results, and some inconsistent results from finer scale modelling. 
  • For the Murray Basin cool season (April to October) less rainfall is projected with high confidence. In the warm season (November to March), there is medium confidence that rainfall will remain unchanged. 

Increased intensity of extreme daily rainfall events is projected with high confidence for Wet Tropics, Monsoonal North East and Central Slopes clusters. Even though mean annual rainfall is projected to decline, heavy rainfall intensity is projected to increase, with high confidence.

For the Murray Basin and Central Slopes clusters time spent in drought is projected, with medium confidence, to increase over the course of the century. For Wet Tropics and Monsoonal North East clusters, drought will continue to be a feature of the regional climate variability, but projected changes are uncertain.


Various Proposals to address the problem:

In my NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, November2019, the following proposals were discussed:-

  • Bradfield Scheme 1938
  • Revised Bradfield’s Scheme 1981
  • Moore-Hielscher Updated Bradfield Scheme: 2019
  • NSW Proposals (diverting flows from the Manning, Macleay and Hunter rivers inland)
  • Hell’s Gate Dam in North Queensland :
  • Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment program (Fitzroy, Darwin, Mitchell catchments)
  • National Water Grid

Environmental impacts of dams: Dams can supply significant sources of hydropower, water supply or flood protection but a dam must have a sustainable purpose and operating mission to provide a greater benefit than the environmental impacts of its existence or the risks associated with its ageing structure

Environmental issues with dams to be addressed include:-

  • riparian habitat loss,: upstream of a dam, impounded water can drown riparian communities; downstream  the shore line changes and with it the riparian communities,
  •  sedimentation:  Dams can trap sediments normally deposited downstream. The storage capacity of the dam can be reduced with high sedimentation. Seasonal flooding which would fertilise and water flood plains can be interrupted and debris in river channels not cleared or redistributed downstream,
  • erosion can reshape river channels below the dam, once sediment deposition ceases,
  • water quality may deteriorate in reservoirs (e.g., thermal stress, low dissolved oxygen, acidification), especially close to the bottom.  It can decline as a result of drainage water returning from irrigation projects . If the reservoir becomes shallower through sedimentation, in arid regions evaporation could increase leaving behind salts and decreasing the water quality.
  • groundwater: With seepage into bedrock, river water  could enter groundwater and water tables rise around a reservoir,
  • fish migration and reproduction could be disrupted



Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (,

The location of the dam, size of reservoir (height of dam, volume of reservoir), and water residence time affect the impact.  The dam operation mode can determine the seasonal variation of stored water, water level fluctuations, sediment capture and release, as well as daily and seasonal downstream flow patterns.

Sediment Management options depend on storage capacity, mean annual runoff, and

mean annual sediment load and include sediment sluicing, sediment flushing, sediment bypass, and sediment augmentation downstream of reservoirs .

Habitat Improvements in Reservoirs. Mitigation measures can comprise instream structures such as gravel bars, islands, etc., lateral widenings of the cross profiles in riverine  sections of impoundments, creating artificial habitats in lacustrine section, and bypass systems within  the alluvial floodplains.

Riverine Zone                          Lacustrine Zone

Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (,

Large and small dams can provide water storage but the size and type of dam needs to suit both the site conditions and satisfy the objectives for its construction.  The impact of a dam varies with the river, the dam’s design, and the projected use.  Small dams can be best suited for small hydroelectric developments utilising low diversion and storage, for smaller scale irrigation projects, flood control on smaller tributaries, ground water recharge basins, and off-site storage of recycled water or desalinated water.

Off-stream reservoirs constructed on smaller streams which store water pumped from a nearby river or adjacent basin typically have less environmental impact. A small dam can have less impact on the environment if designed to be more effective in safely passing fish species both upstream and downstream, and to bypass sediment

While fluvial characteristics are maintained to some extent in small reservoirs, e.g., run-of-the-river

hydropower plants, lentic conditions prevail in large storage reservoirs.

Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (,

Water security throughout the country and in all sectors is vitally important.  Surely an extensive feasibility study with bipartisan support, both Federal and State, is needed to address this perennial problem of lack of  reliable water for regional communities and industries and the environment.  Surface and groundwater capture-and-storage options, land suitability, the commercial viability of primary production should be considered with potential environmental, social, indigenous and economic impacts and risks.

NCWQ Environment Report: April 2020

By Pap Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

The environmental issues of two major recent occurrences, the 2019-20 bushfires and the coral bleaching of reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are discussed – Why they occurred, the consequences and some actions being taken or that have potential.

