Getting to know the Pilbara: State of the Environment report and community forum on coastal foreshores

Advertising at Karratha foreshore for our community forum!

Essential Environmental has been gaining some serious experience in the Pilbara through our involvement in several environmental projects in the region: most recently, the preparation of a State of Environment report for the entire Pilbara region on behalf of RDA Pilbara, and three foreshore management plans (as mentioned in a previous post) along the Pilbara coastline at Karratha, Point Samson and Gnoorea.

Upon completion of a consultation draft version of the Pilbara State of Environment report, Shelley traversed the region’s red countryside at the end of March to host three workshops with several key stakeholders to present findings from the report and obtain feedback on the draft in the Town of Port Hedland, Shire of Ashburton, and Shire of Roebourne (as reported in the Pilbara News, 10th April 2013 and the Pilbara Echo, 13th April 2013 (page 10)).

Pilbara Echo article 130413

A widespread group of attendees included representatives from each local government, the Dampier Port Authority, Rio Tinto, CITIC Pacific, Chevron, Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Foundation Ltd, Ngarliyarndu Bindirri Aboriginal Corporation, Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation, IBN Aboriginal Corporation, Department of Fisheries, Department of Transport, Rangelands NRM WA, Pilbara Development Commission and Horizon Power. Feedback from these sessions will be incorporated into the State of the Environment report and help to determine which indicators will be best used to collect available data to determine the change in the State of the Environment in each of the three participating local governments.

Shelley also met with some of the Pilbara’s younger stakeholders at Karratha Senior High School and St Luke’s College in Karratha, to discuss the State of Environment report with science students, to get their opinions on how the environment is faring and what could be done to improve it.  An energetic discussion was had amongst the students during the workshop and on the bus ride home, which has since resulted in a decision by some St Luke’s College students to run with a ‘no more plastic bags’ campaign at their school – a reminder of how people of all ages can lead the way to change!

No plastic bags

Essential Environmental have also been charged with the task of preparing foreshore management plans for three locations along the Pilbara coastline: Karratha, Point Samson and Gnoorea (the local Aboriginal name for 40 Mile beach). As part of the process Shelley, Kelly and Halinka spent 3 hot days traipsing around these coastal areas to make a record of the key issues at each of these locations.  The first day included meeting with the Mardie Station pastoral manager Richard Climas, the Shire of Roebourne senior ranger Darrell Hutchens, and a representative of the Marthudunera people Bevan Wally, out at Gnoorea.  While the pastoral station manager kindly showed us around his land and introduced us to his cattle while discussing issues with visiting campers, Bevan showed us where his grandmother used to take him fishing, the soak his family used for drinking water and the scatters of shells indicating where his family would have once gathered to eat and spend time together.

The second day saw us 4WDing along Karratha’s foreshores with senior ranger Darrell Hutchens to get a better understanding of the erosion, litter and recreational issues along that part of the coastline which has experienced a surge in population growth in recent years. Guaranteed that without Darrell, there is no way we would have made it out of the boggy mudflats or sandy dunes, where we saw a few sad-looking cars who had been ditched by their owners after getting stuck in the seemingly sturdy soils, which also provide an awesome habitat for Karratha’s mangroves and mudcrabs!

Following our Karratha foreshore site visit on Tuesday, 9th April, over 30 community members attended a forum organised by Essential Environmental together with the Shire of Roebourne at the Frank Butler Community Hall the same evening. The community forum was designed to allow the local community to share their thoughts on how and why they valued Gnoorea and Karratha foreshores, what they felt the issues where at these locations, and what could be done to manage them into the future, where greater numbers of people from an increasing regional population are likely to want access to these areas.

Karratha foreshore workshop

Karratha foreshore workshop

Attendees represented a number of different community groups  and organisations such as the Karratha Community Association, King Bay Game Fishing Club, Karratha Country Club, Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, heritage advisors for the Ngarluma Aboriginal Corporation, Kuruma Marthudunera Ltd, Leave No Trace Australia, the Shire of Roebourne council and the Department of Mines and Petroleum. Even the ABC turned up to find out what was going on at the workshop and interviewed Shelley, David Pentz from the Shire of Roebourne, and a number of members of the community!

Following a marathon discussion a number of common values became apparent, including the environmental and aboriginal cultural heritage, unencumbered recreational use/access, remoteness, and fishing, boating and camping opportunities. Suggestions to maintain these values included defining parking, 4WDing areas and camping sites, educating both locals and visitors to increase respect and awareness of environmental and cultural values, and increasing Traditional Owners’ involvement in active management of the foreshores.  The feedback obtained from the forum will be used to inform Foreshore Management Plans for both Karratha and Gnoorea. In addition, an existing plan focusing on the beaches of Point Samson, initiated by the Point Samson Community Association, will be incorporated into a greater Foreshore Management Plan for the Point Samson townsite and will be completed separately to the plans for Karratha and Gnoorea.

The ABC local radio broadcast was aired the following morning and can be heard here:

The community’s voice was heard on the issue of foreshore management, which we thought was pretty exciting.