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Speech: Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and Port River Committee

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:54): I rise to conclude my comments on the recommendations from the report of the Select Committee on Dolphins in Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and Port River. I again thank all members from the Legislative Council who assisted with the conduct of this select committee: the Hon. Sarah Game, the Hon. Michelle Lensink and the Hon. Reggie Martin.

Through public submissions, the people of South Australia identified concerns both within the sanctuary and with the implementation of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Act 2005, which from here on I will refer to as the ADS Act. The committee identified several potential threats to the dolphin sanctuary ecosystem, including a lack of clarity over the authority and responsibility for the dolphin sanctuary, dredging, certain fishing practices, industry and wastewater discharges, the speed of boats and other on-water vehicles, the lack of visible enforcement, and the loss of mangroves and other vegetation.

To put it simply, the objects of the ADS Act are not being met. While there is not a single cause for the declining health of the dolphins, the Minister for Environment and Water needs to continue to support research into the sanctuary ecosystem and the dolphin population structure. The committee has made 14 recommendations aimed at addressing the broad areas of concern that were raised with our committee.

Firstly, the committee found that the sanctuary dolphins are being negatively impacted by fishing gear, contrary to the objects under the ADS Act. Due to the heightened public awareness of the individual dolphins residing in the Port River, there has been broad community concern about the lack of signage and educative materials at the sanctuary, particularly related to fishing line or gear and the potential for the dolphins to become entangled.

Secondly, penalties for the pollution of the sanctuary are inadequate and need stronger reinforcement. There is a lack of education and research into toxicants lying in the sediment in the sanctuary, in particular the PFAS and microplastics, and while the cause of the declining health and mortalities of the sanctuary dolphins is unknown, these toxicants are likely to be implicated.

Additionally, the community has aired their expectations that monitoring of the water quality in the sanctuary be targeted and conducted more regularly, to allow the timely detection of threats and threat management. The committee found that the installation of shellfish reefs in the sanctuary would help improve water quality.

The committee found that investigations into the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron marina stormwater outlet were halted, without the cause of water flowing from the outlet on non-rainy days being discovered, particularly as this was deemed to have an impact on the sanctuary. There is insufficient, and there remains insufficient, clarity on who is responsible for leading the investigation, and a lack of leadership in working with the yacht squadron and the relevant local and state government agencies to undertake further investigations to protect the sanctuary. I note that since the committee reported, I have attended a meeting at the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron with Renewal SA, but it seems to simply be more murky rather than clearer when it comes to that particular stormwater outlet.

Thirdly, the committee established that slowing down boats and other vessels in the sanctuary is likely to reduce the risk of injuries to dolphins caused by propeller or hull strikes. Additionally, the committee found that the objects of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Act are not being met. This impacts on the health, and most likely has caused the death, of resident dolphins in the sanctuary. It requires urgent action.

There is an obvious disconnect between identifying potential impacts to the sanctuary and undertaking proactive and/or reactive measures to mitigate those impacts. While government agencies are meant to be working together to implement these objects, there is a lack of central coordination for adaptive management, which has helped contribute to the decline in health and the deaths and disappearances of resident dolphins.

As such, a lack of understanding of the biological or ecological reasons for the recent deaths of resident dolphins should not be used as an excuse for not immediately actioning management responses to the identified impacts to the sanctuary. There needs to be an increase to the number of marine safety officers and park rangers to provide high visibility and be available to respond to threats within the sanctuary.

The committee also determined that there needs to be an appropriate mechanism that allows the community or volunteer rescue organisations to collaborate with park rangers and other stakeholders to undertake animal rescues in a safe, transparent and accountable manner.

Finally, the committee determined that the sectoral approach to environmental regulation is confusing within the community about procedures for compensation and rehabilitation as a result of the impacts to the mangroves caused by the spillage of brine. This committee listened carefully to the evidence provided and has formed the following recommendations:

1. That PIRSA should lead a review of recreational fishing within the sanctuary that prioritises the protection of dolphins from entanglement and meets the objects of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Act, acknowledging that there is a high level of community investment in individual dolphins residing within the sanctuary. Additionally, the Department of Primary Industries should lead a collaborative review of recreational fishing that identifies and analyses different fishing practices and gear in the sanctuary and develops appropriate management options for recreational fishing.

2. The Minister for Environment and Water should consider conducting a review into the level of enforcement and penalties for polluting into the sanctuary, undertake a toxicant audit of the sanctuary, and that be undertaken as soon as possible and the results publicly published. The Minister for Environment and Water should also develop a baseline of acceptable levels of toxicants in the water and sediment, taking into account the potential for bioaccumulation of some toxicants and reviewing the global best practice approaches to rehabilitation of legacy toxicants in rivers, while also developing an action plan and securing the funding to clean up the toxicants in the water and sediment if levels are unacceptably high, and continuously monitor that water quality within the sanctuary for timely threat management.

3. The Minister for Environment and Water should consider governance mechanisms to coordinate and action investigations along with reporting and management responses to ensure issues within the sanctuary are comprehensively followed up and resolved.

4. The Department for Infrastructure and Transport review the speed limit at the North Arm with a view that the speed should be limited to seven knots at all times when there are no spotters present and, in consultation with stakeholders, lower the speed limits in the sanctuary from unlimited to nine knots to allow for vessels to turn safely.

5. The Department for Environment and Water develop a new framework to ensure that the objects of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Act are being met, bringing clarity and accessibility to the community. The community needs to be clear on who is making the decisions about the management of the sanctuary and who is responsible for mitigating actions on threats to the ecosystem and dolphin health and welfare.

6. The Minister for Environment and Water appoint an appropriately qualified body or person to advocate for the ecosystem health of the sanctuary and advise the minister on appropriate actions to meet the objects of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Act, advise on the research and monitoring of estuarine and coastal ecosystem health and management, advise on water and/or sediment quality monitoring and on all dredging and energy and mining applications within the sanctuary that may, whether directly or indirectly, impact the ecosystem health.

7. The Minister for Environment and Water undertake a review of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Act and ensure that the minister has the appropriate authority to address threats to the sanctuary.

8. The Minister for Environment and Water secure sustainable funding for the sanctuary to allow for the development of a management plan, fund management of ecosystem health and maintain regulatory presence, and support researchers to undertake further investigations into ecosystem health and dolphin population dynamics.

9. The Department for Environment and Water work collaboratively with state and local agencies and other stakeholders to support efforts to trial shellfish reefs within the sanctuary.

10. The Minister for Environment and Water consider supporting further research into toxicants and other pollutants to identify impact levels and undertake appropriate rehabilitation and management of the sanctuary, allowing the EPA to undertake targeted water quality and sediment testing with appropriate resources.

11. The Minister for Environment and Water should collaborate with the Minister for Energy and Mining, local councils and stakeholders on developing a framework of governance for the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary that will provide clarity over responsibilities for adaptive and/or rehabilitative management and compensation from industrial mining activities.

I hope these recommendations assist the Malinauskas government in ensuring the necessary measures are taken for the long-lasting future and wellbeing of these much-loved dolphins in this sanctuary.

In closing, I would like to send my sincere thanks to all those who made submissions and the over 30 witnesses that we have heard from so far in this committee. For far too long, these issues have remained unaddressed and without appropriate lines of responsibility. It is time for immediate action, ongoing action and, indeed, this committee will continue into the future, beyond this interim report, to ensure that that happens. With that, I commend the report to the council.

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