Summary of WA Karst Conservation and Management Issues

The "summary" from 2007 is still accurate and continues to relate to 2008 – with little progress on outstanding conservation/cave and karst management issues. However we could also add that there has been some further positive and forward progress in other areas. Both the Federal and State Government are being more active in seeking to document karst values. The Federal Government is preparing a submission to nominate the Cape Range karst/Ningaloo Reef for World Heritage Listing. Additionally, the Federal Government is progressing its National Heritage listings and review of karst sites – as such, it is likely that speleologists will be involved further in the protection of caves and karst systems in WA.

Of note is that the State Government has made some positive gains in several ways. The Department for Environment and Conservation (DEC) has circulated (currently it is an internal document and yet to be made public) a draft policy on karst in the state, and this is great to see. The Government also continued to fund a project officer for the Hidden Treasures project for most of 2008. Several of us, have been involved in key issues, at a personal level, depending on our roles at the time. Rob has been employed as the Hidden Treasures research/project officer, assisting speleo’s and DEC to work in partnership in relation to karst management. Jay gave a presentation to the EPA early in the year, which was well received. During August, Jay organised a multi-agency karst forum – where there was a presentation of the NSW model (Karst and Geodiversity Unit of the Department of Environment and Climate Change) and extensive discussion and support for a State karst officer. The special meeting involved discussion on karst management in WA, and included several karst management experts and local Officers (DEC, DPI) and speleologists. It was a positive meeting, with several outcomes discussed.

Due to a lack of volunteer time this year, and other personal commitments, we have been unable to conduct any public presentations or displays under the ASF Conservation Commission. However, there has been similar relevant activity organised at a local level, with members of the speleological groups being involved in the annual Children’s Groundwater festival and National Science Week. During August 2008, members of Cavers Leeuwin co-ordinated a "caves day" which involved displays at the National Park caves and community education. The Conservation Commission, through key involvement of local speleologists, will continue involvement in public education, through community displays, participation in community events and presentations.

Jay Anderson Rob Susac Jeff Murray

1. South of Perth:

1A Cave Management & karst issues, Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park (L.N.N.P.)

We are still waiting for the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park Management plan (1989-1999) to be updated and released for public comments. The Cave Management Advisory Committee (CMAC.) continues to meet to advise the DEC on cave management issues. This process continues to work really well and various projects are undertaken regularly - involving local speleological members. Speleologists continue to support DEC in cave protection and in an advisory capacity.

There is still a significant need for thorough interagency consultation and communication, including liaison with speleological groups. It is hoped that improved future communication on karst management issues will lead to further research on the areas karst system.

The local speleological group, Cavers Leeuwin, organised a community event for National Science week in August – in partnership with DEC and CCG (Cape to Cape catchment group). Local speleologists continue to be involved in on-ground conservation works (such as cave restoration, removal of debris from caves and trackmarking) and cave management. In addition, several local speleologists in a personal capacity are on the organising committee for the next ACKMA conference, to be held in Margaret River in May 2009.

1B Karst in the Mandurah/Peel Region

There is no specific management of the karst system that lies south of Perth and adjacent to the Dawesville Estuary. Further work needs to be undertaken in this area, including determining land tenure for sites and the "plan" for caves and reserves in the area. There is also a need for public education. The status of many caves in relation to land development in the area is unclear. This needs to be determined as a matter of priority.

2. To the East:

2A The Nullarbor

As reported on in previous reports, the ASF and local WA speleological groups have continued to be involved in the project - aimed at protecting the biodiversity of the Nullarbor Karst. This has involved the progression of plans and projects through the Natural Resource Management (NRM) group for the Nullarbor and in consultation with DEC. There has been extensive involvement of the ASF in the planning process, over a number of years. This has involved considerable liaison between various ASF members with knowledge skills and experience of the Nullarbor and of karst management. The project has progressed well with the compilation of a final report on the values and management issues for the Nullarbor. The Interim Management Guidelines are yet to be finalised and publically released (for an official consultation period) – at which time, other ASF members will be consulted in the development of the document.