The 2019-20 bushfire season was disastrous with at least 34 lives lost, over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) destroyed and an estimated 18.6 million hectares burnt. NASA estimated that 306 million tonnes of CO2 had been emitted as of 2 January 2020. While this might normally be reabsorbed by forest regrowth, prolonged drought has damaged the ability of forests to fully regrow and may take decades.

Raging bushfire with flames as tall as the trees
Koala after a bushfire sitting on the ground in front of a fence.


Photo: CSIRO                                                       Photo: M Fillinger                                             crisis-five-big-numbers/12007716

Australian Academy of Science Fellow Professor Chris Dickman has estimated that Australia has lost at least a billion birds, mammals and reptiles this bushfire season. This figure does not include insects, bats, fish and frogs.  Even if animals survive the fires by fleeing or going underground, they return or re-emerge into areas that don’t have the resources to support them. Others will fall victim to introduced predators such as feral cats and red foxes. Even for those birds or animals able to flee to unaffected areas they will rarely be able to successfully compete with animals already living there and succumb within a short time. Some endangered species may be driven to extinction.

Australia is at risk of losing a significant proportion of its biodiversity and because much of that biodiversity occurs only here in Australia, it’s a global loss. Also the bushfires have not only taken a heavy toll on wildlife but have affected water and air quality.

While bushfires form part of the natural cycle of Australia’s landscapes, factors such as climate trends, weather patterns and vegetation management by humans can all contribute to the intensity of bushfires. The most destructive fires have been preceded by extreme high temperatures, low relative humidity and strong winds, combining to create ideal conditions to rapidly spread fire.


FFDI (Forest Fire Danger Index), Spring 2019

The primary causes of the 2019–20 bushfire was seen as severely below average fuel moisture attributed to record-breaking temperatures and drought, accompanied by severe fire weather, and that these are likely to have been exacerbated by long-term trends of warmer and dryer weather observed over the Australian land mass. 

The major cause of ignition of fires during the 2019-20 fire crisis in NSW and Victoria is reported to be lightning strikes with alleged arson accounting for around 1% of NSW fires and 0.3% of Victorian fires by 18 January 2020.

The significance of major circulation patterns on climate variability in Australia has been studied:- 

  • the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) referring to the extensive warming of the sea surface region in the central and eastern Pacific, 
  • the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) similar to El Nino in that it is a change in climate related to sea surface temperatures but tending to last much longer, 20-30 years as opposed to 18 months, 
  • the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) – the difference in ocean temperatures between the west and east tropical Indian Ocean, that can shift moisture towards or away from Australia, and 
  • Southern Annular Mode (SAM) – a mode of variation in the atmosphere of the high latitudes in the southern hemisphere. 

One study investigating the influence of the ENSO on fire risk found that the proportion of days with a high, or greater than high, fire danger rating markedly increased during El Niño episodes and was further increased when the IPO was negative during these El Niño eventsVerdon D.C. , Kiem A.S and S.W. Franks (2004) Int. J. of Wildland Fire 13(2) 165-171

In another study with data from 39 stations from1973 to 2017, Harris and Lucas (2019) found ENSO to be the main driver for interannual variability of fire weather as measured by the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI). They reported that in general, El Niño-like conditions led to more extreme fire weather, with this effect stronger in eastern Australia but with significant regional variations to this general rule. In NSW, particularly along the central coast, negative SAM was a primary influence for elevated fire weather in late-winter and spring. In the southeast (Victoria and Tasmania), the El Niño-like impact was exacerbated when positive IOD conditions were simultaneously observed. The spring conditions were key, and strongly influenced what was observed during the following summer. On longer time scales (45 years), linear trends were upward at most stations; this trend was strongest in the southeast and during the spring. The positive trends were not driven by the trends in the climate drivers and they were not consistent with hypothesized impacts of the IPO, either before or after its late-1990s shift to the cold phase. Harris and Lucas proposed that anthropogenic climate change was the primary driver of the trend, through both higher mean temperatures and potentially through associated shifts in large-scale rainfall patterns. They also said that variations from interannual factors were generally larger in magnitude than the trend effects observed. 


Time series of 90th percentile FFDI annual anomaly (July-June) at each station (1973–2017). The thick line indicates the multi-station mean. The thick dotted line indicates the linear trend.

Harris S, Lucas C (2019) Understanding the variability of Australian fire weather between 1973 and 2017. PLoS ONE 14(9): e0222328.

Bruce Boyes, Knowledge Manager, Environmental manager, Project manager, Educator claimed the scale and seriousness of the current bushfire crisis was caused by the progressive temperature increase due to climate change, the strongest IOD on record, the influence of SAM and a well-advanced IPO progressively drying the landscape of southeastern Australia. While each one of these factors on their own would have been unlikely to have caused something of the scale and seriousness of the current bushfire crisis, all of these factors coming together did. Removing any one of these factors but leaving all of the others would also have been unlikely to have caused such a crisis.

