David Ritter CEO Greenpeace Australia
The Department of Fisheries has released the report of its investigation into the massive fish die-off that occurred in Cockburn Sound in late November and early December 2015. Over 2000 fish and 15 species died.
Diatoms are the diameter of a hair, have spine-like bristles (setae) made of silica, and cause physical irritation to fish gills. The Report found that algal numbers reached significant concentrations and the sectioned gills of freshly dead fish showed considerable physical irritation.
It notes that the Department of Environment Regulation assessed industry monitoring data and inspected local drainage systems, but no potential pollution sources were identified. The only substantiated spillage identified was approximately 500 kilograms of canola grain at the CBH grain loading jetty, however there was no evidence of chemical contaminants in the spilt canola.
The Report does nothing to dispel claims made at the time by the Barnett Government and government authorities that the mass die-off was a 'natural occurrence'.
Suggesting that an environmental catastrophe like this is a 'natural occurrence' implies it is a matter of chance and the workings of nature, rather than of human design and government and industry action and inaction. Events become arbitrary unforseen acts of nature, rather than manifestations of an economic and political order that is designed to maximise economic growth and profit at the expense of the ecosystem and the people and communities who share that ecosystem.
As Piers Verstegen from the Conservation Council of WA noted, this event should be a serious wake up call for the state of Cockburn Sound, not explained away as natural occurrence.
This is despite the likelihood that the proposed marina development will worsen water quality and threaten seagrass in the southern end of the Sound, thereby threatening fish stocks, bird life and marine life even further.
Ministers, politicians, authorities and government agencies seem unwilling to publicly acknowledge this issue and have avoided any use of the words 'climate change' in relation to the deaths.
"... processes directly influenced by climate — including weather extremes, thermal stress, oxygen stress or starvation — collectively contributed to about 25 percent of mass mortality events."
According to the study, the mass kill events of the greatest magnitude "were those that resulted from multiple stressors, starvation, and disease."
Writing in Common Dreams, Deidre Fulton links animal die-offs across the globe to growing alarm about the deadly impact of climate change on the world's ecosystems and their vulnerable inhabitants.
Fulton lists examples of recent mass die-offs linked to the effects of climate change, including:
- 8000 black-and-white common seabirds (murres) were found dead on beaches in Alaska's Prince William Sound, joining thousands more that washed up on beaches from California to the Gulf of Alaska over the past year. One hypotheses is that the birds' usual food supply—the schools of herring and other small fish typically found near the coast—has been decimated by warming oceans or this year's extreme El Nino weather pattern.
- 45 pilot whales died in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, after more than 80 were stranded on the shore.
- a massive starfish stranding occurred on Moreton Island in Australia
- drought in the Western U.S. has transformed stretches of rivers into a mass graveyards for baby salmon
- coral bleaching events around the globe are degrading and eroding the structure of living reefs
- the mysterious die-off of endangered antelopes last spring in Central Asia, which killed more than half of the entire species in less than a month.
In the Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan writes that unexplained die-offs, abnormally large strandings and worldwide coral bleaching are bigger than almost anything else on record:
Here in WA, the response of the Barnett Government to the Cockburn Sound environmental crisis has been shambolic and inadequate.
The Environment Minister has been missing in action. At the height of the crisis the Minister claimed that water quality in the Sound was improving.
The Government claims that no change is needed in the monitoring of the Sound and has instigated bare-bones" environmental monitoring of water quality and only released a tender for that after the crisis. A former Manager of the Cockburn Sound Management Council (CSMC), claimed the tender was "bare-bones" environmental monitoring to allow the council to meet the requirements of the State Environmental Policy.