Protecting Australia’s plant life

When we talk about sustainability and our approach, we look at the specific aspects of the environment that may be impacted by our work, and what steps we can take to minimise that impact.

Part of that thinking addresses biodiversity; ensuring we plan for the preservation of a range of animal and plant life in the areas we work.

We spoke to Laura Hahn, Senior Environmental Specialist – Offsets, about her work to ensure the ancient palm: the Cycad, was conserved for future generations.

1. Why is biodiversity important to the organisation?

Biodiversity is fundamental to our lives; it provides our natural resources and may be the key to future medicines. Our principles include minimising our impact on the environment in the communities in which we operate, so biodiversity is considered at each stage of development. Any potential impacts are identified and assessed, controls are put in place and key biodiversity losses are offset.    

2. How were Cycads identified as something we need to conserve?

Field ecologists scouted a number of pipeline corridor options as part of the Australia Pacific LNG Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  Ecologists and field scouts worked with pipeline design engineers to avoid conservation significant species and communities where practical.

“Cycas megacarpa, also known as the large-fruited zamia palm, has been reduced to less than 10% of its population and is listed as endangered.”

Also, as they can live to more than 1,000 years some of the individual plants were around well before colonisation!

3. Was there other flora/fauna included in initial investigations?

The EIS studies for the pipeline identified more than a thousand plant and animal species in the study area.  Based on the assessment of these impacts, we are progressing biodiversity offsets to counterbalance impacts to Pedley’s wattle (Acacia pedleyi), Pale imperial hairstreak (Jalmenus eubulus), and Beach stone-curlew (Esacus magnirostris). 

4. How many people were involved and how extensive was the process?

Numerous Origin and external specialists were involved at different stages of the project:

  • Firstly, field scouts, pipeline design engineers and specialist cycad ecologists worked to reduce the number of cycads impacted by changing the alignment of the pipeline and narrowing the pipeline disturbance area.
  • Next each cycad was tagged, salvaging, stabilised and monitored.
  • Specialist ecologists offset personnel and land access personnel worked to find and secure an offset site so that translocation could be completed in September 2014. 
  • Health and safety specialists were also involved particularly given the steep rocky slopes at the salvage and offset sites. 
  • In addition, an external nursery is propagating 2,300 plants for planting in the offset site over the next three years to expand the population. The cycad plants and offset site will be monitored for more than 10 years.

5. What makes this project different from other sustainability initiatives?

In addition to the obvious ecological benefits (salvaging plants and eventually expanding the location population of endangered plants), the project also:

  • provides local and regional employment,
  • leveraged local expertise,
  • helped promote education, and
  • will contribute to science.

The temporary nursery was established nearby and the plants were stabilised and monitored by a local horticulturalist.  Regional businesses are also involved in the salvage, planting and ongoing maintenance of the translocated plants and propagation of the offset plants. Students from a regional school were invited to the temporary nursery to learn about the science and scientific careers by monitoring the condition of the stored plants. And plant data is being collated and will expand the known population of the species.

6. What’s the best part of your role?

The best part is seeing how people come together to protect the cycads. Cycads seems to have charisma. Most people who work on aspects of the project end up with a soft spot for the plant. Even Origin’s leadership team and the Australia Pacific LNG CEO are interested in hearing about the cycads.

7. What other initiatives are planned to ensure biodiversity?

Origin is establishing and managing a substantial offset portfolio as part of the Australia Pacific LNG Offset Strategy involving protection of thousands of hectares of land over more than 5 offset sites. In addition, we are contributing to GISERA research on protection of threatened species and fire ecology of grassy woodlands.

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