In a further paper, Bruce Boyes  addressed hazard reduction burning  and debunks some of the myths about Aboriginal fire management practices.  Rather than practices being widespread and constant, they depended on the species composition of the vegetation communities in the area inhabited.  

To provide a line of defence between buildings and bushland, Boyes promotes a buffer zone completely clear of understorey, midstorey, and any fuel load and if local conditions indicate a high risk of crown fires the overstorey trees. He also discusses firelines  along the boundaries between the buffer zones and the bushland to facilitate easy access for back burning in case of an approaching wildfire, and additional firelines within the bushland areas if possible, to provide additional lines of defence

Citizen Science Forum:  On 14 February, CSIRO hosted a national forum which recognised that in a time of crisis, research capability is under pressure and citizen science could provide an important complement to traditional research-led monitoring campaigns.  To that end, in collaboration with the Atlas of Living Australia (a National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy capability) and the Australian Citizen Science Association, CSIRO has developed the Citizen Science Bushfire Project Finder website which allows members of the public to contribute to projects ranging from air quality, to identifying and confirming animal and plant sightings while maintaining safe social distancing practices.   While citizen scientists can be confronted by the number of tools and protocols aimed at ensuring data is captured in a consistent manner, this is essential to make the best use of the data. In many cases it may only be practical to get a true picture of the composition of the flora and fauna in an area and how it changes with time with the help of dedicated citizen scientists.

Threat to koalas from bats carrying a retrovirus:  On top of the high mortality from the bushfires, and loss of habitat and food supply, the koala population can be exposed, by a koala retrovirus KoRV, to cancer and chlamydia, a leading cause of infertility, blindness and kidney failure. Scientists from Burnet Institute, Melbourne and CSIRO have identified bats as a source of diverse infectious retroviruses related to KoRV. This implicates bats as a reservoir of KoRV-related viruses that potentially can be transmitted to other mammalian species. Bats are reservoirs of emerging viruses that are highly pathogenic to other mammals, including humans. For example, while remaining unaffected, bats, can host viruses including Ebola, Hendra and coronaviruses, and transmit the viruses by droppings and body fluids to other mammals. The research of Hayward et al reported the first exogenous retrovirus described in bats.  Hayward et al  (2020) Infectious KoRV-related retroviruses circulating in Australian bats SARS or SARS-like, MERS or MERS-like, 2019-nCOV or 2019-nCoV-like viruses have not yet been found in Australian wildlife (including bats), overseas bats host these viruses.

However, it should be remembered flying-foxes play a crucial role as pollinators and help keep forest ecosystems that support other species like koalas, healthy.

Coral Bleaching of reefs in the Great Barrier Marine Park (GBRMP): Sea temperatures in February around the Great Barrier Reef were the warmest on record since the Bureau of Meteorology’s sea surface temperature records began in 1900. 

PHOTO: Sea temperatures in February around the Great Barrier Reef were the warmest on record. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (CCRS JCU) Professor Terry Hughes said serious coral bleaching occurs when coral suffers heat stress due to spikes in sea temperatures caused by unusually hot summers. 

Aerial surveys of 1036 reefs (focusing on shallow water corals, down to five metres) showed a different pattern of bleaching within the GBRMP than from bleaching events in 2016 and 2017:-

The aerial surveys accurately record bleaching to only a five metre depth, and bleaching severity generally declines with increasing depth.

Of the 1036 reefs surveyed

  • about 40%  had little or no bleaching and it is anticipated that most will recover,
  • about 25%  were severely (each reef >60%) bleached and
  • about 35%  were moderately bleached with responses dependent on history of disturbance. 07/04/20 GBRMPAuthority Weekly Reef health update — 02 April 2020

An aerial survey of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: AFP

An aerial survey of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: AFP

Professor Hughes said the distinctive footprint of each bleaching event has closely matched the location of hotter and cooler conditions in different years.  But it was difficult to make predictions about how much coral would die, as scientists had found corals were reacting differently after each marine heatwave. To know whether coral is surviving and recovering after bleaching or dying, water surveys are needed.

Professor Morgan Pratchett also from CCRS JCU, who leads the underwater surveys, noted that bleaching isn’t necessarily fatal as some species are affected more than others.  He will be assessing the losses of corals from this most recent event later in the year.  

