The Sea Shepherd boat the Steve Irwin docked in Broome on August 6 to join community protests against the $30 billion gas hub proposed for James Price Point, in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
Sea Shepherd, a marine conservation organisation, said it undertook the trip “to highlight the significance of the James Price Point marine environment as a habitat and feeding ground for humpback whales, dolphins and turtles”.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown was among those who welcomed the boat to Broome. Brown has been campaigning to stop the huge gas hub being built by a consortium led by Woodside. In July, the Environmental Protection Authority approved the development but polling has found that 79% of Broome residents oppose it.
Campaigners say a big problem with the development is that the area is one of the biggest humpback whale nurseries in the world. As part of the local campaign to stop the gas hub, a group of volunteers set up the Kimberley Community Whale Research Project.
Volunteers have conducted daily surveys of Humpback whales at James Price Point, counting the number of whales that travel through the area. Sea Shepherd visited this project and said it had counted “over 1000 whales, including 80 mother and calf pairs over the six week survey”.
This is much larger than what the proponents of the development have predicted. Brown told AAP on August 5 that Woodside had estimated that just 650 whales would pass with five kilometres of the gas hub over the whole season.
Campaigners say the gas hub’s offshore infrastructure, dredging and blasting operations will disrupt the whales’ migration and breeding patterns.
There is also evidence the project could devastate the economy of the region. A report released by the Australia Institute on August 9 said the gas hub will provide little social or economic benefits to Western Australia and will cause up to 3000 job losses across the state.
Although the development will be very profitable for the owners, the benefits will not be felt by ordinary people. The report said the project would “rely on up to 97% fly-in fly-out workers and employ very few local workers; lead to a reduction in employment in tourism (the region's largest employer); and, significantly drive up the cost of living for the vast majority of local residents who will not be employed, directly or indirectly, by the new development”.
The report quoted the state government’s own assessment, which found the gas hub could threaten the Kimberley’s reputation as an international tourist destination and acknowledged that the large increase in workers during construction would put pressure on existing underfunded community health and policing resources.