By Jay Anderson
The main conservation issues that currently exist within Western Australia are summarised below.
- Housing developments in the Southwest of the state (from north of Perth in Wanneroo to as far north as Jurien Bay) continue to have significant impacts on karst areas and caves in particular. Several known cave entrances were destroyed when a road was built over them at Carabooda just north of Perth. The Presidents of the Clubs have met with the local City of Wanneroo to discuss the karst in the area and to plan a co-ordinated approach-involving liaison regarding areas under development in karst regions. Greater liaison with the Environmental Protection Authority is also planned, by caving clubs, to ensure further caves and karst areas are not impacted. There is a huge task of acting to protect the karst areas, as decisions of the last 40 odd years in “land specification” are affecting the current development and impact of Perth’s expanding population pressures on the karst.
- Cape Range – The legal action of the A.S.F. (that was supported by the E.D.O) regarding the proposed mining leases covering 82 sq km of Cape Range was concluded in the Wardens Court in Perth on 10 November 2000. The Warden made his recommendation to the Minister for Mines on 9 February 2001. The mining company had also referred the proposed mine to the E.P.A. for evaluation. Objections to the level of evaluation were lodged, with us recommending for a change in the level of assessment. The outcome was that the level of assessment was changed (although not to the level we suggested). We are now waiting on the proponent to release their environmental review document for public submission, at which time we will make further comments in a formal submission. Additionally, through the campaigning of other conservation groups, the public is becoming more aware of the proposed resort at Mauds Landing, north of Coral Bay, on the Cape Range coast. There is now more support for the A.S.F. and W.A. caving clubs objection to the proposed mine as other groups are now aware that the limestone from the proposed quarry is for the proposed marina at Mauds Landing.
- The Department of Conservation and Land Management (C.A.L.M.) was divided into two departments: One to manage Forest’s, the other to manage National Parks and Reserves. The body that previously managed lands held by C.A.L.M. (tbe N.P.N.C.A.) was reorganised and is now called the Conservation Commission. They will be approached to ensure that future management plans adequately cover the specific needs of caves and karst. The N.P.N.C.A. had previously indicated that the appointment of a State Karst Officer was being considered. Further approaches, to the Conservation Commission regarding this issue, will be made once a suitable proposal is developed. There are several members working on plans for the State Karst Officer proposal and methods of lobbying Government for this position.
I have held the position of W.A.S.G. Conservation Officer for two years. I am also the W.A.S.G. representative on two Government Cave Management Committee’s, both of which meet bi-monthly –The Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park and The Yanchep National Park. During 2000, and with the realisation that the conservation position required more than one person, W.A.S.G. approved my proposal for a Conservation sub-committee. This group currently consists of 4-5 self-nominated people and meets monthly to discuss the specific issues that arise and to actively work towards the conservation of caves and karst. After discussions with other clubs, I am pleased to state that S.R.G.W.A. has nominated a representative to the committee. The Conservation Committee will now represent all W.A. clubs and several members will jointly be the A.S.F. conservation convenors.
Finally, a big “Thank You” to all cavers who have been interested in conservation issues and who have volunteered their time for various discussions, meetings and projects, especially to Rauleigh Webb who is willing to share what he has learnt and who is able to provide valuable consultation on an informal basis to anyone who asks and is willing to listen.
1. South of Perth:
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park (L.N.N.P.)
A. Cave Management and C.M.A.C.
The Cave Manager for the Department of Conservation and Land Management has been managing the caves within the National Park, including restricted access and permit system caves. Additionally, the Cave Management Advisory Committee meets bi-monthly to advise C.A.L.M. and the Caves Manager on cave management issues. Under C.A.L.M. organization, various Projects have been carried out during the past year – these include – monitoring of water levels, environmental monitoring of air quality, trackmarking, installation of hazard signs and installation of infrastructure such as boardwalks or stairs. It has been reported that the income from public cave entry and the cave/abseil/climbing permit system is covering the day to day operating costs. However, there is a HUGE list of projects that need to occur (replace gates, signs, stairs, pathways; increase staff monitoring of caves, installation of toilets). Additionally, where conservation or rehabilitation work needs to occur, cavers and volunteers are utilised for labour. However, it is also disappointing to see that the issue of research or investigative assessments are not a consideration due to the current lack of funding. It is felt that there needs to be more provision of funding to allow the much needed work and research in the areas caves.
