By Jay Anderson, Peter Armstrong and Eve Taylor
The main conservation issues that currently exist within Western Australia revolve around the karst area to the north of Perth. This area has many issues: water abstraction, land clearing, catchment vegetation and impacts by development. Other issues in W.A. are ongoing and involve land managers and the appropriateness of management measures such as gates and management plans and impacts on karst and associated fauna. There is a huge task of acting to protect the karst areas in W.A. with the majority of agencies involved in “land management” or “environmental protection” appearing to have little knowledge or understanding of karst issues – as reflected in the decisions they make. The Government is yet to make a decision regarding the legal action of the A.S.F. and the proposed mining leases at Cape Range continues (as supported by the E.D.O.). The Speleological Conservation sub-committee has been successful. It is a small group of 6-8 cavers who meet monthly to discuss conservation issues, karst management issues and projects. This group actively works towards the conservation of caves and karst and aims to present regular educational presentations for cavers and cave leaders in W.A.. During 2002 the following events have occurred:
- May 2002 – “Cavers caring for Caves” – An evening for cavers and outdoor leaders on cave conservation & minimal impact.
- Two Joint Speleological Groups “Community Education” Displays held at Yanchep National Park’s “Spring Fest” on 6/10/02 and at Neerabup Festival on 17/11/02.
- “Speleology is a Science – what do cavers really do?” – W.A. Speleology display for Science week 8/2002.
- Provision of training to CALM staff at Yanchep: 05/2002 -Speleological Group members trained 10 C.A.L.M. staff in issues regarding cave geology and cave conservation issues.
- Regular contribution (regarding karst issues in W.A.) to W.A. environmental newsletter the “Greener Times” - Monthly Newsletter of the Conservation Council. Articles published in 3/2001, 1/2002, 5/2002, 7/2002 & 10/2002.
- Ongoing karst related article in the “WANGI” - Monthly Newsletter of the Yanchep National Park.
1. South of Perth:
A. Cave Management in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park (L.N.N.P.)
The Cave Manager for the Department of Conservation and Land Management (C.A.L.M.) has been doing an excellent job of managing the caves within the National Park. Additionally, the Cave Management Advisory Committee (C.M.A.C.) meets bi-monthly to advise The Department on cave management issues. This process is working really well and various Projects have been carried out during the past year. For the first time in 4 years – the cave operations are in the “positive” – we are hoping this will allow more work to be undertaken rather than the ‘necessary’ tasks only. The “Caves Monitoring” system is progressing to assess the permit system compliance, visitor impacts; and environmental monitoring. Regular management inspections of caves occur to check the visitor impacts on the cave and other factors such as track marking. Grants have been obtained to assist with the monitoring of aquatic root mat communities. Decreasing water levels may be a threat to these communities. Water levels are measured monthly, and photographic monitoring and water analysis takes place every three months.
One concern is that a large amount of surveying occurs in restricted access caves. This can cause unnecessary damage and “trogging” and more caver education needs to occur around this issue. It is aimed that cave managers, cave visitors and trip leaders can reconsider their attitudes towards their impact on caves. The W.A.S.G. has purchased an electronic measuring device called a “Disto” that will be used in surveying and that can reduce impacts during cave surveys. We also suggest that more caves are trackmarked and that trip leaders carry track markers and fishing line. It is also extremely important that all individuals are aware of their impact on caves and that they are familiar with and abide by minimal impact caving techniques.
Both the Speleological Groups have worked with CAVEWORKS to finalise the long overdue survey of Easter Cave. There are currently discussions occurring regarding the management of the cave and future access issues. The report on the recent research undertaken by CAVEWORKS is also to be released very soon.
C. Wallcliffe Cave – Shire of Augusta/Margaret River
In May 2002 a submission was made to the Shire of Augusta Margaret River regarding the draft cave management plan for Wallcliffe cave. There were a variety of concerns regarding both the lack of management of the cave and the sole commercial operator’s activities in the cave. After no response was received, followup letters were sent in October. A reply has indicated that the Shire wishes the land to be vested to C.A.L.M and managed similar to other caves in the National Park. However, it appears that the existing agreement between the sole commercial operator and the Shire takes priority over any recommendations or guidelines - the Shire indicating that the size of tour groups cannot be restricted as the current License agreement clearly allows for groups of up to 25 persons at a time to enter the cave!! More information needs to be obtained and actions taken to ensure the protection of this important karst area.
2. To the East:
A. South Coast Management Plan
There has been no progress on this situation and the management plan for the area will need revising. This task is ongoing.
B. Nullarbor World Heritage Listing
There appears to have been no progress on this issue. There will need to be some effort made in recommending the World Heritage Listing for the Nullarbor and contact between both the W.A. state government and the S.A. state government regarding this issue. This task is ongoing.
C. Commercial Activity impacting on caves on the Nullarbor
Speleological Groups are aware that commercial activity on the Nullarbor has been increasing and public visitation to this area is a future issue that will need to addressed.
