Standing side-by-side against drilling

Kangaroo Islanders gathered at Emu Bay to show their opposition to drilling in the Great Australian Bight. Photo; Linda Irwin.
Kangaroo Islanders gathered at Emu Bay to show their opposition to drilling in the Great Australian Bight. Photo; Linda Irwin.

Members of the Kangaroo Island community stood together in defiance against proposed drilling off of the island’s west coast.

Standing side-by-side on Saturday, May 21, Islanders joined a rolling global event to link “hands across the sand” in a symbolic human line against deep-sea oil and gas drilling, and in remembrance of those who have died in offshore oil and gas disasters.

The local event took place simultaneously with eight other Hands Across the Sand’ gatherings around Australia – most urging the government to prevent oil and gas exploration in the Great Australian Bight.

The Kangaroo Island turnout was impressive from a small population with around 130 people joining hands for the symbolic line on Emu Bay Beach in support of the Island, its ecotourism and fishing industries, and marine wildlife. 

Raptor Domian’s sea eagle, Marrakai, was the ambassador for the Kangaroo Island event.

White-bellied sea eagles breed and hunt near water and are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in South Australia with only 70 to 80 pairs left in the wild.

There are 17 pairs living on the Kangaroo Island coastline.

“Sea eagles like Marrakai are an iconic coastal inhabitant,” Raptor Domain’s Dave Irwin said.  

“Contamination of our coastline and would spell the end for this species and many others that rely on the health of the intertidal zone for their survival.”

The backdrop to the gathering is BP’s plans for the Great Australian Bight. The company plans to drill four exploration wells off South Australia’s west coast in water between 1000 and 2500 metres.

Many on Kangaroo Island fear the repercussions if a spill were to occur, often citing the damage caused to the Gulf of Mexico’s eco-system after a large spill in 2010, but BP has said it can safely explore the bight.

The wells will be drilled in the summer of 2016-2017 using a dynamically positioned semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit.

BP is permitted to submit a fresh proposal to the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), but it must satisfy the regulator that the environmental impact and risks will be acceptably low and that appropriate consultation with stakeholders has been completed – but these community members say they remain hopeful approval will not be given.

“Today has been a wonderful show of community support for Marrakai and other coastal species,” event co-organiser Linda Irwin-Oak said.

“We need to keep deep sea oil and gas exploration and drilling out of the Great Australian Bight.”