More than 300 people braved extreme weather conditions in Warrnambool to stand alongside First Nations community members who are resisting destructive marine industrialisation.
The rally was opened by Gunditjmara Elder Vicky Couzens and attendees heard growing concerns about a suite of proposals to conduct seismic surveys in coastal waters spanning the length of the iconic Great Ocean Road coastline and beyond, across the whole of Gunditjmara Sacred Lands and Sea Country. The seismic surveys are commonly used to identify resources beneath the ocean floor, blasting powerful soundwaves that have been shown to negatively and harshly impact marine ecosystems.
The proposals by CGG and TGS have raised the concerns of First Nations groups, marine biologists, environmentalists, commercial and local fishermen, swimmers, and surfers who came out in their hundreds to support calls from the Gunditjmara-led Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective (SOPEC) to end the practice of seismic blasting on their Sea Country, and to invest in First nations led climate solutions.
Yaraan Couzens-Bundle is a Gunditjmara woman and whale dreaming custodian, and the founder of the Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective (SOPEC).
Koontapool (SRW) comes here every year. The message and voice of Koontapool is to kooroondee, to behave properly. Koontapool tells the story of Sea Country, and how we are not separate from it. We have been one and unbroken since time immemorial.
We want this place held in perpetuity in protection for future generations.
The Great Southern Reef is just as big as the Great Barrier Reef. It is worth fighting for and it is worth preserving.
Seismic blasting is the wrong frequency. It is damaging and the song of death. Our songlines are the song of life and creation.
We want to tell the international companies that have plans to carve up and industrialise our coastline, that they need to get out, and stay out, of Gunditjmara Sea Country. They come only to take, and that is against our lore.
We want their government to start funding indigenous-led research for solutions and care for Country. Our knowledge systems have worked for thousands of years,
We ask everyone to walk with us on their journey and stay with us, because we are going to win this fight! We will not stop until they listen, until they get out of sea country and they support us to care for Country properly.
You can First Nations Custodians and local communities who are joining together to push back on this destruction of whale songline country by signing the Citizens Protection Declaration!
Zoe Brittain is a local Warrnambool resident and marine scientist, currently completing her PhD specializing in seaweed. She spoke about the inaccuracies in data provided during community consultation sessions, and questioned the disrespect of traditional knowledge in consultation processes.
We know that seismic testing can literally explode planktonic species, with the potential to wipe out entire generations of breeding, from seaweed, abalone and a range of other creatures.
Western science is finally starting to catch up with the fact that indigenous knowledge holders here in this region represent the longest ongoing culture on the entire planet. The knowledge and connection they have to their sea country is at a depth and level of understanding that science could only wish for. If they are saying this is not safe to do, this is data, and that needs to be respected.
Gary Ryan is a member of the Victorian Rock lobster committee with 24 years experience as a professional commercial rock lobster fisherman. He spoke to the delicate developmental cycles of the Rock Lobster and the risks posed to this commercially important species by seismic blasting, and the lack of scientific evidence to demonstrate the process was safe.
Female rock lobsters carry a million eggs under their tails, the science has never been done to determine the impact of seismic blasting on their life cycle.
In the studies that have been done of a single seismic blast, the area in the blast is a void. The zooplankton are vaporised. That is how powerful these blasts are.
I believe that in this day and age, surely we can find a more environmentally friendly way.
The rally closed with a performance of the song ‘Upwelling’, a protest song sung by the community to stand up together for the ocean and marine life, written and performed by locals Carli Reeve and Levi Geebung with the support of local school children and other singers.
CGG has again extended their public consultation phase for their seismic blasting project following successive rounds of community consultations, and growing numbers of community members registering as relevant persons, and voicing their concerns about the project. CGG will now submit their plan to the regulator, NOPSEMA, in early 2024. The public will then have 30 days to make comments to the regulator regarding the details of the environmental plan.
The protest is the latest in a sequence of national protests to similar projects which have seen Traditional Owners bring legal cases against oil and gas companies claiming inadequate consultation regarding Sea Country.
Both Warrnambool and Moyne Shire Council recently voted to oppose the plans and committed to advocating to relevant federal ministers and regulators on their behalf. Protest organisers called for attendees to continue writing to state and federal government decision makers, calling on them to cancel plans for seismic blasting in the area.
Friends of the Earth will continue to stand in solidarity with the Gunditjmara-led Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective, as they lead the campaign in the South West of the state against seismic blasting. Make sure you follow them on Instagram and Facebook, and keep sharing the Citizens Protection Declaration!