3. North of Perth:
A. Yanchep National Park:
The Yanchep National Park Caves Advisory Committee meets regularly, however it appears that C.A.L.M do not utilise many recommendations from the committee, regarding concerns and actions required. The Park Management Plan is expired and needs considerable revising. Significant amounts of the plan have not been implemented and other parts are inaccurate.
The Permit system is working well and there is now a written record of cave visitation for the area. The main issues involve cave gating: – design, materials and impacts on fauna(including potential impacts). Despite a process involving members of speleological groups assessing each cave and recommending appropriate gate types, several caves have been gated without prior consultation. This issue is of concern in that impacts on the local bat population have not been considered, nor have entry of organic matter into the caves. It is anticipated that speleological group members will need to continue to work very closely with C.A.L.M. staff in providing education about karst and speleological issues and opportunities for research in the area.
The situation regarding the cave fauna in the stream caves is critical. The government has been monitoring the habitats and numbers of amphipods in caves and Waters and Rivers Commission has been artificially maintaining water to certain areas in attempts to maintain the stygofauna habitats. The cave streams and root matt communities have been affected by the lowered water table in the area – a result of climate, pine trees on the eastern catchment and water abstraction in the area. A current proposal by the Government agencies involves an creating an artificial water mound in the National Park to attempt to get some water flow back into the caves. The plans to selectively reduce the Pine Tree Plantations in the area and to replace them with native vegetation will occur over 20-30 years. Further action regarding this issue is a priority as the catchment to the east is important in the karst hydrology.
It is excellent to see that several speleological group members have been very active in the Yanchep area – either in research or in rehabilitation/conservation. There have been a small group of individuals who regularly meet at Yanchep and who carry out work in various caves. This may be assisting C.A.L.M. in monitoring of the significant fauna sites or in removing graffiti from caves, or other conservation projects. It will be our goal to encourage other cavers to get involved and to assist in projects in the karst area north of Perth.
B. Carabooda Area:
- Emerald Valley & Alkimos Road
The proposed development of a privately owned block at Carabooda, called “Emerald Valley” was reported last year. There were 8 of the 23 caves and karst features in this area that were directly impacted on by the development. The ongoing issue 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 Tuart 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. This area also contains a cave called Koala Cave, which contains palaeontological remains. Several letters have been sent to various Government Departments attempting to resolve this issue and the task is ongoing. Other tasks include the ongoing work of karst assessment – surveying the caves and an inventory of karst features.
- Lot 51 Walding Road
Another area that contains karst and was to be impacted by further development is directly to the east of the Yanchep National Park. Members made several trips to the area to locate and determine the area’s karst features. A number of caves and karst features were found - one significant cave contained water and had phreatic development. After some discussion, the landowner stated that they planned to incorporate the caves in an area of bushland reserve. The water cave was assessed for fauna and is now receiving the attention of C.A.L.M. It appears that the C.A.L.M. will purchase a significant portion of the subdivision to add to the National Park.
Letters will continue to be sent to City of Wanneroo and the State Government indicating the impact of development on caves and calling for the environmental assessment processes and land subdivision process to be changed. Additionally, we will continue to request that the specific proposal of Alkimos Drive road be relocated to protect the caves in the region. Local caver and geologist, Lex Bastian continues to draw the authorities notice to this matter and raising the awareness of locals to the impact of development in our “backyard”.
C. Two Rocks & Wanneroo Area:
The 2001 report stated that 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. This issue was resolved at the time with the Speleological Groups providing a representative to the local emergency management committee (L.E.M.C.), providing a list of “speleo” rescue contacts and agreeing to work with the City of Wanneroo to provide a karst map giving general locations of karst areas that contain significant karst needing further assessment if that area is to be impacted by development. The original request for cave location information has been made again recently, by the L.E.M.C. Advice has been sought from the E.D.O. (Environmental Defender’s Office) on this issue and further actions will need to be taken.
It is clear that there needs to be a co-ordinated approach-involving liaison between the City of Wanneroo and Caving Clubs regarding areas under development in karst regions. Greater liaison with the Environmental Protection Authority is needed, 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 the current development and impact of Perth’s expanding population pressures on the karst.
Development subdivisions continue to occur. The plan is to have speleological individuals who are able to visit a property and make an assessment of the karst features present. The report can then be given both to the landowner and the local Government to assist in the best response required in the situation. It is our goal for 2003 to have several landowner education sessions and workshops – discussing the area’s geological development, and what it means to “Live on karst”. Ultimately it is planned to publish a landowners brochure/booklet outlining these issues in a manner that is educational and non confrontational. To assist in this education, and to provide a visual aspect to learning it is envisaged that a 3D karst model be developed – showing the physical interaction between the surface and the subsurface in karst – specifically in this area.
D. Involvement with Government in Local Community Consultation:
Several members of Speleological Groups regularly attend local community consultation groups to ensure that karst issues are considered and raised in ongoing decision making regarding the northern groundwater mound that is a karst catchment area. The Gnangara/East Gnangara (Water Resources) Community Consultative Committee meets approximately bi-monthly to discuss progress on the state of the Gnangara Mound and the ‘Section 46 – Review of Environmental Conditions on management of the Gnangara and Jandakot Mounds’. This includes information on the artificial supplementation of wetlands in the karst area and the emergency response strategy regarding the cave streams and stygofauna in the Yanchep caves. It was also excellent to see significant speleological presence at the government’s Gnangara Mound Water Forum – held in September 2002.
