K+S Industrial Saltworks
Giant salt works proposal threatens remarkable eastern Exmouth Gulf environment.
Multinational industrial corporation K+S 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. 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 up to 250 gigalitres a year of seawater from a presently undisturbed, beautiful tidal creek; construction of salt pond levee walls many kilometres long; salt processing and stockpiling infrastructure; and the discharge of pre-diluted bitterns into the rich marine environment.
This industrial activity would be constructed over a Wetland of National Importance, listed as an outstanding example of a tidal wetland system, with well-developed tidal creeks, extensive mangrove systems and broad saline coastal flats.
The wetland ecosystem serves an important function in providing critical habitat and nutrients that underpin the marine food web in Exmouth Gulf, ultimately supporting the renowned wildlife that lives in the Gulf, as well as commercial and recreational fishing.
The marine area adjacent to the proposed development is proposed as a marine park and provides important habitat for a range of threatened and protected species including dugongs, turtles, sawfish, shovelnose rays and migratory shorebirds.
Concerns about the project include:
- Damage and disturbance to the nationally important wetland ecosystem, causing loss of biodiversity and wetland values.
- The construction of salt pond walls many kilometres long risks disrupting nutrient delivery via tidal or floodwaters into the Gulf and impacting this vital marine food chain.
- Risk of discharge of toxic hypersaline water during storm events or via seepage from the salt ponds which could kill highly sensitive mangroves and harm marine animals, such as critically endangered sawfish and shovelnose rays, living in the nearby creeks and marine waters.
- Potential loss and fragmentation of wetland habitat and associated ecosystem services as a result of salt pond levee walls blocking the inland retreat of algal mat and mangrove communities in response to sea level rise.
- Likely cumulative impacts from this and existing and other proposed salt projects on wildlife and habitats at a regional scale.
We shouldn’t risk Exmouth Gulf’s globally significant environment through industrial development like this salt project.
There is an alternative, positive future for Exmouth with many new opportunities to protect its globally significant natural and cultural heritage and the jobs it supports, and to enhance economic resilience through sustainable, nature-based economic activity.
WA Government commits to conservation reserves for Exmouth Gulf.
The Premier, Mark McGowan, announced on 3 December 2021 that the WA Government will protect parts of Exmouth Gulf, Ningaloo, with some important conservation measures.
These commitments include creating a class-A reserve in the Qualing Pool area, proposed location of the Gascoyne Gateway port, and a marine park on the eastern side of the Gulf adjacent to K+S’s proposed salt works. This sends a clear signal that industrial development is incompatible with the unique, world-class environmental values of Exmouth Gulf.
However, there’s still much work to do. To date, there’s been no indication from K+S Salt and GGL that they won’t proceed with their projects. We need to continue to make our concerns about this proposal heard. We also need to ensure that the WA Government moves efficiently to establish the proposed conservation reserves, as well as protecting other key values of the Gulf, such as the humpback whale resting and nursing area.