The Great Australian Bight lives up to its name – endless cliffs towering over a vast unspoiled ocean full of wild and wonderful marine life, including one of the largest populations of the endangered southern right whale. But BP wants to drill for oil and gas in these waters – just like they did in the Gulf of Mexico.
Why it's so important
The Great Australian Bight is a place of unparalleled wilderness and natural beauty on the coastline of South and Western Australia. Its iconic curve has the longest line of sea cliffs in the world, stretching hundreds of kilometres and reaching up to 60 metres high. Yet it is what lives in the deep waters below that is truly astounding.
The Bight is home to an amazing array of marine life, including many threatened and endangered species: great white sharks, humpback, blue and southern right whales, southern bluefin tuna, Australian sea lions, white-bellied sea eagle and albatross. These waters are an important marine nursery for the Australian sea lion colonies to raise pups and southern right whales to nurture their calves.
The Head of the Bight in South Australia is best known for one of the largest breeding population of endangered southern right whales. These magnificent creatures make the yearly migration from the waters of Antarctica to rest, breed and give birth – providing a popular opportunity for some close-up whale watching. Hunted almost to extinction in the 1800s but now protected in Australia, the population is still recovering. Over 200 were observed along this stretch of coastline in 2014, mostly mothers and calves.
More than 85 per cent of the species in the shallows of the Bight can be found nowhere else in the world. What lies beneath, the creatures of the deep, are even more mysterious. The ocean floor also contains a unique but largely unexplored community of plants and animals.
This unique and pristine marine environment is under threat, with plans to turn the Great Australian Bight into an oil field - and with it the potential for a catastrophic oil spill.
BP – the petroleum corporation responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – wants to start high-risk deep sea oil drilling off the coast of South Australia.
BP has a shocking environmental track record. BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was the worst in history. 11 workers lost their lives. Oil poured into the sea for 87 days, releasing approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil. Marine life was devastated, local fisheries and the tourism industry were wrecked, and local communities were left desolate. The costs continue to emerge.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill was not even a once off - BP is also responsible for oil-pipeline spills in Alaska and an oil refinery explosion in Texas.
Now, BP wants to bring these risks to the Great Australian Bight.
Based on limited information BP has been forced to release so far, an oil-well blowout here could be much worse than the Gulf of Mexico. The Great Australian Bight oil drilling could be deeper, will be in rougher seas, and in more remote and inaccessible areas. BP itself has admitted a spill could gush for an unimaginable 158 days, polluting the waters from Kangaroo Island to the Western Australian border.
The Gulf of Mexico has shown us the impacts an oil disaster will have on our marine environment, local communities, fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. Industry data shows 80-90% of offshore oil blowouts (including in the Gulf of Mexico disaster) happen in the exploration phase - right at the beginning. These risks to Australia’s waters will start in the near future - if we do not stop them.
BP’s plans for the Bight are all risk and no gain for Australia.
And it’s not just BP. Other fossil fuel companies Santos, Chevron and Bight Petroleum are all ready to join BP in the Bight.
In addition to the oil spill risks, turning the Bight into a mining industrial area will have massive impacts on this peaceful marine environment. The loud and disruptive underwater blasts of seismic exploration and then drilling into the sea floor will be devastating. Increased shipping would increase animal strike, pollution, biosecurity hazards, and underwater noise.
All this just so big petroleum companies can make a profit, while digging up more fossil fuels to create even worse climate change.
What we're doing about it
Australians are proud of our unique marine life, and so is The Wilderness Society. We also love our coastal lifestyle, from holidays at the beach to the diving, fishing and tourism industries that thrive in our pristine oceans.
Together we can send a clear message that we will not accept the risk that is BP in the Great Australian Bight.
BP is trying to avoid telling us all just how bad a major oil spill could be in our waters. We are calling on BP to come ‘clean’, and asking for BP and the South Australian State Government to release its oil spill modelling data.
Our vision for the Great Australian Bight is for a protected marine environment, where marine life is safe and healthy. Our unspoiled waters must be valued and celebrated. Australians want oil-free seas. We do not want the risks of catastrophic oil spills along our coastline. That is why The Wilderness Society is working to halt new large fossil fuel projects to protect precious underwater wilderness areas and avoid dangerous climate change. Together, we can save the Bight from these risks.
What you can do
You can help us to keep BP out of the Bight, and ensure oil-free seas.
1) Contact the South Australian Campaign Centre to find out more about the campaign and how you can help.
2) Call or write to the Federal Industry Minister the Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP and tell him that we can not risk BP in the Bight. Phone: (02) 6277 7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
3) Contact the South Australian State Government and ask them to request that BP make their oil spill modelling public.
4) Become a campaign champion - volunteer.
5) Join the Facebook Group: The Wilderness Society South Australia to keep up to date with local campaign actions and events.
6) Sign up for updates.