The Kimberley, Australia: A Victory, and Still More to Do
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
The Kimberley region, located in northern Western Australia, is one of the world’s last great wilderness regions. Known for its clear waters, rugged landscapes, and abundant wildlife, the Kimberley is three times the size of England and consists of low, steep mountains and dry grasslands in a tropical monsoon climate. Wedged between temperate and tropical currents in the Indian Ocean, its coastal shallows contain exceptional biodiversity and are home to many threatened species including dugongs, snubfin dolphins, saw sharks, flatback turtles and the world’s largest population of humpback whales.
In the past few years, Care2 and many other organizations and individuals have been working hard to protect the Kimberley’s ecological purity from plans for oil, gas and mining development. Finally, last week, victory appeared to be in sight: after a comprehensive study done by Australian Heritage Council, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke added almost 20 million hectares of the west Kimberley to the National Heritage List. The new protected area includes the Kimberley coast from Cape Leveque in the west to Cambridge Gulf in the east, the Kimberley plateau and country south to the Oscar and Napier Ranges, and the Fitzroy River.
Ostensibly, the goal of the classification change is to protect the Kimberley from industrial development and guard its unique ecological and historical treasures, which include 130 million-year-old dinosaur footprints and 40,000-year-old rock paintings. Such protection is also in the interest of most local residents, as many Kimberley families depend on a thriving ecotourism industry. Additionally, local indigenous people have inhabited the region for more than 27,000 years and have a connection to the landscape that transcends tradition and borders on the spiritual.
Unfortunately, gaining National Heritage List status isn’t enough. The Kimberley’s new status will not stop Australia’s largest single industrial development, a proposed joint-venture $30 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. Located at James Price Point north of Broome, this project by Woodside Petroleum, Chevron and several other partners would include building eight pipelines, dredging the sea floor, clearing 2,500 hectares of coastal scrub, and setting up a camp to house 8,000 workers.
Minister Burke himself cautioned: “A heritage listing is not a lockout. A heritage listing is not something that says no development. But a heritage listing is something that says any development, if it is to occur, must be mindful of these heritage values.”
What if it doesn’t stop here? Wilderness Society national campaign director Lyndon Schneider believes that the Kimberley’s new status will be ineffectual if the proposed James Price Point LNG project gains government approval. ”The direct impacts of that development will be significant, but the indirect impacts of this development will be catastrophic for the entire Kimberley and will destroy the social fabric and character of the Broome community,” he warns. ”Minister Burke will not be remembered for heritage listing the Kimberley if James Price Point proceeds. Rather he’ll be remembered as the minister who handed the Kimberley over to industrialization.”
This is a delicate, historic moment in Australia, bringing to mind the battle to save the Great Barrier Reef in the 1970s and the Franklin River in 1983. Although the James Price Point project has the support of Western Australian Premier Collin Barnett, Minister Burke is currently still reviewing various environmental impact assessments before making a decision. We are so close to saving this precious ecosystem. Sign the petition to tell Minister Burke to listen both to the compelling environmental data as well as the Kimberley’s local residents, and save this wild and unspoiled region from industrialization and pollution.
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