Cocklebiddy cave is still closed by management. The land manager responsible is in the process of developing some interpretation signage at this site, including liaison with a WA Co-Convenor.

The ASF continues to advocate for the need for World Heritage Listing for the Nullarbor. This is an important opportunity for ACKMA and ASF to partner together in raising the awareness of the Nullarbor and in discussing karst values with the Government. It is anticipated that ASF members will continue to have involvement in consultation regarding the management of the Nullarbor.

2B South Coast Management Plan

There has been no progress on the Regional management plan (1992-2002).

3. North of Perth:

3A Yanchep National Park:

We are still awaiting the release of the draft Yanchep National Park Management plan (1989-

1999). There has been further speleological input in management plan drafts, with liaison between the Department of Environment and Conservation and local speleologists, primarily through YCAC. The draft plan has been scheduled for public comment by the end of 2008. The Yanchep National Park Caves Advisory Committee (YCAC) continues to meet bi-monthly to discuss local karst issues. We still recommend that this area needs a specific "cave manager" as a matter of priority. There is a need for an integrated approach to management in the area. Speleologists continue to work closely with Park staff: providing advice on cave and karst management issues and assisting with local projects. It is understood that there are plans to alter the lighting in Crystal Cave, to remove the lampenflora and to upgrade the in-cave infrastructure.

The status and condition of the Threatened Ecological Community (TEC) remains unknown. To date, the State Government project to artificially supplement the caves has not been operational or successful. This issue was the topic of discussion during the recent ISSB (International Symposium of Subterranean Biology), and the future of the sites is unclear.

3B Carabooda Area:

There has been no further progress on the issue of the planned road in the Alkimos Area (as reported in the 2005 report). It remains of great concern that there is a road planned to go straight over a number of significant caves. This issue needs more time to progress (to a resolution) than is currently available to those volunteers involved. This whole area needs significant community education about karst.

3C Two Rocks & Wanneroo Area:

Although, the City of Wanneroo Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) continue to meet, there has been little further focus on karst issues. The EAC committee plays an important role and can assist in raising the profile of karst in the area. The EAC has recently revised their policy, however it no longer highlights karst as a key issue. It is very disappointing to see that the proposal to "Develop a Caves and Karstic Features Policy" has been dropped and is no longer seen as important. This was initiated during 2006 and 2006, but never completed, and had utilised a significant amount of effort. At the time it was excellent that the Council was committed to the policy. There are continual requests for advice, from local residents and also other Government agency’s - yet nothing is in concrete within the local government agency, for the processing of information and the restriction to development in this karst area.

Speleologists were involved in highlighting the importance of karst in the maintenance of a sustainable healthy environment at the yearly Children’s Groundwater Festival 2007 held at Whiteman Park.

Development subdivisions continue to occur, however it seems that although speleologists can be involved in karst assessments, this is not given the required policy framework for implementation. Development continues to occur and there has been an increase in the number of requests for karst assessment. Speleologists receive regular requests that involve a significant amount of volunteer time to resolve. This shows a need in the community and an opportunity for the State Government to support our future ‘vision’ for karst management in WA.

3D Coastal Karst – Lancelin to Geraldton - including Jurien/Cervantes:

The "Hidden Treasures" Project (from the 2006 report) concluded in 2008. As a result of this project, greater liaison has occurred with DEC, speleologists and private landowners. A final report was compiled which will be a significant key reference for the area. Some key issues arising from investigation in this area include;

The bat slot in the gate at 6E-24 has been increased in size as recommended by the report.

This cave was found to contain the highest overall natural values of caves throughout the Northern Agricultural Region and should receive prioritization in regards to conservation efforts. 6E-22 came in second highest in natural values and is located on private land.

Interpretive signage should be implemented at various highly visited cave sites such as 6E-

3, 6E-24, 6SH-17 & 6J-2 as priority locations. This information should focus on the risks of visitation, the sensitivities of the site and the potential impact on features and fauna such as bats, particularly between mid September to January for maternity sites. Other information could be site specific or provide contact information for ASF affiliated clubs.