With the five mass bleaching events (1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020) the number of reefs escaping severe bleaching continues to dwindle and the gap between recurrent bleaching events to shrink, hindering a full recovery. Hughes and Pratchett are concerned the Great Barrier Reef will continue to lose corals from heat stress, until global emissions of greenhouse gasses are reduced to net zero, and sea temperatures stabilise.;

The GBRMPA also urges that the strongest possible global efforts be made to reduce emissions and global warming as large scale marine heatwaves and associated coral bleaching events become more severe and frequent, and the Reef’s natural recovery processes are unable to keep up. Such action is needed in conjunction with their current programme protecting coral cover through crown-of-thorns starfish control, improved water quality, increased monitoring and effective Marine Park management, preventing illegal fishing, and developing potential new restoration and interventions that can occur within the Reef.

Recently the Australian Government launched the research and development phase (initially $150million) of its Reef Restoration and Adaptation Science Program to help preserve and restore the Great Barrier Reef in the face of rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching and endorsed a two-year feasibility study led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) into a range of science-based interventions.

This included: 

  • examining ways to collect and freeze coral larvae for use in year-round coral seeding,
  • seeding reefs with corals that are more resilient to heat to help coral reefs to evolve and adapt to the changing environment, 
  • developing technologies that increase the survival rate of coral larvae and that can produce and deploy large quantities of more resilient coral larvae,
  • an ambitious concept to shade and cool large areas of reef at risk of bleaching by spraying microscopic saltwater droplets into clouds to make them more reflective of sunlight (cloud brightening – see below) and
  • investigating methods to physically stabilise damaged reefs, after cyclone and bleaching events, to facilitate faster recovery.       16 April 2020

Researchers at Southern Cross University and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science have trialled cloud brightening using a boat-mounted fan similar to a snow cannon to shoot salt crystals into the air and  have achieved promising results. To have a significant impact on the reef, a full-scale experiment would need to be 10 times larger, involving the use of several big barge-mounted turbines. The effectiveness of this cloud-brightening technique would drop significantly as the ocean warms further, hence would need to be used in conjunction with other systems.

NCWQ Environment Report: November 2019

By Pat Pepper,NCWQ Environment Adviser

The Problem: Too much water or more often not enough is a perennial problem in Australia. Recently billions of megalitres (ML) of water flooded out to sea while major parts of southern Queensland, NSW, and South Australia remained in extreme drought. Feb 2019 The situation remains dire for some regional areas. Will our extreme climate variability get worse with climate change?

In addition to being a waste, flood water pouring into the sea can cause environmental damage. e.g. Since 2014, many reefs in the northern, central and southern regions of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park have been affected by a range of disturbances, including freshwater flood plumes. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019: In Brief, GBRMPA, Townsville.

Regional towns are running out of water with dam levels dangerously low e.g. Current level and volume for Stanthorpe are 17% and 351 megalitres (ML) and, based on latest data and targeted usage, expected to run out in December 2019/January 2020.  The drought is having a devastating effect on vineyards, fruit and vegetable crops in the area.

Drought is a significant issue for the Murray Darling Basin and continues to impact on its environment, industries and communities.

Significant fish deaths associated with low and cease-to- flows and pool stratification occurred in the Menindee lakes and the Lower Darling River below Weir 32 in 2018–19. ‘Commonwealth Environmental Water Portfolio Management Plan: Lower Murray-Darling 2019–20, Commonwealth of Australia, 2019’ Since the Barwon River in the northern Murray-Darling Basin had dried back to poor quality waterholes, threatening native fish, some water was released from Glenlyon Dam on 24 April and Copeton Dam on 2 May 2019.


The effect of the drought is not just an environmental and regional and rural issue.  All Australians who value eating food produced in Australia because of the high standard of food health requirements here, could suffer if producers do not survive.

What can be done:

Bradfield Scheme:  In 1938 Dr John Bradfield, a Queensland born civil engineer and designer of the Sydney Harbour and Story Bridge, devised a visionary scheme aimed at drought proofing a vast area of inland Australia.  A wide variety of crops including rice, cotton, wheat and tree crops would be grown and feed for cattle and sheep produced. Water would be diverted using large pipes, tunnels, pumps and dams from the Tully, the Herbert and the Burdekin Rivers, across the Great Dividing Range into the Flinders and then the Thomson River and eventually into Lake Eyre.

Timbury F.R.V. (1944) The Battle for the Inland The Case for the Bradfield and Idriess  Plans  Appendix Utilizing Queensland’s Coastal Floodwaters in the Central and Western Districts Scheme iurlined by Dr J.J. C. Bradfield. Feb 2019


Criticisms included

  • elevation measurements were taken with a barometer leading to inaccuracies in land heights
  • methodology used to calculate flow estimates

However, since Bradfield’s time GPS readings and decades of accurate stream discharge records are now available.

In a Revised Bradfield’s Scheme – proposed diversion of the Upper Tully, Herbert and  Burdekin Rivers on to the Inland Plains of North and Central Queensland (1981), the above shortcomings were addressed.

