Woodside and the fishing lobby plan to gut the structure with toxic chemicals near Ningaloo

A Federal Government assessment has found that a plan to use old oilfield equipment for an artificial reef near Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia could have endangered the health of people who ate fish caught there.

WA’s recreational fishing lobby group Recfishwest wanted to sink an 83 meter long floating steel structure from a closed Woodside oil field 1.7 miles from the Ningaloo World Heritage area to be the centerpiece of an artificial reef, but later abandoned the plan.

Ningaloo Reef is home to the largest congregation of whale sharks in the world. Credit:Via David Whitley / How good is Australia?

However, the structure, a rising turret mooring, most likely contained dangerous amounts of toxic flame retardant chemicals called PDBEs.

Ningaloo has the largest concentrations of whale sharks in the world, with up to 500 congregating when the corals spawn. Besides the more than 700 species of fish, the coast is home to around 10,000 sea turtle nests each year.

The plan was to ‘pose a significant risk to marine ecosystems’ and ‘risks to human health cannot be ruled out’, according to Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Environment documents obtained with a request Access to Information from the Australian Conservation Foundation. .

If the reef were used for recreational fishing as intended, “it would be difficult to rule out potential risks to humans through ingestion,” said a January 2021 assessment by DAWE.

“PentaBDE is known to have associations with IQ loss.”

Woodside had planned to tow the structure from its Enfield oilfield off the northwest coast to shore when production ended in 2018. However, offshore safety regulator NOPSEMA discovered that Woodside had skipped maintenance and that ballast tanks were needed to allow the structure to float horizontally. during a long tow stopped working.

The alternative method of disposal was to tow the 2,452 tonne structure a much shorter distance and sink it in deep water where, along with 48 specially designed smaller structures, it would form an artificial reef to create habitat for fish.

Ida M. Morgan