Labor’s risky hydrogen gamble threatens world famous Giant Cuttlefish habitat

11 March 2022

Labor’s key election promise to build its $600 million hydrogen power plant in Whyalla could backfire with fears its proposed location poses a serious risk to the protected, internationally-renowned habitat of the Giant Cuttlefish. 

SA-BEST MLC Frank Pangallo and the party’s candidate for Giles, Whyalla businessman Tom Antonio, said the preferred site at Point Bonython-Point Lowly - coupled with BHP’s plans for a large desalination plant nearby - could spell the end of the marine creature’s unique, globally-significant annual breeding journey. 

Frank said while SA-BEST wasn’t opposed to either project, worried locals had expressed serious reservations about the location, about 35 kilometres northeast of the steel city on South Australia’s Spencer Gulf. 

“Feeling is running very high with locals telling me they would oppose both projects being built there if there was even a hint of a threat to the Giant Cuttlefish,” Frank said. 

“Now concerns have also been raised about a $150 million blackhole in Labor’s cost for the project which the Liberals claim will trigger up to $150 million dollars of transmission upgrades and other connection costs. 

“SA-BEST would block any legislation that threatens the Giant Cuttlefish habitat, has not been properly costed, and is not in the best interest of all South Australians.” 

The Liberals also have plans for its own hydrogen hub on Eyre Peninsula - but have yet to disclose its preferred site. 

Frank said while the Labor Opposition might have prepared a comprehensive business model, it hasn’t produced any evidence to prove it’s undertaken a proper risk management report - or a detailed Environmental Impact Study  - by marine scientists about the effects one or both projects could have on these much-loved marine creatures, should it go ahead at Pt Lowly. 

“If Labor has, let’s see it now - not wait until after the election,” Frank said. 

“Peter Malinauskas’ ‘out of the blue’ announcement at the start of the election campaign was a pre-emptive strike to drop a hydrogen bomb on the strong challenge Labor’s facing from our candidate, Tom Antonio, who is a very popular figure on the Eyre Peninsula. 

“Labor’s never lost this seat, but it is no longer far from safe for them. Lose Giles, and Labor can’t win government because it still must take or make up five seats from the Liberals in what is going to be a cliff-hanger election.” 

Giant Cuttlefish from around the globe gather at Pt Lowly once a year for their breeding season in one of the world’s most spectacular natural marine events.  

It is the only place in the world where this phenomenon occurs and has been featured in a documentary by world renowned British conservationist, Sir David Attenborough. 

The Federal Government is currently finalising a bid to add the sanctuary zone to the National Heritage List. 

Whyalla tourist accommodation provider, Jeffrey Hardyman, said the Giant Cuttlefish frolic is now a massive tourism magnet for the region, with people coming from all corners of the globe each winter to view and swim among them. 

“As far as I am concerned, I don’t think Point Lowly is the right place for both a hydrogen and desal plant to be situated so close to the sanctuary zone,” Jeffrey said. 

“I am not against the projects, but its critical the decision-makers get this right or we’ll lose the Giant Cuttlefish forever. 

“The people of Whyalla love them and are fiercely protective. We need to be assured all the boxes are carefully ticked. If they aren’t, there will be a lot of upset people in this town.” 

Giant Cuttlefish are extremely sensitive to noise and vibration. After they failed to turn up for a couple of breeding seasons a few years ago, concerned locals blamed the Australian Army’s live ammunition firing exercises at the nearby El Alamein training camp. 

The Army has since stopped firing live shells in the area during the breeding season in winter. 

Mr Hardyman said South Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife Service refused to approve his application to navigate a glass-bottomed tourist boat into the sanctuary zone because there was concern the turbulence created from the vessel’s propeller would disturb the unique sea creature. 

Last year Parliament was presented with a 12,000-signature petition calling for greater protection for cuttlefish after the State Government lifted a ban fishing for them in other parts of upper Spencer Gulf. 

SA-BEST candidate for Giles, Tom Antonio, who ran second in the 2018 election for the party, said: “Labor needs to take a closer look where it wants to put its big-ticket promise before rushing into premature announcements. 

“While I fully support the projects being proposed, I don’t at the expense of the wonderfully-unique Giant Cuttlefish,” he said. 

“People travel from all over the world to witness these beautiful sea creatures in their natural habitat – and that could be gone in an instant if these projects get the green light. 

“I just hope this isn’t another election publicity stunt by Labor in a desperate effort to get its candidate re-elected – but will never eventuate like other promises it has made.”

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