Carbon storage questions

The viability of a carbon capure and storage project off the 90 Mile Beach is being investigated.
The viability of a carbon capure and storage project off the 90 Mile Beach is being investigated.

PROPONENTS of a carbon capture project claim a marine seismic survey off Golden Beach should not have an effect on fish and wildlife — however, people will be asked not to swim during the survey.

The CarbonNet project, a state and federal government investigation into carbon storage in Bass Strait, is currently in its development stage.

A drop-in community information session will take place tomorrow at the Golden Beach Community Hall from 3.30pm to 6.30pm.

The marine seismic survey is scheduled to begin after the Australia Day weekend, and should be completed before Easter in March.

The survey will map the geology of the ocean floor close to the shore, examining whether rocks will be suitable for long-term carbon storage.

On Facebook, residents, ratepayers and others have attacked the perceived lack of communication from the research team, with many saying the announcement of the testing came as a surprise.

Project director Ian Filby said there had been extensive consultation, through letter box drops, talking to community groups, and meetings with the Golden Paradise Beach Residents and Ratepayers Association every few weeks.

He confirmed that Life Saving Victoria has been asked to keep beachgoers out of the water during the seismic testing, which will involve a scientific vessel mapping the ocean floor using sound.

When the vessel is in Commonwealth waters, it will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but when it is closer to shore, it will not operate on weekends, allowing people to go in the water.

“If people (or dogs) enter the water while the vessel goes past and their head is under the water they will hear the sound of the survey vessel. This may cause some discomfort,” Mr Filby said.

A fact sheet provided by the CarbonNet project notes the sonic mapping’s effect on wildlife will be “minimal”, as it will not affect fish with no swim bladder (for example, sharks, rays, tuna, and flounder), but may temporarily scare off salmon, sardines, and some species of flathead.

Observers will be on the vessel to keep an eye out for whales and other sea mammals, and there are safety precautions for lobsters and scallops.

On-shore fishing will still be allowed.

The fact sheet also said the “potential impacts from the survey on all fish, including those with a swim bladder, has been assessed as minor or insignificant, localised, and temporary”.

“There’s a lot of requirements on us to minimise our impacts — risks and hazards have been considered, they’re all at a very low or manageable level.”

He added the meetings had generated a “good dialogue”.

“We’re working closely with organisers of the fishing comps (on the Australia Day and Easter weekends at Golden Beach), they've expressed preferences (for the timing of the survey),” he said.

“We’ve been meeting with them for a couple of months now, and that’s why we moved the survey to this time of year, they understand what we need to do to undertake the survey safely.”

Community hall chairman Dave Guthrie said he formed the community CarbonNet committee after a meeting in October.

“There’s too many community members who don't understand what's happening with this scientific project,” he said.

“Three quarters of the community were away in winter.

“After the survey ... we’ll form a committee to fight (the project).”

Mr Guthrie said the ratepayers association was initially contacted in March last year, but more consultation should have taken place with other community groups.

The fact sheet was developed after community members asked for their questions to be answered in a simpler way.

Wellington Shire Council development manager John Websdale said the council had no regulatory role in the seismic survey.

“Council and council officers have been briefed by CarbonNet about this project and from the onset our advice was that the government must make sure it engages with the local community and stakeholders,” he said.

“It is the role of the state government to engage with the community about its plans and we believe that so far they have been doing that.”

A marine life survey has already begun, noting wildlife populations, which will be compared to surveys completed last May, and a follow-up after the seismic testing.

The testing boat will map 166 kilometres of ocean floor, beginning about a nautical mile off the coast of Golden Beach.

The southern-most point of the planned assessment zone is about 17 kilometres from the 90 Mile Beach Marine National Park, though boats may move closer.

“No cases of fish death have been reported from seismic surveys.”

Mr Filby said the project had met all safety approvals from state and federal regulators.

“All these issues were considered through the regulatory approval, there’s a 750-page environmental plan,” he said.