New national recovery plan for marine turtles

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 2: 2017 

As the sole environmental regulator for offshore petroleum activities, NOPSEMA cannot accept an environment plan for an activity that may have unacceptable impacts on a listed threatened species, such as species of marine turtle, or is inconsistent with an in-force national recovery plan.

Titleholders should be aware that the national Recovery plan for marine turtles in Australia came into force on 3 June 2017. The new recovery plan was approved by the Minister for Environment and Energy and outlines the conservation requirements for six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle that occur in Australian waters.

The species covered by the new recovery plan, and their threatened status, are:

• loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) — endangered

• olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) — endangered

• leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriace) — endangered

• green turtle (Chelonia mydas) — vulnerable

• flatback turtle (Natator depressus) – vulnerable

• hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) — vulnerable.

NOPSEMA would like to remind titleholders that they should have mechanisms in place to ensure they identify new or amended recovery plans relevant to their proposed or current offshore petroleum activities. The information in the plans should then be used to define acceptable levels of impact, inform environmental impact assessment processes, and inform the design and implementation of ongoing management of those activities.

Titleholders should consider focusing on the aspects of the recovery plan relevant to the environmental management of their offshore petroleum activities, including, but not limited to:

• objectives of the recovery plan

• biological information that is relevant to the species and stock that may be impacted by the activity

• threats and associated actions that relate to impact pathways that may be relevant to the activity such as light, noise, planned discharges (contaminants), habitat disturbance and oil pollution

• habitats critical for survival that are specified in Table 6 of the plan.

Habitats critical for survival

The Significant impact guidelines 1.1 — Matters of national environmental significance states that a habitat for survival of a species is necessary for:

• activities such as foraging, breeding and dispersal

• the long-term maintenance of the species

• maintaining genetic diversity and long-term evolutionary development

• the reintroduction of populations or recovery of the species.

The habitat classifications and descriptions in the recovery plan, and their associated spatial data, may not be reflected on the Department of the Environment and Energy’s (DoEE’s) website; specifically, the National Conservation Values Atlas (NCVA). DoEE will address these discrepancies in the coming months. In the meantime, NOPSEMA advises titleholders to use the recovery plan as a primary tool for identifying marine turtle nesting and inter-nesting habitats, given its status as a statutory management instrument. Titleholders should note that habitats critical for survival are defined in Table 6 of the plan. For all other habitat values, such as foraging, use the NCVA in conjunction with the recovery plan.

NOPSEMA’s assessments of environment plans and environmental inspections will seek to confirm that titleholders have taken the new recovery plan into consideration. The Recovery plan for marine turtles in Australia is available on the DoEE website at www.environment.gov.au/marine/publications/recovery-plan-marineturtles-australia-2017. For more information relevant to the consideration of protected matters, see Attachment A of NOPSEMA’s Environment plan content requirements guidance note (GN1344) at www.nopsema.gov.au/ environmental-management/environment-resources.