A dam at Hell’s Gate was the most important feature of Bradfield’s Scheme. As a critic pointed out Bradfield had the elevation wrong and  water would not flow from the Burdekin at Hell’s Gate Dam Reservoir into the Flinders River. But the same critic proposed the answer to this problem with a diversion dam (1735 feet elevation) at a site on the Burdekin near Lake Lucy some 400 feet higher than the Hell’s Gate site. The Revised Bradfield Scheme” Queensland Northern Peninsula Area Water Resources sub-committee (1981) Dr Eric Heidecker, Roy Stainkey, and Bob Katter Jnr MLA.


While Bradfield’s proposal had water flowing to Lake Eyre where it was claimed that a full Lake Eyre would moderate the air temperature in the region by the absorption of sunlight by the water instead of heat radiation from dry land into the air. Hope et al. concluded  that there is no evidence that large-scale permanent water surfaces in inland Australia would result in widespread climate amelioration. Hope, P; N Nicholls; JL McGregor (2004). “The rainfall response to permanent inland water in Australia” Aust.Met.Mag 53.251-262.   The Revised Scheme did not advocate  the water running into Lake Eyre. The Revised Bradfield Scheme” Queensland Northern Peninsula Area Water Resources sub-committee (1981) Dr Eric Heidecker, Roy Stainkey, and Bob Katter Jnr MLA.

 Permission details CC BY-SA 4.0 view terms

File:Australia River systems Named.svg Created: ‎08‎ ‎April‎ ‎2019


NSW Proposals:  Consideration has been given to turning the headwaters of the Clarence inland via a network of pipes and pumps to feed it into headwaters of the Border rivers system. In addition the possibility of diverting flows from the Manning, Macleay and Hunter rivers inland has been considered . The capital cost of the four projects is estimated to be over $6bn. Concerns about the impact of diverting 7% to 10% of freshwater flows on prawn fisheries at the mouth of the Clarence would need addressing.

Moore-Hielscher Updated Bradfield Scheme: Recently Sir Leo Hielscher and Sir Frank Moore have put forward an updated Bradfield Scheme which would open vast areas of Queensland  to high-value food and fibre production while creating renewable hydroelectric power and saving the Great Barrier Reef from pollution. They claim the concept is financially, socially, environmentally viable and engineering wise feasible. It requires establishing a Queensland Northern Rivers Authority (QNRA) similar to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority.  Some of the 91500 gigalitres (GL) available in North Eastern Queensland from South Johnstone, Hebert and Tully River would be captured and gravity fed to the Upper Burdekin River. Some tunnels less in length to those in Brisbane would be required. From a dam at Hell’s Gate, water would then be gravity fed to the fertile black-soil country west of Charters Towers to Richmond Downs. In Stage two surplus water from the Thomson River would be fed to the Warrego River which is the start of the Murray-Darling system.


They claim flooding would be mitigated in Innisfail, Tully and Ingham and contaminated water would be stopped from reaching the Great Barrier Reef. The Murray-Darling river system would never run dry, boosting the nation’s food security. The Murray Darling System holds 22700 GL , much less than the  91500  and 130500 gigalitres going into the ocean in NEQ and The Gulf of Carpentaria respectively. Overall cost is estimated to be 15 billion but there would be no capital cost to the Government. As a Statutory Body the QNRA would be empowered to raise its own funding with Government Guarantees.; ; Alan Jones Breakfast Show –Interview with Sir Leo Hielscher Peta Credlin – Interview with Sir Leo Hielscher and Des Houghton

Hell’s Gate Dam in North Queensland : A feasibility study undertaken on a $5.35 billion irrigated agricultural and power project on the upper Burdekin River found the project to be technically and economically feasible, with no major environmental barriers. The project comprises a 2110 GL dam, a pumped hydroelectric scheme of up to 1200 MW, a 20 MW solar farm and 15 MW run-of- river hyrdo facility at the toe of the dam and a pipeline from Hells Gate Dam to Ross River Dam. It would provide long-term water security for the region and supply water to a 50,000 hectare irrigated agriculture scheme and grow export industries.

The current plan for Hell’s Gate has a full supply level of only 372 m Australian Height Datum (AHD), Sir Leo Hielscher is proposing increasing the height of the proposed dam by 100m to 470m AHD, sufficient for the gravitational conveyance of water over the Great Dividing Range.

Would it not be wise to increase the height in the initial build?