During 2001, the contract expired for Edith Cowan University to provide Leadership training for the C.L.A.P. course ( Cave Leadership Assessment Panel). The Landmanager is now organising and facilitating the leadership training. As previously reported, with the introduction of Formal Leader Training, the number of leaders went from about 500 (in the self-assessment method) to the current number of about 60 leaders. It appears that there are few participants on the courses (3-5 people), which make the course difficult to run more than several times a year. This basic course provides knowledge about local karst and some leadership skills to Outdoor Leaders wishing to take participants to a certain category of caves within the National park. It is considered by some that there needs to be some more ongoing assessment or training of leaders, and that encouraging leaders to belong to A.S.F. caving clubs would improve the attitudes and behaviours of Leaders.
There was once major cave conservation incident during the year. A significant piece of formation called the “Christmas Tree” in Dingo cave was damaged. It appeared that there was a minor incident within a group of teenagers where the leader’s attention was diverted from the larger part of the group. During the trip, the formation was broken, apparently accidentally. It is important to note that the area was trackmarked and signs in the area should have indicated the significance of the area. However, it appears that the trackmarking had been previously tampered with (and not reported to management) and the “no-go” sign’s had been removed. The combination of factors led to light disciplinary action and a heightened awareness of the need for regular management visits to caves. The Formation was able to be returned to it’s original position, however it is not the same and is missing most of it’s crystals. It is hoped that this most unfortunate incident allowed all cavers and cave visitors to reconsider both their attitudes towards caves and their impact on caves.
As a result of the above incident, the Caves Manager has implemented a specific “Caves Monitoring” system where there is regular assessment of; permit system compliance and visitor impact; environmental resource and visitor impact; and environmental monitoring. Regular management inspections of caves will occur to check the impacts on the cave and other factors such as trackmarking. The implementation of this process is a great improvement on the current situation.
B. Track and Route Marking
I can report that caves within the Permit System (where public have access with accredited and approved leaders) are either trackmarked or utilise a route marking reflection system. Caves within the Restricted access and locked section are trackmarked according to work trip proposals and caver recommendations. Generally this system is maintained by cavers, volunteers or C.A.L.M employees when damages are observed or reported. It is my opinion that, although cavers and landmanagers are aware of the human impact on caves and minimal impact caving practices, there still is a lot of work that can be done and actions that can be undertaken to minimise our impact on caves. The Education of cave users, about their direct and indirect impacts on caves is a continuous process!!!
C. Widening of Caves Road
The Main Roads department in Western Australia has been planning for a lengthy period of time to widen Caves Road in the South-West of Western Australia (from Yallingup to Augusta). This road has become the major access road to many of the key features of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park (such as Calgardup Cave, as well as tourist facilities such as Lake Cave, Mammoth Cave and the Caveworks Interpretive Centre). It also passes over a number of known caves and lies very close (less than 10m) to a number of others. It appears that portions of Caves Road will be relocated, at some stage, to avoid “Black Spots” and also a number of caves. It is reported that the intent is that the road will not be widened in the National Park, and that any possible changes would be in consultation with the landmanagers/National park.
2. To the East:
A. Commercial Activity impacting on caves on the Nullarbor
It has come to our attention that Commercial activity on the Nullarbor has been increasing. The affects of this are not yet known, however Television and individual reports indicated that there are some commercial operators who are visiting this region (caves such as Old Homestead). Discussions with Landmanagers and D.O.L.A. reveal that the landmanagers don’t consider this an issue and have little capacity to control access to the area. It is considered that public visitation to this area is a future issue that will need to addressed.
B. Nullarbor World Heritage Listing
There appears to have been no progress on this issue, since the election of the new Government placed the proposed listing in limbo. No new developments have occurred and this area’s status needs to be raised with the Government again.
C. South Coast Management Plan
The situation has not changed significantly from previous reports. It still appears that none of the proposed National Parks or reserves in the Nullarbor region have been declared. The required legislation is still on it’s way……. 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.
3. North of Perth:
A. Yanchep National Park:
During mid 1999, the Yanchep National Park Caves Advisory Committee was formed. This was in accordance with the Park Management Plan involving “Cave Management”. This committee has recently developed a set of “Guidelines” for cavers, “Objectives for caving Permit system”, and a “Code of Practice for Caving in Yanchep National Park”. Additionally, the caves have been categorised into various categories according to access. A manual cave visitor register has been formalised to record cave visitations and some caves will be gated and locked. Members of our clubs have been involved in the process of assessing caves and recommending appropriate gate types. It is anticipated that C.A.L.M. staff will make the gates and the caving club members will assist in the installation of the gates.
