By Rauleigh Webb
Cape Range Limestone Mine and Quicklime Plant
The mine obtained the necessary "environmental" clearances from the minister during 1998 despite opposition from every direction. The report by Spate, Hamilton-Smith and Keirnan regarding Cape Range was almost completely ignored and the minister gave the go ahead to the mine. Legal avenues to halting the mine were examined and found not to be viable. This is a sad tail for the Exmouth community and the caves and karst of Cape Range.
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park (LNNP)
The Calgardup and Giants Cave Debacle
As a conservation officer I have never had to report so unfavourably on cave managers but it was this issue which was the final straw and resulted in my resignation from the Cave Management "Advisory" Committee (CMAC) for the LNNP.
Calgardup and Giants Caves were selected by CALM for development as "tourist caves" in 1997. The proposal was to conducted unguided tours of both caves with visitors carrying their own light in Giants while Calgardup was to be electrically lit.
These caves were selected for development for all the wrong reasons. A plan describing how much money could be made from the caves was the only document prepared prior to the development commencing. No management plan, development plan or even site working plan was developed for either site. No environmental assessment of the impact of the development on the caves was undertaken. Roads, car parks, buildings, toilets, cave gates, walkways, staircases, track marking etc were all put in place without any assessment or consideration for the caves. I thought I lived in 1998 not 1920 L . This is the second time this has happened to both of these caves.
The amazing turn of events was that after 75% of the development was complete and the caves were being used by visitors, the minister decided that the caves should be run by private enterprise! As a result CALM halted commercial operations and the caves are currently only being visited by registered leaders in the LNNP Permit System and cavers. This has resulted in the lowest visitation to the caves, probably since they were discovered. This is the only positive outcome that I can report. The minister is still "sitting" on the issue and until further decisions are made the caves are taking a well earned rest. Letters to the minister have taken up to seven months for a response. Everyone’s home on this issue but no-ones listening.
CaveWorks, based at Lake Cave, has recently released a proposal to study the hydrobiology of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste karst. This project, which is likely to run for at least 3 years, will attempt to determine the catchments for the major stream caves and water table nothepreatic systems at Augusta. It will then attempt to ensure that these catchments are not being over-exploited and that the cave life dependant on the water is conserved. Other educational and research aspects of the work will assist CaveWorks with material for public and caver education. This project should be given every support by ASF cavers.
Passive infrared and vibration detectors are now in widespread use in caves of the LNNP. They are collecting event data, date and time of each event, allowing the determination of party size on the day of the visit. This data is being used to determine non-compliance with the Permit System and hopefully management will be able to better monitor non-compliant sites. This work is being undertaken by members of the WASG following a grant from the Gordon Reid Conservation Fund.
Track and Route Marking
Once again I must report with great sorrow the inability of management and a number of cavers to grasp the most basic concept of route marking in caves. Dingo and Nannup Cave’s were recently track and route marked by CALM employees. However instead of placing a single marked route through the cave EVERY possible passage was marked in Dingo Cave. As a result MAXIMUM Impact Caving on the cave is being achieved. The cave had been turned into an underground gymnasium with markers leading to sensitive areas of cave that were previously not readily found.
Furthermore in Nannup Cave track markers were glued onto a number of speleothems as well as unnecessary tracks being placed in the cave which only could only lead to greater impact on the cave.
It is hoped that management can be persuaded to reverse these appalling acts and that the caves will not continue to suffer.
Nullarbor World Heritage Listing
The election of the liberal government placed the proposed listing in limbo. No new developments have occurred since the WA liberal government was elected. Same status as 1994.
South Coast Management Plan
As at November 1998 none of the proposed National Parks or reserves in the Nullarbor region have been declared. The required legislation is STILL LOST (I have stated the same thing for the last 8 years!) in government mumbo jumbo! This has now worsened as a result of the Mabo and Wik decisions.
I can now only describe the situation on the Nullarbor as a case of gross neglect by the WA Government and its agencies. The management plan for the area is almost due for renewal and NONE of the proposed National Parks or reserves to protect caves have been declared.
Carabooda Housing Development
This caving area just north of Perth is generally on private property. A landowner is proposing a housing development on a low karst containing a considerable number of newly explored caves. WASG and SRGWA members have been exploring and documenting the caves in the area. They have also voiced objections to the development with the local shire council in order to conserve caves, which could be damaged by road and housing development. The council has not made final decisions as the time of writing.
Weelawadji Cave Reserve
This unique cave, containing two species of bats and massive guano piles from the locally extinct Macroderma gigas, resides in a remote (from major roads) reserve vested with CALM. During 1998 the gate protecting the majority of this very fragile cave system has been breached on at least two occasions. A request has been made of the management authority to attempt to improve the protection of the lock on the gate to the cave.
Drovers Cave National Park
The proposed land clearance adjacent to the National Park, which was given ministerial approval with over 50 conditions in 1997, has been the subject of more study and reports in 1998. The ASF and the WASG appealed the decision but the Minister dismissed all of our appeal points and approved the clearance BUT with further flora studies to be completed prior to clearing. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) contracted two independent environmental consultants who produced reports on the flora of the land to be cleared. Neither consultant recommended against the clearance of the land. However the EPA recommended against the clearance to the minister on the grounds of biodiversity! Hence, to date, this clearance has not proceeded – once again for reasons I cannot fathom. At least the catchment of Old River Cave remains somewhat intact.
Old River Cave was broken into during the year and the padlock replaced by persons unknown. CALM, the managers, were not aware of the change and WASG members replaced the lock of unknown origin and returned the keys to CALM.
Mt Enta National Park
During 1998 the Queensland National Parks put out a "draft management plan" for the Mt Etna Caves National Park. This rediculous document of four (4) pages was meant to be a draft management plan and comment was expected within days of receiving it. I was so enraged by the document that I responded on behalf of the Federation, as the other Conservation officer, Arthur Clarke, was busy with other plans at the time. I can only say that I was highly critical of the document and recommended that a plan containing some detail be drafted for sensible public comment. I am still disgusted that this purely political game is "played" with our National Parks. The governement clearly did not have enough plans submitted within some arbitrary time frame and so released this disgusting excuse for a management plan to make up the numbers. I weep for the future of our National Parks.
MICC and ASF Code of Ethics Modifications
Having read Arthur Clarke’s report I must concur with his rewording of my original MICC alteration proposal. I would strongly support Arthur’s amended proposal for the MICC.
Arthur’s proposed Code of Ethic’s ammendments also address the bolt laddering issue and should also gain the support of the Federation.
On a more positive note. I was recently contacted by Ric Brown from SRGWA, who indicated that he was interested in Cave Conservation and would be interested in taking up a Conservation Commission position. I would highly recommend this to the Federation. The Conservation Commission has been reduced to two following the last council meeting and is in desperate need of more assistance. Western Australia currently has more conservation work that I can handle alone and hence would greatly appreciate another Conservation Officer. As Ric is a member of SRGWA this can only assist inter-club cooperation as well.