Abstract

In recent years a number of oilfields have been developed in tropical waters of the Rowley Shelf, north-west Australia. Along with Bass Strait and the Timor Sea, this region is the focus for Australia's Current oil exploration and production. It supports major coral and mangrove habitats and fishing grounds sensitive to the effects of oil pollution.

Much of the information on the nature and extent of the marine habitats has been gained through survey and monitoring undertaken by oil Companies as part of specific development applications in the region.

This paper provides a synthesis of the Rowley Shelf marine environment and reviews procedures protecting the marine resources of the region from the effects of oil spills. Recent government and industry initiatives for improving the protection of the environment are outlined and discussed on protection of the environment are outlined and discussed on the basis of the improved understanding of the marine resources and experience being gained in oil spill contingency planning. The tropical habitats of the Rowley Shelf occur planning. The tropical habitats of the Rowley Shelf occur within the Indo-Pacific Zoogeographic Region, therefore experience gained in Western Australia is applicable to similar environments in the South East Asian region.

Introduction

The Rowley Shelf is a vast, shallow submarine platform which extends for several hundred kilometres along the tropical north-west coast of Western Australia between North West Cape and Cape Leveque (Figure 1A). This paper refers to the southern section of the Shelf, from North West Cape to Cape Preston, and extends up to 62 miles (100 km) offshore to Preston, and extends up to 62 miles (100 km) offshore to include the Montebello Islands (Figure 1B).

The Shelf gradually slopes from the mainland to 20 fathoms (35 m) depth at its offshore limit This gradual slope is locally interrupted by numerous islands, sand Cays, reefs, shallow platforms and submarine ridges and valleys. platforms and submarine ridges and valleys. The marine ecosystem of the Shelf is typical of that found throughout the Tropical Indo-Pacific Zoogeographic Region 2. The waters contain numerous coral reef, sea grass and mangrove assemblages and support large populations of turtles and dugong, both of which are rare and endangered on a world scale. The conservation value of the region has long been recognized. Most of the islands in the region are nominated within the National Estate Register as being important State and National resources. However, neither the distribution of the marine resources, nor their natural dynamics are documented in readily accessible literature.

Over the past decade, the Shelf has been the focus of oil exploration activity, which has resulted in the development of a number of offshore producing oilfields. These include: the Harriet field operated by Hadson Energy Limited. Hadson is also in the process of developing the Campbell, Sinbad and Rosette gas fields; the North Herald, South Pepper and Chervil fields operated by Western Mining Corporation Ltd (WMC); and the Saladin, Cowle and Yammaderry fields operated by West Australian Petroleum Pty Limited (WAPET).WAPET also proposes to develop the Roller field near Onslow.

All of these fields underwent environmental scrutiny before receiving development approval 3 and all of the operators initiated environmental management and monitoring programs (EMMP) and oil spill contingency plans (OSCP) programs (EMMP) and oil spill contingency plans (OSCP) in accordance with standard local industry practice and government approval conditions.

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