Industrial salt production proposal threatens remarkable eastern Exmouth Gulf environment

The multinational K+S Group, via its subsidiary company K+S Salt Australia, is proposing to build a major salt production facility on the eastern side of Exmouth Gulf, 40 km south-west of Onslow.  The ‘Ashburton Salt Project’ would produce 4.7 million tonnes of salt per year for export and use in industrial processes.

The industrial operation would cover a massive area over a high conservation value and intact environment, including a wetland of national significance.  The proposed project area is around 114 million square metres (an area equivalent to over 28 Perth’s Kings Park).

The project would involve the pumping of seawater from a presently undisturbed, beautiful tidal creek. The water would be pumped into extensive solar salt evaporation ponds, and would involve salt processing and stockpiling infrastructure and the discharge of bitterns (the highly concentrated by-product) into the rich marine environment.

This industrial activity would impose itself over an area that is one of the largest and most outstanding examples of arid zone coastal salt flat ecosystems in Australia, as well as having well-developed tidal creeks and extensive mangrove systems.  The extensive mangrove systems on the eastern margins of Exmouth Gulf are areas of high primary productivity, feeding and restocking both the Gulf and the interconnected Ningaloo Reef.

The marine area of the Gulf off the proposed development provides important habitat for a range of threatened and protected species including dugongs, turtles, sawfish, humpback whales and migratory shorebirds.

The salt flats on which the salt ponds would be constructed form an integral part of the wetland ecosystem, supporting the algal mats and mangroves which underpin productivity of Exmouth Gulf. Disturbance on the salt flats could have serious and irreversible adverse impacts to the algal mats and mangroves and the ecosystem services they provide.

Further concerns about the project include:

        • Construction, including salt pond levee walls, potentially significantly disrupting water flows and nutrient availability and delivery to coastal waters, affecting productivity in Exmouth Gulf.
        • Potential seepage from salt ponds and spread of hypersaline groundwater adversely impacting mangroves, algal mats and tidal creeks.
        • Potential loss and fragmentation of benthic primary producer habitat and associated ecosystem services as a result of salt pond levee walls blocking the distributional adjustments of algal mat and mangrove communities in response to sea level rise.

We shouldn’t risk Exmouth Gulf’s globally significant environment through industrial development like this salt project.  There is an alternative path for Exmouth which secures existing tourism businesses and builds new sustainable, nature-based industries that protect and complement the region’s environmental and tourism values.