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Government needs to act on Menindee and Darling disasters

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The dead, dry remains of the Darling River (Image by Mark Merritt, Earthling Studios)

The environmental catastrophe at Menindee Lakes and the Lower Darling should be a wake-up call for politicians, writes Sue Arnold.

AUSTRALIA IS FACING massive environmental crises. Crises that are so serious that, in many cases, the damage is irreparable.

The latest reports on the death of over 1 million fish at Menindee Lakes and the Lower Darling should be enough to make any sane politician and political party stop in their tracks and set up Royal Commissions at the state and Federal level to urgently examine the causes. As if they don’t know.

More to the point, criminal prosecutions of those responsible for this appalling crisis should be investigated and acted upon.

25,000 people live along the Lower Darling River. According to Mark Merritt at Earthling Studios, who runs the Vanishing River campaign, the Menindee Lakes have been unnaturally and forcibly drained and dried, thus preventing the Darling River from its natural flow.

Not only fish have suffered catastrophic losses, but the impact of what amounts to scandalous mismanagement is killing a critically important region.

(Photo by Mark Merritt, Earthling Studios)

Mark Merritt says the mismanagement has caused bird populations on the lower Darling and surrounding lands to hit rock bottom at about 4%, with many species struggling to survive along the main corridor of the Darling. The lack of natural flood events and no water in the billabongs seems to be the biggest problem.

Locals have reported literally thousands of dead kangaroos and emus. The main cause of mortality unknown but a significant lack of water appears to have played a role. Many were emaciated.

Freshwater clams sit beneath the dry lakes of Menindee, waiting for the next inundation of water. Living filters of the ecosystem which have been a traditional food for Barkindji people for over 50,000 years.

Various species of yabbies are under direct threat. Farm chemical run-off, mostly from the cotton industry, is suspected to have caused yabbies to mutate with odd-sized claws and uneven tail forms.

The foundational problem is the scheme to save water for irrigating cotton in the upper reaches of the Darling Basin, with authorities prepared to sacrifice a major nationally important wetland ecosystem.  

(Photo by Mark Merritt, Earthling Studios)

Humans are suffering. Mark has been receiving desperate calls from Menindee people who are experiencing a dreadful stench permeating homes and outside areas. Residents are unable to use air conditioners or evaporative coolers because the stink is so bad.

The overpowering stench is caused by the dead and rotting fish, combined with algae, creating a major crisis for the health of residents of the region.

A significant number of people are suffering from cancer. According to Mark, locals have been drinking the water right up until the first fish kill. He’s been advised by locals that laboratory tests have shown herbicides and fertilisers.

There are considerable fears that the only source of water in the region will become toxic to not only humans but all animals.  

People living in the region are extremely depressed. The failure of mainstream media to highlight this national environmental catastrophe has weighed heavily on the entire community.   

However, as a result of the latest fish kill, finally resulting in some mainstream media coverage, the NSW Government has demonstrated once again that, in terms of environmental disasters, there’s little real interest. National Party Regional Water Minister Niall Blair blames the massive kills on the drought.

Blair ignored a group of around 150 Menindee locals hoping to meet with the minister, speeding past in his boat, stirring up dead fish and the dreaded stench.   Federal and NSW governments are busy addressing what spin they will use to counteract this ongoing crisis. One thing the public can be certain about is that neither government will take the hard road by cancelling the licences of the cotton industry.

REEF AND WILDLIFE ALSO IN GRAVE DANGER

It’s not just the lower Darling and Menindee Lakes that are in crisis. ABC Radio National has reported that the Great Barrier Reef is now under attack by a major outbreak of crown of thorn starfish, which are destroying the remaining healthy coral.

Dr Udo Engelhardt from Reef Care International warned that time is running out to stop the destruction of the Reef.

He advised that the Federal Government’s financial contribution of $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation was completely inadequate for the job which would require billions.

Climate change and the impacts on the Reef continue to be vigorously ignored by the Morrison-led Federal Government.

Next cab off the rank has to be the rapid escalation of extinction risks to Australia’s unique wildlife, with the focus on koalas and, to a lesser extent, kangaroos. A not-too-recent study of sick and injured koalas admitted to the four Queensland wildlife hospitals between 2009-2014 indicated 10,139 koalas were admitted.

In 2018, wildlife hospitals, sanctuaries and community carers are overwhelmed with koalas and wildlife coming into care. RSPCA Queensland Wildlife Hospital admitted almost 25,000 wildlife patients in the past year alone. Habitat loss is the primary cause of the major dislocation and disruption of animal lives.

Millions of kangaroos continue to be slaughtered by the kangaroo industry.

Australia is home to about 830 species of birds — nearly one in ten of living bird species. About 45% of these are found nowhere else.

A recent study by the Threatened Species Hub demonstrated that Australian populations of threatened bird species halved in 30 years. Migratory shorebird populations were down by an average of 70% from 1985 to 2015.

Let’s not forget our native forests where birds, koalas, possums, gliders and countless species live. The NSW Government again providing a damning insight into the complete exclusion of any environmental protection from policy and legislation.

According to a press release emailed from the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA): 

In 2017, the Department of Primary Industries proposed establishing plants in north-east NSW in 2013 to process one million tonnes (400,000 tonnes from public forests) of low-quality logs into wooden pellets for electricity generation. 

 

In the November 2018 regional Forest Agreements for north-east NSW public forests, the NSW and Commonwealth Governments committed to zone 140,000 ha for clear felling, double logging intensity elsewhere and to more than double the cut of small and low-quality logs from 320,000 to 660,000 tonnes per annum.

 

The increased logging intensity is obviously intended to be for electricity generation.

Add to the list, the NSW government’s decision to not only increase logging intensity throughout State Forests, reduce stream buffers and remove most wildlife protections, but also open up old growth forests and rainforests for logging.   

The same dreadful Berejiklian Government, which proudly boasts that its $45 million Koala Strategy has approved the removal for the need by State Forests to look for and protect koala high-use areas ahead of logging. Instead, logging intensity will be increased in their prime habitats.

Climate change impacts are increasingly obvious in this ancient continent. As is the refusal by state and federal governments to recognise and urgently act on the clear evidence of catastrophic crises.

(Photo by Mark Merritt, Earthling Studios)

Environment ministers, premiers, politicians, bureaucrats and ministerial staffers know how much concern there is out there in the real world about the environment. So do local governments. So do many journalists in mainstream media. They know because word of the censorship by mainstream media is the talk of social media. People in almost every walk of life are impacted one way or another by the lack of objectivity and attention to the real crises censored, or quarantined by the mainstream.

The political blinkers are soldered on. They won’t have to see the creatures continually dying, forests becoming chips, rivers belching forth poisoned fish — our wildlife will soon become a memory.

The outcome of NSW and Federal elections will be the predictor of any future for the environment.

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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