It has been known for some time that the water levels in the caves and caves streams has been declining over the years. The Park staff have been monitoring the habitats and numbers of amphipods in caves. It is also understood that the Waters and Rivers Commission has been pumping water to certain areas in attempts to maintain the stygofauna habitats. It appears that the fauna are now being kept alive in artificial conditions in several caves. It is unclear how many amphipods are remaining in the cave environment now that the cave streams and root matt communities have been affected by the lowered water table.
It is known that the Gnangara Mound is at low levels. There are plans to selectively reduce the Pine Tree Plantations in the area and to replace them with native vegetation. However, this process needs to occur immediately, not over 20-30 years as is currently proposed. The Government Department responsible for managing the State’s water supply acknowledges that the water table has lowered, however it is unclear whether this is a result of climatic conditions or whether it is a seasonal issue. Regardless of the cause, the low water table impacts on the caves and the effect of this on the cave fauna is at a critical stage.
B. Carabooda Area:
It was reported last year on the proposed development of a privately owned block at Carabooda, called “Emerald Valley”. Unfortunately the land owner and developer did not consider the importance of caves during the development of this land. There were 23 caves and karst features located, explored and documented on the land proposed for development. A total number of 8 caves were directly impacted on by the development. Despite the objections of local members, nothing was done (by either the local Council or the State Government) to address the issue.
Furthermore, there is a proposed road through the Emerald Valley area called Alkimos Drive. This road passes next to a recreation reserve and adjacent to Reserve No. 24637 (an old limestone quarry site). The area is currently native bushland and contains a large number of caves. It is of great concern that the road is planned to go straight over a number of significant caves. One cave called Koala Cave has been known to contain palaeontological remains. More recently, this cave was visited and further important bones have been found. It is reported that this site is the only substantial mega fauna site in the Perth Metropolitan Area. The following fauna was found at Koala Cave during September 2001: Sthenurus pales and Sthenurus brownei (large extinct kangaroo’s), Vombatus hacketti (extinct wombat), Wonambi naracoortensis (extinct giant python at 4-6m long) and the Phaseolarctus cinereea (Koala). It is clear that this area is significant and needs to be protected.
There are two other areas nearby that are currently under plans for further development: Lot 51 Walding Road and Bernard Road. Members will be continuing to express concern regarding these proposed developments to the City of Wanneroo and the State Government. Letters will continue to be dispatched to appropriate authorities indicating the impact of development on caves and calling for the environmental assessment processes to be changed to ensure that such a situation will not occur again in the future. Many thanks to Lex Bastian for his continued attempts to draw notice to this matter with authorities and on raising the awareness of local cavers to the impact of development in our “backyard”.
C. Two Rocks & Wanneroo Area:
The City of Wanneroo corresponded with the caving clubs during 2000, regarding a request for cave location details and a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the S.E.S., Police, City of Wanneroo and Caving Clubs. The main issues involved were regarding environmental management and safety issues around the caves in the area. Several Joint meeting between the clubs resolved that specific cave locations could not be safely exchanged or kept in a Government Department. As such, there is a plan for a co-ordinated approach-involving liaison between the City of Wanneroo and Caving Clubs regarding areas under development in karst regions. Additionally, discussions were held regarding the sharing of cave locations for safety issues and the consultation and involvement of cavers in a rescue with other agencies such as the S.E.S. and the Police. Greater liaison with the Environmental Protection Authority is also planned, by caving clubs, to ensure further caves and karst areas are not impacted. There is a huge task of acting to protect the karst areas, as decisions of the last 40 odd years in “land specification” are affecting the current development and impact of Perth’s expanding population pressures on the karst.
The northwards extension of the Freeway and Wanneroo Road Upgrades may also impact on karst areas. This issue is being investigated further. The extent of the impact of the new developments on the boundary of the National Park is also an issue that is being investigated.
Development subdivisions in areas such as reported in previous reports (the Tokyu Corporation) continue to rise. The City of Wanneroo has a Karstic Policy stating that new developments need to undergo a cave and karst assessment first. It is anticipated that “cavers” will be allowed access to the caves to make appropriate comment on potential impacts on the caves and karst. There are several caving club members who have been utilised for this process of visiting a property and making an assessment of the karst features present. Where areas are assessed by the E.P.A. and are applied for under the environmental review process, the A.S.F. will continue to provide submissions.
D. East of Jurien - Drovers Cave National Park:
- Old River Cave - The land clearance adjacent to the National Park took place during the year 2000. This large land clearance caused concerns to be raised to the Environmental Protection Authority and may affect future applications for land clearances. At this stage, the impact of the land clearance on Old River Cave does not appear to have been assessed.