A high degree of interest was indicated by International biologists interested in pursuing research into stygofauna found at 6SH-17 (amphipods) and 6M-1 (syncarids/copepods). Terrestrial fauna that also sparked continued interest included meenoplids from Nambung NP and a cixiid from East Moore River.

As the declining water levels in coastal cave systems reflect the broader water shortage crisis, it is imperative to monitor stream caves as early warning systems that demonstrate the stress or ecological that will be reflected in the wider environment. Dr Pauline Treble is investigating climatic patterns through mass spectrometry of oxygen isotopes and trace element concentrations in stalagmite sections. This has been done in the southwest but there is a strong case for this investigation to be expanded into the NAR. Research into climate history sourced from speleothems should be supported where there is an appropriate specimen available. Although this is not directly associated with cave conservation, the work highlights the importance of caves as time capsules of information and demonstrates how caves can act as a litmus test for broader ecological health.

Public liaison and talks about the caves and there sensitivities was undertaken in the form of public talks that were held at Jurien Bay (to over 50 people from both local and afar (which was more than had been expected!) and the Geraldton Museum (58 people), which was again the highest turnout for any of the information sessions to date. A presentation was also delivered at the International Symposium of Subterranean Biology 2008. All these were well received. Articles were written for the local paper known as the Advocate and in the NACC Targeted Investment Program newsletter; NACC Tip Bits.

Further work that has been recommended includes an expansion of wetland monitoring to include stygofauna and subterranean terrestrials where applicable. Also the cooperation between speleologists and government departments for projects that incorporate data basing for planning, ecological monitoring and bio-inventory.

The discussions with National Park/State Government regarding the management of Drover’s Cave has been on hold due to a number of issues, and will continue to be progressed. The rehabilitation work at the entrance of Drovers Cave (6J-2) is yet to be undertaken as appropriate gate replacement was not an option and complete rehabilitation of the entrance area was widely considered as the best way forward. A recent donation means that plans for the gate change are now possible and management of this site will be discussed in collaboration between speleologists and DEC.

3E Cape Range:

The Cape Range National Park Management plan (1987-1997) has been in the process of review for some time. The Management plan was finalised in early 2007. Additionally, as noted in previous reports, the A.S.F. case regarding proposed mining leases on the Cape Range has not yet been concluded (although finalised in the Wardens Court in Perth (11/2000). The Government (Minister for Mines) has STILL to make the final decision regarding the granting of the mining leases. The A.S.F. will continue to request the removal of the strategic limestone mining purpose from the proposed 5(h) reserve. In addition, the Government advisory committee for this area, still needs speleological representation/expertise.

Speleologists continue to raise the importance of the World Heritage nomination to the Government. The A.S.F. has continued to advocate that the Cape Range is a significant karst area that needs such protection and recognition. It has taken the Government several years to progress the plans to nominate the Cape Range for World Heritage Status. A special Government committee made recommendations on the proposed boundary’s, however it is understood that this has not been resolved.

3F The Kimberley – FAR north:

The caves and karst of the Kimberley are of considerable international significance, yet there is still no progress on karst management for this region. It is our belief that the area’s current land management regime does not adequately provide for the reservation and protection of important karst features. This area needs appropriate karst management, in particular an "integrated management" focus (see the 2005 report for more information). The National Heritage List may be an appropriate mechanism for recognising the areas "outstanding" values.

4. Public Education:

Members of the local speleological groups were again involved in the display at the "Children’s Groundwater Festival" in November. Positive feedback was received about this event that targeted teachers and primary school aged children in the Perth region. During August 2008, members of Cavers Leeuwin co-ordinated a "caves day" which involved displays at the National Park caves, a take-home item (sticker of the karst system) and community education.

5. Karst Policy:

It is understood that the DEC have compiled an excellent document that is about to be finalised. It is however not clear whether this is an internal document or a publically accessible document.

6. Future Cave and Karst Management in W.A.:

There are great opportunities for partnership projects in WA. We aim to continue to develop relationships with Government and other Environmental Agencies and to progress the vision for future karst management in WA.