Managing the risk of marine pests

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 5: 2012 

The introduction of marine pests is a potential environmental risk associated with offshore petroleum activities. Marine pests can result in significant impacts to the marine environment and it is important that operators consult with all relevant agencies regarding their marine pest management responsibilities. Marine pests are introduced flora and fauna with invasive characteristics that can result in significant adverse effects to marine industries, the environment, human health and/or amenity. The primary vectors for marine pest translocation, relevant to the offshore industry, include ballast water and biofouling.

Ballast water is water carried in ships’ ballast tanks to alter stability, balance and trim and may harbour marine flora and fauna as adults or early life stages. Ballast water risks are managed through legislated controls under the Quarantine Act 1908, which is administered by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). This legislation prohibits the discharge of high risk ballast water in Australia’s territorial sea. Furthermore, there may be additional legislation that applies to individual states and the Northern Territory and should be considered where applicable in an environment plan submitted under the Regulations. Biofouling refers to the growth of marine organisms on hard surfaces that are regularly submersed such as ships’ hulls, seismic streamers, anchors and internal seawater pipes. Biofouling risks are generally managed through industry guidance produced under the National System for the Prevention and Management of Marine Pest Incursions, as well as various guidelines and legislation that apply to individual states and the Northern Territory.

For example, in Western Australia, the Department of Fisheries WA has released guidelines to assist industry in complying with the Fish Resources Management Regulations 1995, which prohibit the transport of non-native species into WA waters. The Department has biosecurity management responsibilities extending 200 nautical miles from the WA coast to allow management on an appropriate spatial scale for environmental protection. The various states and the Northern Territory have differing requirements for marine pest management in their respective jurisdictions and it is, therefore, important that petroleum operators consult with all biosecurity management agencies relevant to a petroleum activity. These agencies may also be relevant persons under the OPGGS (Environment) Regulations 2009 and measures adopted as a result of any consultations may assist operators of activities to demonstrate that their marine pest risks are reduced to ALARP and acceptable.