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Australia Mining company ordered to cease pumping in Adelaide mangrove dieback investigation

03:21  24 november  2020
03:21  24 november  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Authorities are investigating the dieback of mangroves along a popular trail in Adelaide 's north that is also a haven for migratory bird species on the East Asian-Australiasian Flyway. The mangrove dieback seems to have occurred on one side of the St Kilda Mangrove Trail.

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a tree in a forest: The mangrove dieback has spread since it was first noticed in September. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC Health The mangrove dieback has spread since it was first noticed in September. (Supplied)

A salt mining company accused of reinstating a pump against the terms of its tenancy is part of an investigation into what is causing the dieback of a popular mangrove forest north of Adelaide.

About 10 hectares of mangrove forest adjacent the St Kilda Mangrove Trail have died in the past two months, according to environmental consultant Peri Coleman, along with 35 hectares of salt marsh, and the gardens of about half a dozen houses.

Ms Coleman believes the dieback was caused by the refilling of gypsum ponds with hypersaline brine at the nearby Dry Creek salt field, which is being managed by the Buckland Dry Creek company.

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She said the ponds had been empty since 2014 when the site ceased operating, leaving their gypsum lining to dry out, "rot", and crack.

"Once the brine was filled back up into those ponds, it immediately started to seep out and took the acid and the hypersaline brine with it into the mangroves and salt marsh area," she said.

"It's a smoking gun when the pools in the area have saline six times the salinity of seawater, and the pH level is at least a full unit below the normal for sea water."

Ms Coleman has been examining the site for a draft City of Salisbury document and said the area's groundwater had been negatively affected.

She said further impacts were likely, including in estuaries of the Helps Road drainage and Little Para River where native freshwater fish like the galaxiid and congolli could suffer.

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Ms Coleman added that, while the mangrove dieback was an obvious sign of damage, flow-on effects were expected for the fauna that occupied the area, from the endangered samphire thornbill, to the blue-winged, elegant and rock parrots.

An 'unacceptable' situation

The Department of Mining (DEM) is leading the investigation, which is being undertaken in collaboration with SA's Environmental Protection Authority and the Department for Environment and Water.

DEM Mining Regulation acting director Paul De Ionno told that Buckland Dry Creek on October 29 reinstated a pump in the "crystalliser area of the field".

This is despite the site being authorised for a "holding pattern" only after its former tenants ceased producing salt in 2014.

"We found out about it through an inspection on November 6 and it's in our view the company was not authorised to continue pumping into the crystalliser," Mr De Ionno said.

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"We put a halt to that [last Thursday]."

But he said the pumping occurred downstream from where the dieback occurred and reiterated that a conclusion had not been reached on its cause.

He said the cause remained under investigation, as did whether Buckland Dry Creek's pumping had any impact on surrounding vegetation.

"We consider this [dieback] as a Government, not just a mining department, to be unacceptable."

The company has chosen not to comment and is assisting DEM's investigations.

A 'complex site'

The site itself has produced salt for 80 years and in that time has co-existed with the surrounding fauna and flora, with mangroves having grown closer to the salt fields over time.

Environmental flows are permitted, such as to support the nearby Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary.

Mr Ionno said when the dieback was first noticed in September, Buckland Dry Creek was not ordered to cease all pumping immediately.

"It's a complex site, and a lot of diligence, rigour and facts have to go into what other impacts could occur if we just put a halt to something, especially in a dynamic salt feed that runs for 25 kilometres up the coast," he said.

Mr Ionno said findings were expected by the middle of December.

A City of Salisbury spokesperson said it had been monitoring the condition of the mangroves after noting a visible decline in their health earlier in the year.

"The St Kilda Mangrove Trail is an important and popular attraction … the continued preservation of the mangroves is critical," she said.

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