Under the Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment program, CSIRO has conducted extensive feasibility studies identifying and evaluating surface and groundwater capture-and-storage options, providing detailed information on land suitability, identifying and testing the commercial viability of agriculture and aquaculture, and assessing potential environmental, social, indigenous and economic impacts and risks. Three catchments were identified

  • in the Fitzroy catchment, water harvesting (water pumped into ringtanks) could potentially support 160,000 ha growing one dry-season crop a year in 85 per cent of years. Independent of surface water, groundwater could potentially support up to 30,000 ha of hay production in all years
  • in the Darwin catchments, a combination of major dams, farm-scale offstream storage and groundwater could potentially support up to 90,000 ha of dry-season horticulture and mango trees
  • in the Mitchell catchment, large instream dams could potentially support 140,000 ha of year-round irrigation. Alternatively, water harvesting could potentially enable up to 200,000 ha, growing one dry-season crop per year. With the expertise needed to conduct these extensive feasibility studies CSIRO should be well placed to investigate the feasibility of an Upgraded Bradfield Scheme to address the need for reliable water for regional communities and industries and the environment with the relevant Government Departments and Authorities.

The National Water Grid has been established by the Federal Government to plan and deliver reliable and cost effective water nationwide by:

  • investigating and establishing large-scale water diversion projects for farmers and regional communities by bringing together leading scientists to harvest and harness water in the most efficient and reliable way
  • developing a Water Grid that will provide the pipeline of all established, current and future water infrastructure projects and to identify any missing links. Would the Moore-Hielscher Updated Bradfield Scheme be a good place to start investigating? Water Security throughout the country and in all sectors is vitally important.  Could the 91500GL flowing into the ocean from NEQ, 130500GL from the  Gulf of Carpentaria and 81200 GL from the Kimberly be better used producing food and fibre, creating renewable hydroelectric power,  relieving and invigorating the outback towns  and preserving the environment, in particular the Great Barrier Reef and the Murray Darling Basin?

Since Bradfield first articulated his vision, variations of the scheme have been championed by politicians of both persuasions and reviews undertaken.  Has the time come for a bipartisan approach to adopting the concept to relieve inland communities and the environment?


NCWQ Environment Report: July 2019

By Pat Pepper,NCWQ Environment Adviser

Condition of Great Barrier Reef (GBR): The Australian Institute of Marine Science’s (AIMS) Annual GBR Condition Update report shows hard coral cover continued to decline in the central and southern GBR, while the northern GBR had stabilized. As AIMS Long Term Monitoring Program leader and ecologist Dr Mike Emslie notes there was substantial variation in the hard coral cover of individual reefs caused by disturbances such as crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, cyclones and coral bleaching events over the past five years. This affects the reefs’ ability to recover as the AIMS map shows.

Boundaries of Northern, Central and Southern GBR with the locations of the 64 reefs surveyed by manta tows between September 2018 and June 2019. Size and colour of the symbols represent the magnitude of the absolute annual change in reef-level percent hard coral cover between 2019 and the previous survey.

The Capricorn-bunker group at the bottom of the Southern GBR continued to recover from Tropical Cyclone Hamish which struck in 2009. This area escaped bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, while the Swain Reefs suffered a devastating outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish which resulted in declines in average coral cover last year.

The inshore and mid-shelf reefs in the Central GBR were more severely impacted than the outer-shelf reefs by Tropical Cyclone Debbie (2017), resulting in low hard coral cover. Many Central GBR reefs have had outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, particularly in the Cairns, Innisfail and Townsville sectors, resulting in hard coral cover declining.

Recent declines in hard coral cover in Northern GBR reefs followed a sequence of disturbances after 2013, including cyclones, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and mass coral bleaching Low coral cover  in Reef 11-049 in the far north was attributed to the 2015/16 summer bleaching event. In the 2019 survey numbers of crown-of-thorns starfish were low. Coral bleaching was observed on some coral colonies.

Impact of Climate Change on GBR: On 18 July 2019, the GBR Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) released its position statement on climate change: Climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Only the strongest and fastest possible actions to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the Reef. Further impacts can be minimised by limiting global temperature increase to the maximum extent possible and fast-tracking actions to build Reef resilience.

The predicted consequences of climate change are:-

  • increased sea temperature,
  • more intense storms, tropical cyclones and flood events,
  • ocean acidification,
  • rising sea level

Already more intense mass coral bleaching events have occurred

The GBRMPA advocates actions to:

  • reduce global greenhouse gas emissions,
  • reduce cumulative impacts on the GBR,
  • build GBR resilience and protect key species for reef recovery,
  • enable adaptations and restorations of reef habitats

GBRMPA – Position Statement – Climate change GBRMPA Document No: 100486 Revision: 0 Date: 25-Jun-2019

Shipping Risk to GBR: More than 9,600 ship voyages were recorded in the Reef between 2012 and 2013, From January to November 2017 there were 10403 of which 2835 were bulk carriers.

