Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link: Impact on Marine Life

In today's hearing for the inquiry into the Western Harbour Tunnel, Abigail quesitoned the marine risks that the tunnel poses...

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Perhaps the Committee could follow that up for you. What would be the potential consequences on the marine ecosystems if the contaminated sediments were disturbed and not contained? Perhaps that is a question for you again, Dr Hutchings.

Dr HUTCHINGS (Member, Australian Marine Sciences Association): I think it could have a severe impact. As Professor Byrne suggested in her opening remarks, the quality of the biodiversity or the amount of biodiversity in the harbour has been increasing over time and I could see this as a backward step. We certainly would lose increased sediment rates, turbidity in the water; we would certainly lose a lot of those seagrass beds and kelp beds that have been recovering.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Could you talk us through the impacts not just of contamination but also of noise and vibration in the construction process on marine life in particular?

Dr HUTCHINGS: I think we certainly know that a lot of animals that live in the benthos are very susceptible to vibration and move away, but how far they can move and quickly enough to avoid being impacted by the excavation I do not know, and nothing was reported in the EIS on these topics.

Professor BYRNE (Member, Australian Marine Sciences Association): And we know that big animals—some of the big fishes and other bigger marine organisms—would avoid noise; that is well known, but that is not our expertise. We spoke, really, to the organisms that live on and in the sediment and the animals that are really abundant in Sydney Harbour that we have expertise in. Things like marine mammals, the penguins that sometimes you see at the ferry wharves—those would probably not be around; they would avoid it. But, again, that is not my expertise.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Thank you. Are there any threatened species that are potentially at risk in the harbour?

Professor BYRNE: In AMSA's submission—in the big submission we wrote—we pointed out that there are the endangered seahorses, some endangered soft corals that do live in the harbour, and the blue penguins I just mentioned. All of those organisms could be affected by the project. The details of that really are not clear. There would have to have been a proper study on that aspect, to address your question, in the EIS.


The full transcript can be found in Hansard, here.

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