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The Gippsland Lakes debacle

By Anthony Amis - posted Thursday, 8 March 2018

Ross Scott was the subject of an article that I wrote in 2010, in which I described his fight to save the Gippsland Lakes and quoted him describing the Lakes system as a "marine morgue".

Ross has an engineering background and has extensive experience in river management, civil engineering project management in Australia, and aid projects in PNG, Fiji and Cambodia.

This experience combined with visiting, and later living, at the family property on Duck Arm (about 250 km east of Melbourne) for over 58 years has given him a range of skills and experience that has motivated him to address the current and rapid degradation of the Gippsland Lakes' ecology.


The Gippsland Lakes are the largest inland network of waterways in Australia. Historically, the Lakes were a barrier estuary system that was closed to the sea on most occasions. They are a complex and unique set of diverse environments driven by river discharges; and its unique geomorphology and wetland system that attracted Ramsar status. (The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.) The Lakes are further protected under Treaties with China, Japan and South Korea.

In theory all should be well, but in 2015 the Victorian Auditor-General delivered a damning report on the mismanagement of Victoria's 10 Ramsar-listed wetlands. In short, it stated that Parks Victoria and the state Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning had not been monitoring and testing, yet had been advising the federal government that there had been no change in the Lakes' ecological character since the 1982 Ramsar listing.

The audit stated: "Overall, the governance, coordination and oversight of the Ramsar sites must improve for Victoria to effectively meet its obligations under the Ramsar Convention." It further noted that: "Monitoring of the Ramsar sites also requires improvement".

The Auditor-General's report now has departments both state and federal in denial and defence mode. They are not prepared to address the reasons for the Lakes' ecological demise, and state that there is no evidence to suggest that their ecological function has crashed. As there has been inadequate monitoring and testing, they are correct that there is no scientific evidence to support community concerns. But there is substantial credible anecdotal evidence. Hence the request to both state and federal governments for an audit of the ecological function of the Lakes. Both requests have been refused.

The last audit of the Lakes was by the CSIRO in 1998. It is argued that without a more recent audit, targeted rehabilitation will not be possible. But the current situation of inadequate information and data on the Lakes' ecology has been the basis on which the following deeply flawed desktop reports have been prepared on the Lakes. These reports have included:

  • a 2010 federal report that admitted inadequate data;
  • an East Gippsland Catchment Management AuthorityRamsar Management Plan;
  • a Priority Plan based on the flawed Management Plan; and
  • a pending 'report' on the lakes in lieu of an audit.

So how did the Lakes become so environmentally degraded? An entrance to the ocean was constructed near Lakes Entrance in 1889, and this allowed salt water to enter the Lakes and impact on the fringing vegetation. Since then, the Thomson and Blue Rock Dams have been constructed, and intense irrigated farming in West Gippsland has further reduced fresh-water flows to the Lakes.

In 2002, the East Gippsland Shire applied to the federal governmentfor funding to investigate deepening the entrance to the Lakes, to cater for deep draft vessels. These vessels service the offshore oil and gas platforms in Bass Strait.

In 2008 a 'trial' dredging of the entrance was undertaken using a hopper dredger from New Zealand that visited annually. The dredging permit was based on dodgy and misleading data and rushed through over the Christmas/New Year period in three months without an Environmental Effects Statement.

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About the Author

Anthony Amis is a member of Friends of the Earth (FoE) Melbourne and FoE Australia's spokesperson on pesticides & drinking water.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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