Great Barrier Reef  and Torres Straits Shipping Statistics Queensland Government November 2017

Many of the ships are foreign-flagged operating under the rules of the country where they are registered, which are not necessarily of the same standard as Australian rules. In three decades the national merchant fleet has shrunk from about 100 to 14. The risk is illustrated by the grounding in 2010 of the Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng I on a shoal of the GBR just north of the port of Gladstone, spilling oil and damaging more than 40 hectares of marine park over 10 days. :After years of court battles, restoration work is only now about to start on the reef //

The owners of Shen Neng 1 agreed to pay $35 million to the FG for the cost of removing polluted rubble and a further $4.3 million to cover costs incurred by FG in the immediate aftermath of the grounding.  The FG had sought 120 million in damages.

In October 2014 the North-East Shipping Management Plan was published. Among the many recommended actions, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is to maintain a pollution response reserve of $10 million and line of credit of $40 million to ensure immediate access to funds in the event of a marine pollution incident. The North East Shipping Management Plan Work Program Status report as at January 2018 shows this as achieved. Action has been taken on other items e.g. GBRMPA and AMSA are to explore mechanisms to fund high priority restoration and rehabilitation of reef habitats (and the removal of antifoulant paints) immediately following a ship grounding. (AIMS, AMSA and GBRMPA are collaborating on a research project to identify the impacts and priorities of emerging contaminants in the GBR)


GBRMPA is to instigate research into

  • ship-sourced copper leaching from antifouling paints at GBR port anchorage sites to determine if this is an identifiable risk to the values of the GBR . (The International Maritime Organisation (IMO ) has agreed a new output to amend Annex 1 to the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (AFS Convention) to include controls on cybutryne. Australia supported further discussing the possibility of adding Cybutryne to the AFS Convention. The amendments are scheduled to be considered by the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee for adoption in mid-2018.)
  • the restoration of habitats affected by shipping incidents (e.g. coral and seagrass restoration, eradication of marine pests, halt impacts from biocides) –(The Shen Neng 1 trial clean-up is to be used as research into the restoration of habitats. Piper reef can also be used as an example. ).


However, does the report on the action –“AMSA to ensure that only high quality ships, operated by competent crews, are permitted to trade in the region by stringently enforcing standards in compliance with IMO guidelines for port State control.  (Ongoing port State control inspections ensure that foreign flag ships are seaworthy, not a pollution risk, provide a healthy and safe working environment and comply with relevant conventions. In addition, AMSA routinely updates its ship risk algorithm to improve targeting for ship inspections, incident recording, case management and trend analysis. )” instil confidence?

(amsa439-north-east-shipping-management-plan.pd; North East Shipping Management Plan Work Program

Status report as at January 2018.pdf


Australian researchers have raised fresh concerns that a major shipping disaster could harm the GBR, with new research revealing coal dust in seawater can kill corals and slow down the growth rate of seagrasses and fish. Berry, K. L. E. et al. Simulated coal spill causes mortality and growth inhibition in tropical marine organisms. Sci. Rep. 6, 25894; doi: 10.1038/srep25894 (2016)


Quality of Coal in Galilee Basin: Australia’s coal had traditionally been of a higher energy value, and therefore higher quality than that of other countries, with lower levels of sulphur, moisture, arsenic (As), boron (B), mercury (Hg) and selenium (Se) and producing fewer emissions per unit of electricity produced.


However the new coal mines being developed in the Galilee Basin in Queensland would produce lower energy coal than that exported in the past, which is probably why it’s never been taken before. Adani’s Carmichael mine in the north Galilee Basin is expected to produce coal with an energy value of 4,950 kcal and 25 per cent raw ash. 3 Mar 2016, Would the inferior coal be better left in the ground?




NCWQ Environment Report: May 2019

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Update on the impact of Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin: In previous reports and submissions to Government, concerns have been raised about the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin, in particular the Carmichael mine. Theseincluded

  • Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas;
  • Impact on ground water users in the Galilee Basin;
  • Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss;
  • Impact of dredging at Abbot Point and
  • Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

NCWQ submissions on impact of Carmichael Coal Mine;  impact of expansion of ports on the GBR environs; dredging and disposal of dredged material at Abbot Point; Galilee Coal Project at Bimblebox Nature Refuge


Details of objections to the granting of the mining lease and the environmental authority, the judicial review of the environmental authority and litigation against the mine involving native title have been detailed in previous reports. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D for submission to Federal Government and Queensland Government;

As reported previously the initial proposal to extract up to 60 million tonnes per annum of coal for 150 years from an estimated coal resource of 8.3 billion tonnes was reduced to a project lifetime to 60 yearswith estimated total production of2.3 billion tonnesof thermal coal. The originally proposal was for a new 189km rail line to the Port of Abbot Pointfor export principally to India to be burnt for electricity production, and for expanded capacity of the Port of Abbot. Subsequently, proposed port expansion has been reduced in size and the decision made to use the existing rail line for the initial stage of the project.