E. East of Jurien - Drovers Cave National Park:
- Old River Cave – At this stage, the land clearance adjacent to the National Park (occurred during 2000) does not appear to have significantly impacted on the underground stream.
- Future impacts in the area. It is believed that the Government is planning on developing a borefield in the west of this area. It is unclear how this proposal would impact on the caves hydrology or the karst aquifer – more information needs to be obtained.
- Drover’s Cave – The proposal and the C.A.L.M. response regarding the removal of large quantities of concrete blocking solution pipe cave entrances and the construction of a new gate for Drovers Cave is ongoing. A recent conservation field trip to the cave occurred and participants raised concerns regarding the need for a full fauna assessment and further information regarding the cave to occur prior to major changes to the caves airflow. It will also be recommended that the whole main entrance be restored to it’s original condition – rather than just altering the gate – ie to remove the rock wall in the overhang entrance and to have a larger area of “gate” that is bat friendly. Further discussions will be undertaken regarding actions that will need to occur to implement the proposals.
F. South of Jurien - Coastal Area –Jurien/Cervantes:
- Housing & Roads development
The northward growth of Perth continues to impact on the coast and associated karst features. The planned coast road between Two Rocks/Lancelin and Cervantes and the “Turquoise Coast” will open this area up for future land development. The land to the east of Jurien has already been subdivided with one known cave being involved. The proposal for the “Turquoise Coast Development, Jurien Bay” does not appear to have considered the existence of caves or karst features in this area of land. Further work needs to be done in this area. At this stage, a large amount of the area of bushland has not been assessed for karst features.
- Lancelin Defence Training Area – (L.D.T.A.) proposed Extensions
During June 2002, the E.P.A. released a P.E.R. (public environmental review) regarding the area to the north of the existing Defence Training Area. The Defence Department proposed to extend their training area. This is a karst area close to the pinnacles and threatened SH-21 (Tombstones cave), which was significantly extended in cave diving trips during 2001 and is now a significant cave for the area. Concerns were expressed by Speleological Groups and local community groups regarding the lack of consultation and the need for a thorough karst assessment to occur.
As no response was received, during October, followup letters were sent to the E.P.A., The Minister for the Environment and The Minister for Defence. We are advised that the Defence will not proceed with the proposal to extend the existing L.D.T.A. and will investigate alternative sites. The decision was made after careful examination of the proposed area and in consideration of the concerns raised by neighbouring property and community groups. The W.A.S.G. have been notified that they will be invited to be on a management committee for the L.D.T.A.
G. Cape Range:
(refer to previous reports for the background and ongoing specific details). Although 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 in November 2000, the process continues. The E.P.A. process of assessment was to be an Environmental Review and Management Program (E.R.M.P). The public comment for this closed on the 7/10/2002. There were submissions from both the A.S.F. and the state Speleological Groups. Additionally, the Conservation Council and the Wilderness Society met with speleological representatives to gain an understanding of the karst issues involved. Access was provided to the information utilised in the A.S.F. court process. Some weeks after submissions had closed – the E.P.A. made contact requesting permission to forward the speleological submission in totality to the proponent – rather than just including the concerns in a summary report that includes other groups concerns.
At some stage, the Government (Minister for Mines) will make the final decision regarding the granting of the mining leases. It is our recommendation that the A.S.F. 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.
G. Issue regarding the Mining Warden’s Court being able to hear environmental objections:
There were two submissions made on this issue – one in February 2002, when a submission was made on the “Project Development Approvals System – Interim Report”. Then, in May 2002, a submission on the “Project Development Approvals System – Final Report” was made. This report related to the Government’s proposed changes to The Mining Act regarding the Mining Warden’s ability to hear objections in the Mining Warden’s Court on environmental grounds. This was the case utilised in 1999 by the E.D.O, and that allowed the ASF to take the proponent to court regarding the proposed limestone quarry at Cape Range. The advantages of the Warden's Court process include an extremely high quality of material presented as opposed to an environmental assessment/review submission and the ability to call witnesses and cross-examine. This Court process is open and clear process where varying forms of evidence can be presented.
4. Comments on W.A. Cave Management Practices.
W.A. has many caving areas and a huge variety of landowners and cave managers. It is our belief that Government agencies, Cave Managers and Speleological Advisors on cave management committee’s need knowledge, education and experience in karst and cave management. The specific focus is necessary for the conservation and care of caves. This would allow informative and advised decisions regarding the karst management of an area. Thus, the aim of the W.A. Conservation Commission is for promoting the future form of cave management to involve a State Karst Officer (S.K.O.) who had a background in caves and karst and could make appropriate decisions regarding each karst area in our state. A suitable proposal needs to be developed and discussed with Government and other agencies. Some Local Councils have indicated they would support such a proposal. The W.A. Karst areas need to be acknowledged as important, precious & non-renewable so that they can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.