Oceanic Victor director Mike Dyer addresses concerns in letter to the editor

Letter to the editor

The following article is written by Oceanic Victor director Mike Dyer.

GRANITE ISLAND AQUARIUM – ADDRESSING MISINFORMATION

I am the proponent of the Oceanic Victor in-sea aquarium at Granite Island. Over the past month I have listened closely to concerns voiced against the aquarium and judged some to be with foundation and some to be less substantial but highly emotive.

I appreciate the opportunity to address some of those concerns here. As someone who has spent all my life in and on the water as a fisherman in South Australian waters, I do have a real understanding of the issues discussed.

I also have a vested interest in ensuring the sustainability of our oceans and the South Australian fishery. As a father of young children, I know the future key to sustainability lies in engagement and education.

As a future resident of the South Coast (our family will be moving to Victor with the arrival of the aquarium) I am equally as sensitive to the need to balance its pristine environment and existing tourism and recreational uses with economic development and employment for the increasing number of young people growing up in the region.

Oceanic Victor director Mike Dyer.

Oceanic Victor director Mike Dyer.

I believe the proposed aquarium achieves balance on all those fronts. At the outset, let me assure people that this is not a proposal for tuna farming and never will be. (Our aquaculture license has heavy restrictions including the fact we cannot sell our fish).

The in-sea aquarium is designed as a tourism attraction and educational resource and will include Southern Bluefin Tuna as well as a very broad cross-section of marine species also indigenous to local waters. While Southern Bluefin Tuna are associated most strongly with Port Lincoln, they are commonly caught by recreational fishers in the waters off Victor Harbor.

The aquarium will not introduce a species which doesn’t exist in the region – rather it will make them accessible, along with many other local species.

Oceanic Victor also plans to restore the Granite Island Café, which has been closed since last year; reinstitute educational programs for school children; facilitate study and research opportunities in conjunction with universities and revitalise the environmental and ecological contribution of the island including penguin protection. Chief among opponents’ concerns is the fear that the aquarium will attract sharks.

There is no evidence to suggest this will be the case. In approving the development, the SA Development Assessment Commission reviewed evidence from independent shark expert Dr Barry Bruce of the CSIRO that white sharks currently frequent the waters of the South Coast as part of their normal movement pattern and that this facility is unlikely to alter their behaviour.

Even a US shark expert cited by opponents to the proposal, Dr Yannis Papastamatiou has said “there is no evidence migratory sharks would alter their movements to visit the pen.”

The Australian (7.2.2016). The SA Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Hon.

Leon Bignell has said: “This development and its operations are unlikely to alter the patterns of shark behaviour beyond what already occurs naturally.” (The Australian 7.2.2016 P3). The former operator of a similar aquarium, Adventure Bay Charters said there were no sightings of sharks near its pen off Port Lincoln for the entire six years it operated from 2008. (The Australian 7.2.2016 P3). I believe there will be a continued rise in shark sightings nationally due to current protection policies for sharks and seals.

I have been a commercial fisherman and mariner for 34 years and have witnessed firsthand the increase in seal and shark numbers over the last 10 years.

No-one can deny that there are currently sharks in South Coast waters and that any human aquatic activity has the potential to attract their interest – including fishing, surfing, swimming and our proposed aquarium. The difference with the aquarium, however, is that our fish will not provide a food source for sharks as they will be securely contained with proven cage technologies while all feeding will be monitored and restricted to ensure it doesn’t provide a food source for other fish.

Considered against current practices of gilling and gutting fish during and on return to the Encounter Bay boat ramp (particularly during events such as the annual Coast 2 Coast Tuna Tournament) and recreational fishing for bronze whaler sharks from the Granite Island Jetty (Sunday Mail Fishing Hot Spots with Jon Huie – 7.2.2016) the aquarium presents very little additional risk.

In the four years the aquarium has operated near Port Lincoln the facility has not had any entanglements with any marine species - whales, sea lions, seals, dolphins or penguins). Consultation with local sea lion experts has indicated that the operation is unlikely to increase the number of resident seals in the area given the low stocking rates of fish and hence low source of attraction.

The community has expressed concern about the impact on our fish of the water quality in Encounter Bay following stormwater run-off. Following the significant rainfall event on Eyre Peninsula earlier this month, I was diving to check the condition of aquaculture pens in Boston Bay.

While the water contained high levels of sediment as a result of run-off, there was no harm to the fish. Opponents to the aquarium have cited concerns about the environmental impact of the aquarium. Any impact on the ocean floor was carefully considered by PIRSA, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and the EPA before Oceanic Victor’s development application was approved.

Our aquarium is not a commercial aquaculture venture and we will operate at less than 5% of the stocking density of commercial sites, with the result that nutrient levels will be well below industry norms. All feed will be sourced locally from within South Australia thus removing any concern of disease transmission through imported baitfish.

There has been interest in the commercial viability of Oceanic Victor’s proposal. Our research shows that visitor numbers are likely to exceed those enjoyed by a similar and (proven economically viable) facility in Port Lincoln due to its closer proximity to Adelaide and relative ease of access compared to the former Port Lincoln attraction.

Given that I am committing my personal funds (not public funds) to establish the business, I have satisfied myself of its commercial viability. However, I also recognise and respect the privilege of being able to operate the aquarium in the waters of Encounter Bay and am confident of wider social and economic advantages including jobs and related investment flowing to the local community.

I respect the views of those who have expressed their concern about this project, but hope this information has gone some way to reducing that concern. My family and I also appreciate the high levels of support which many members of the South Coast and wider South Australian community have demonstrated.