However the proposed mine would still be one of the largest coal mines in the worldand the mining and burning of coal from would generate an estimated 4.7 billion tonnesof greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to climate change, one of the major impacts of the mine is on groundwater.

Groundwatermodels aim to determine the likely effect of mining on groundwater levels and flows of water to and from key areas. If the groundwater levels decline below thresholdscritical to the function of whole ecosystems, such as the Doongmabulla Springs, irreversible harm can occur. Groundwater models can also be used to assess changes in flows of water to and from springs and streams, such as the Carmichael River, which crosses the mine site.

In late 2018 and early 2019 CSIRO and Geoscience Australia(GA) wrote two reports for the Federal Government on specific questions on groundwater monitoring, management and modelling planned by Adani Pty Ltd for its Carmichael mine proposal.

Their review pointed out three major flaws:-

  1. Over-prediction of flow from the Carmichael River into the aquifers below.
  2. Hydraulic conductivity values used in the model were significantly different from the values estimated by previous testing of the geological layers at the mine site.
  3. Bore heights used to calibrate the model were incorrect

If the model is corrected to address these flaws, the review points out that the drawdown at the Doongmabulla Springs will in all likelihood be higher than required under Adani’s federal approval conditions.

In addition which underground aquifers feed Doongmabulla Springs has not been identified.Substantive corrective measures for reversing future spring-flow impacts from mining have not been defined

Unless Adani puts forward its plan for dealing with these very real risks, regulators cannot hope to make an informed decision about the risk the mine poses to the Doongmabulla Springs.

Adani’s groundwater dependent ecosystem management plan(GDEMP) for its proposed Carmichael coal mine was recently approved by Federal Environment Minister after the company made commitments to fully address these issues. However, there is serious concern whether the company can or will address these issues.

A January 2019 analysis by EDO Qldof the latest version of Adani’s Black-throated Finch Species Management Plan showed the company had gone backwards in its commitments to the endangered species, reducing its proposed offset area by more than 2000 hectares compared to previous versions of its plan. March, 2019

The Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan and the Black Throated Finch Management Plan still need to be approved by the Queensland Government before significant disturbance can commence at the Carmichael Coal Mine.

Water licences: As reported previouslyCarmichael coal mine has been granted an unlimited 60-year water licence. Water pressure is an issue with flows from artesian bores now roughly half what they were in 1915. Since then, the water level in some bores has fallen by as much as 80 metres, and a third of bores have stopped flowing altogether. This directly affects the human, plant and animal communities that rely on artesian water. April 13, 2017. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D for submission to Federal Government and Queensland Government;

EDO QLD are currently taking the Federal Government to court, acting on behalf of Australian Conservation Foundation, over the Government’s decision to allow Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme to proceed without an assessment of its impacts on precious water resources. The scheme involves a 61 km pipeline for Adani to extract and pump up to 12.5 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor river.

Adani was granted their associated water licence and surface water licence for the Carmichael Mine on 29 March 2017. March, 2019

History of offences:Previously reported  allegations of Adani’s environmental offences in India include causing salinity in water supplies, the illegal destruction of mangroves and sand dunes and the blocking and filling of creeks. and Environmental Justice Australia. The Adani Groups Global Environmental Record_29 Oct 2015.pdf

The Queensland Government is investigating whether Adani has breached its environmental licence for the second time in two years with the release of coal-laden floodwaters from its coal port at Abbot Point in the state’s north.

With high definition satellite imagery, drone footage, public bore registers, and on-the-ground observations and photography,  EDO Qld and their client, Coast and Country, have delivered evidence to the Queensland Government that Adani has broken the law by clearing land, building roads, and commencing dewatering operations without the correct approvals in place. December, 2018;,

Jobs:Initially 10,000 direct and indirect jobs peaking from 2024 with $22 billion in taxes and royalties were predicted. In court in 2015, the company economics expert instead said it would create an extra 1,464 jobs in Australia — 1,206 of them in Queensland — and generate $16.8 billion in taxes and royalties.

While the revised mine plan could be less than a quarter of its original scale, Adani has not publicly put forward a new projection for jobs or tax and royalty streams. It is yet to reach a final deal with the State Government on how its royalty payments might be deferred in the mine’s first five years.

It would seem prudent to delay the commencement of the project given the advice from CSIRO and the company’s poor record of environmental management in Indiaand Australia until these issues are addressed.