Garrett rejects mine extension


Environment protection minister Peter Garrett has rejected the extension of a phosphate mine on Christmas Island.

Up to 120 million red crabs migrate annually from their home in the unique Christmas Island rainforest to the sea to spawn.

Credit: iStockphoto

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Environment protection minister Peter Garrett has put an end to a lengthy battle for the extension of a phosphate mine on Christmas Island.

Garrett said that a mining extension would have “unacceptable impacts on the island’s biodiversity”.

“Not only would the proposed clearing further fragment rainforest habitat, but its effects would extend well beyond the immediate area of clearing and would have a serious impact on a number of island species,” said Garrett.

In a landmark decision, Garrett used the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to reject the extension of the mine, which would have seen 256 hectares of unique rainforest habitat cleared.

A statement issued by the minister’s office said that the mine would not be approved due to its potential and real impacts on nationally listed threatened species, migratory species and Commonwealth land.

An indisputable decision

“More than 3,000 hectares of unique rainforest ecosystem have been lost since the phosphate mine started in the 1800s,” says Ray Nias, former head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – Australia and now head of TierraMar Consulting.

“In 1988 a ban was placed on further clearing of rainforest and ever since there has been an ongoing battle by Phosphate Resources Ltd (PRL) to gain permission to clear additional areas of rainforest,” Nias advised G-Online.

In 2007 former environment minister Malcom Turnbull rejected the proposal from PRL to extend the mine. This decision was then overturned by the Federal Court. Now, Garrett has rejected this development proposal through the EPBC Act in an indisputable decision.

“Hopefully this decision will finally bring to an end a long battle over the future of the rainforest and the islanders will find an alternative path to development that does not destroy what remains of the environment,” said Nias.

Too tragic a sacrifice

In 2009, a government expert working group investigated the island’s significant biodiversity and reported that it was in a perilous state.

Earlier this year, Michael Roache, program manager for threatened species at the WWF told G that “one of the most recent additions to the already large list of mammal extinctions in Australia could be the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, a small bat which was not found last year despite extensive surveys. It is now presumed extinct.”

Nias added that “the annual march of the red crabs from their home in the rainforest to spawn in the sea has been seen by millions of people around the world as a result of TV nature documentaries. It would be tragic to sacrifice this famous spectacle for a phosphate mine”.

Environmental groups around the country have commended the minister for his recognition that the economic and social benefits of the proposed mining expansion do not outweigh the impacts on local threatened species and their habitats.

Humane Society International spokesperson Michael Kennedy said that Garrett should be applauded “for protecting the island’s unique species and habitats and considering the importance of Christmas Island’s conservation and environmental management”.