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 and barging operation on the eastern side of Exmouth Gulf, 40 km south-west of Onslow. The ‘Ashburton Salt Project’ would produce 4.5 million tonnes of salt per year for export to Asia for use in industrial processes.
As shown on the map, the industrial operation would cover a massive area over a high conservation value and intact environment, including a nationally significant tidal wetlands system. The proposed development area is over 675 million square metres (roughly 34 km long x 20 km wide).
The project would involve the pumping of seawater from presently undisturbed and beautiful tidal creeks. 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 proposal poses a threat to these species through potential marine vessel collisions, vessel and construction underwater noise, and impacts to their supporting habitats.
Bitterns discharge and seabed dredging would likely impact the marine environment with increased turbidity and nutrient levels potentially damaging or even destroying seagrasses and algae, the foundation of the Gulf’s ecosystems. Potential seepage from salt ponds and spread of hypersaline groundwater could impact the tidal creek and groundwater quality and the important mangrove systems.
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.