- Drover’s Cave - A meeting occurred in 1999 between the A.S.F. Co-Convenors and CALM to discuss the removal of large quantities of concrete blocking solution pipe cave entrances and the construction of a new gate for Drovers Cave. It was hoped that both of these acts would restore airflow to the cave and possibly attract back the bats that once resided in the cave. This proposal was sent to CALM in late 2000 and a response was received during mid 2001. The Landmanager was in agreance with most of the proposals and further discussions will be undertaken regarding actions that will need to occur to implement the proposal.
E. South of Jurien - Coastal Area –Jurien/Cervantes:
The northward growth of Perth continues to impact on the coast and associated karst features. There is a planned coast road between Two Rocks/Lancelin and Cervantes. The coastal localities of Wedge and Grey have been cited in development plans as “attractive locations on the Turquoise Coast”. It appears that land to the east of Jurien has already been subdivided with one known cave being involved. There is a current proposal for the “Turquoise Coast Development, Jurien Bay”. This area is an area of 2,006 hectares that contains 1,508 hectares of bushland, and is bounded to the south by the Hill River, and to the east by Indian Ocean Drive. The existence of caves or karst features in this area of land is yet to be determined.
F. Cape Range:
Please refer to previous reports for the background and specific details of this issue. The legal action of the A.S.F. (that was supported by the E.D.O) regarding the proposed mining leases on the Cape Range was concluded in the Wardens Court in Perth on 10 November 2000. The Warden made his recommendation (to the Minister for Mines on 9 February 2001), having accepted the evidence of several witnesses called by the A.S.F. The Warden found that the Cape Range is a unique karst system, outstanding on world scale in terms of its location, geological structure, subterranean fauna and it’s integrity. He also agreed that the Cape Range contained unique and extraordinary subterranean fauna, and that it was likely that unique fauna would be destroyed by a mining operation. The Warden also noted a high potential for significant undiscovered anthropological sites. The Warden accepted that the Cape Range contained World Heritage values and that mining activity would be a “significant negative factor” in future decisions regarding World Heritage nomination or listing.
Specific Recommendations of the Warden included: The mining lease should only be granted for the area presently proposed to be mined (thereby rejecting 99.98% of the area applied for); The mining lease should only cover an area that is necessary for the proponent to conduct an efficient mining operation; This small mining lease should only be granted if the E.P.A. finds that the proposal is environmentally acceptable; The E.P.A. assessment of the proposal to mine should be made before the Minister makes his decision (contrary to current policy); If it is found that the mine should not be sited where it is presently proposed, then the applicant should not put the mine in any other site within the lease area without going through the process again. It appears that the Warden was keen to minimise the risk to the environmental and World Heritage Values of the area and it is a positive result for the A.S.F.
The mining company had also referred the proposed mine to the E.P.A. for evaluation. Objections to the level of evaluation (Public Environmental Review - P.E.R.) were lodged, with us recommending for a change to a Proposal Unlikely to Environmentally Acceptable (P.U.E.A.). The outcome was that the level of assessment was changed from a P.E.R. to an Environmental Review and Management Program (E.R.M.P). Once again, this is a positive outcome, and the Minister allowed an extended period of public comment (10 weeks instead of 8 weeks).
Additionally, through the campaigning of other conservation groups, the public is becoming more aware of the proposed resort at Mauds Landing. This is north of Coral Bay, on the west of the Cape Range coast. It is apparent that the area is a significant site for a large variety of marine creatures and that the area will be impacted on by the proposed development. The limestone for the proposed marina at Mauds Landing is to come from the proposed quarry. There is now more support for the A.S.F. and the W.A. caving clubs objection to the proposed mine, as other groups are now aware of the two issues.
It is known from past fauna studies that there is a large variety of troglobitic fauna in the Cape Range area. Preliminary information regarding the fauna collected (from drill holes placed on the proposed mining lease) indicates several possible new species. The report indicates that there are several new genus and species of troglobitic fauna identified. One species had not been previously found in the Cape Range or elsewhere, while another is a new family record for Australia. It will be interesting to see what the proponent does with these results.
We are now waiting on the proponent to release their environmental review document for public submission, at which time we will make further comments in a formal submission. However, it is the Minister for Mines, who will have the final decision regarding the granting of the mining leases.
Finally, we really appreciate the huge amounts of work that was undertaken by the lawyer’s of the Environmental Defender’s Office and their staff in the preparation and execution of this case. Whatever the outcome of this case the A.S.F. will need to continue to oppose limestone mining on the Cape Range peninsula, call for the Government to remove the strategic limestone mining purpose from the proposed 5(h) reserve, enlarge the Cape Range National Park and advocate for World Heritage Listing for Cape Range.