Sensitivity to the Cockburn Sound marine environment and the Beeliar Regional Park are central to developing the new port.
Environmental considerations must also concern air quality and the protection of the residential community. Maintaining sufficient buffer zones for the Kwinana Industry Area is vital to ensure that residential housing is not placed in areas that could be impacted by industry.
There are a number of environmental considerations both marine and terrestrial to be taken into account when developing plans for the Kwinana port. The cumulative effects of pressures on Cockburn Sound from other proposals are also substantial.
The new port will require strong government regulatory controls and good governance of the port proponent/operator. By making the environmental considerations a priority at the planning stage, work can be undertaken early to build the resilience of the Cockburn Sound before any harbour work is undertaken.
The Environmental Best Practice Port Development report (GHD, 2013) found that international best practice for port development was driven by three factors:
- Strong regulation and policy environment and governance arrangements
- Consideration and avoidance of environmental impacts through rigorous site selection and master planning processes (incorporating strong stakeholder and community engagement processes)
- Adoption of a site specific and risk-based approach to selecting management options to avoid and mitigate environmental impacts.
Cockburn Sound is the most intensively used marine embayment in Western Australia, according to the Cockburn Sound Management Council 2016 report.
“It supports recreational and commercial fisheries and aquaculture operations, as well as a range of tourism and recreational activities. It is also valued for its ecological attributes; it is an important spawning ground and nursery area for Pink Snapper, an important foraging area for Little Penguins, and an important nursery and feeding area for resident Bottlenose Dolphins.
While there have been significant improvements in the ecological condition of Cockburn Sound since the 1970s, it is under ongoing environmental pressure from increasing industrial, urban and recreational use.”
WHA notes that potential implications to Cockburn Sound include:
- Changes to ecological processes
- Loss or alteration of habitat
- Changes to nutrient cycling
- Increased biota stimulation
- Disturbance of sediments and contaminants
- Reduction in light
- Introduction of marine pests
- Changed water circulation
- Changes exacerbated by climate change
The Cockburn Sound Management Council provides annual report cards on the health of the sound. The 2015/2016 Report Card indicates that the health overall is improving or stable, but dissolved oxygen concentrations in bottom waters did not meet environmental guidelines in many areas.
- Seagrass – The area of seagrass in Cockburn Sound has declined by 80% with most of the loss occurring on the eastern side of Cockburn Sound (Kwinana shelf) due to the establishment of industry since 1954. There are only very small areas of seagrasses left in the area between Woodman Point and James Point on the eastern side of the Sound where the harbor is proposed.
- Benthic habitat – The soft sandy/muddy substrate where the benthic community of the deep basin is found. It is unique and found nowhere else in WA and as such has a very high conservation value particularly for filter feeding and being food for many species of fish including snapper.
- Pink Snapper – Cockburn Sound supports the second largest spawning population along the WA coast after Shark Bay. Snapper is a very popular mainstay for recreational fishing in the region.
- Whiting – Fishing for whiting is also a very popular recreational fishery and supports several whiting species that prefer sandy and seagrass habitats.
- Western King Prawn – Can be found in seasonal bursts in the shallows of the Sound and are popular for fishing when they are running or accessible for catching in the shallows.
- Blue swimmer crabs – Have long been popular for recreational and professional fishing. Numbers are very much affected by sea temperatures nearby to the Sound, particularly for egg and larval survival, but blue swimmers also like seagrass and open seagrass-sandy habitats where they can shelter and feed.
- Bottlenose Dolphins – Over 75 and up to 150 dolphins reside in Cockburn Sound over the course of a year. These sea mammals support a growing ecotourism industry.
- Little Penguins – A large rookery and nursery for little penguins reside on Garden Island near the naval base as well as on Penguin Island. They require easy access to small forage fish that Cockburn Sound and nearby marine areas provide. Unfortunately, they are susceptible to boat strikes but also provide a basis for the growing eco-tourism in the area.
- Beeliar Regional Park and Mt Brown – Beeliar wetlands of which the high Mt Brown is a part of, form an environmentally sensitive band along the southern metropolitan coast. From the peak of Mt Brown, you can see much of Cockburn and Rockingham including the Kwinana Industrial Area.
- Limestone cliffs – Particularly those near Henderson and Challenger settlement are unique as they discharge fresh groundwater into Cockburn Sound after leaking through limestone channels and reefs created along this part of the coast.
- Lake Wattleup – Brown Lake tucked behind Mt Brown near Wattleup ex township, is important to maintain groundwater and buffer vegetation for birds and other flora and fauna found around this unique coastal wetland.
- Challenger Beach – This historical hamlet has been tucked up near Kwinana Alcoa refinery for decades starting in the early 1900s.