Port Stanvac refinery MLSSAPort Stanvac refinery MLSSA

For many years the Marine Life Society of South Australia has been concerned about the effects of oil spills on our marine life.

I recently scanned through my extensive collection of Society newsletters and journals in search of any references to oil spills. The earliest reference to oil spills that I found was in our September 1980 MARIA journal (Vol.1, No.5).

Included in this journal was an article titled “The Redcliff Issue”. It was a report by the Australian Fishing Industry Council about the proposal to build a petrochemical processing complex at Redcliff Point. Oil spills were mentioned a few times in this report.

The next oil spill reference that I found was in our January 1981 Newsletter (No.44). It was in Peter Gilbert’s article “Death in the Gulf”. The article stated that John Ottaway of Flinders University thought that dispersant used to “mop up” a Port Stanvac oil spill had likely caused the death of fish in St. Vincent’s Gulf.

This article may have triggered our own concern about oil spills.

Two months later, our March 1981 Newsletter (No. 46) had an article titled “Proposals for the initiation of a research project” which was written by Geoff Mower. The article started with a reference to the Port Stanvac oil spill. There was also a list of suggested areas worthy of research. This list included areas thought to “bear the brunt of oil spills from Port Stanvac.”

That same month (March 1981) we published our MARIA Journal Vol.2, No.1 which included an article by Denise Warren entitled “The impact of oil on the marine environment”. Denise was one of our two Research Officers at the time. Even though her article is now some 12 years old, it is still valid.

In our September 1981 newsletter (No.52) Denise reported on a meeting of the Conservation Council of South Australia. The proposed Santos petrochemical plant to be sited either at Redcliff Point or Stony Point was discussed at the meeting. Denise’s report said that the Council considered Stony Point preferable to Redcliff. The EIS produced by Santos suggested a lack of knowledge of local sea currents and ecological stress was to be expected. Small oil spills were also expected and alternative sites had not been thoroughly examined.

In December 1981 Denise wrote the editorial for our MARIA Journal Vol.2, No.2. In her editorial she discussed oil spills. There was also a letter to the editor concerning yet another spill at Port Stanvac, this time on 13th October 1981.

Our February 1982 Newsletter (No.57) told of Denise being interviewed about oil spillages in SA on the ABC’s “Nationwide” program. The same article also told of a statement by Peter Gilbert being printed in the “News”. Peter was speaking on behalf of our group when he discussed our concern about the frightening recurrence of oil spills at Port Stanvac. Our next newsletter in march 1982 (No.58) also told of our President (Evan John at that time) being interviewed by Channel 10 News about the dispersion of an oil slick (from the tanker Esso Gippsland?). These three media reports were mentioned again in Evan’s President’s Annual Report in the June 1982 Newsletter (No.61).

Following the spill from the Esso Gippsland the Opposition called for a State Government enquiry into the increasing number of oil spills at Port Stanvac. The Environment Minister at that time said that he knew of at least eight incidents between 1977 and 1981.

I continued to scan through our newsletters for references to oil spills. The next reference that I could find was a few years later in our April 1986 issue (No.105). This was an article about an anti-pollution vessel able to mop up oil spills.

There was a brief report in our January 1987 Newsletter (No.114) about the threat of oil spills to whales.

Our February 1990 Newsletter (No. 151) mentioned newspaper cuttings about oil spills and the petrochemical plant at Whyalla. There was also a report about Peter Gilbert being interviewed on 5AN radio about oil spills and fish kills.

Our Society’s monthly newsletter has often discussed the use of bacteria against oil spills (bioremediation).  Articles about the use of bioremediation were in our September 1990 (No. 158), May 1991 (No.166) and October 1991 (No.171) Newsletters.

In October 1990, our society published a position paper concerning our coastal and marine environment. It was entitled “Towards a Policy on Coastal and Marine Environment”. In this paper we said that oil spills are a particularly threatening form of marine pollution.

Under the heading “Damage to the environment” we also said that oil spills from ships kill all marine life that they contact as do the dispersants used to “control” them.

The Persian Gulf war’s threat to marine life was first mentioned in our November 1990 Newsletter (No. 160).

There was an article about oil spills in our March 1991 newsletter (No.164). It discussed the Persian Gulf war, the “Sanko Harvest” spill of WA’s south coast, the use of high-strength bags to collect oil spilled at sea and the article by Denise Warren in our MARIA Journal Vol.2, No.1 in March 1981. There was also a paper cutting from The Advertiser about oil spills and clean-up methods used on them.

Our newsletter has also followed the establishment of the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre at Geelong, Victoria. It was first mentioned in our June 1991 Newsletter (No.167). The centre was also mentioned again in our August 1991 newsletter (no.169) (when a West Australian spill was discussed) and our June & october 1992 Newsletters (Nos. 179 & 183).

In August 1991, Andrew Rose, the coordinator of Greenpeace Education program in SA, was our guest speaker. There was a report about his talk in our September 1991 Newsletter (No.170). Some of the subjects that he mentioned were the effects of seismic testing on marine life, the effects of drilling mud on the marine environment, the effects of oil and toxic fumes on whales, oil spills and clean-ups. He even brought along a sample of an oil spill in a jar to show us. He said that experts confess that an oil spill clean-up is only 10% successful at best when done in perfect conditions.

Our October 1991 Newsletter also mentioned an oil spill in St. Vincent’s Gulf and an MP’s concern about an oil pipeline that runs along the foreshore from Port Stanvac to Birkenhead, possibly crossing three fault lines. I still have the two newspaper cuttings about these cases. An aircraft dropped chemical dispersant on the 22km long oil slick near Troubridge Island. The Executive Director of the SA Fishing Industry Council (SAFIC) said there were still serious concerns about the adequacy of strategies to deal with future spills. He also said that there was a body of scientific opinion that chemical dispersants could impede the natural underwater breakdown of the oil in certain circumstances. Below is a map that featured with the article.


Because of our Society’s concern about oil spills we visited the Adelaide Port Stanvac Oil Refinery in January 1992 to discuss the proposed Single-Buoy Mooring (SBM). The SBM was first discussed in our October 1991 Newsletter (No.171). More details were given in our January and May 1992 newsletters (Nos. 174 & 178). Our February 1992 Newsletter (No.175) reported details of our first visit to the refinery.

Last July’s oil spill conference on the Gold Coast (“Spillcon 92”) was also followed in our newsletter for March, June & October 1992 (Nos.176, 179 & 183).

The June 1992 Newsletter also discussed a major review of the environmental impact of offshore petroleum exploration & production and the use of mats of natural fibres in the battle to clean up oil spills.

Our April 1992 Newsletter (No.177) discussed some of the first anniversary of the end of the Persian Gulf war.

Society member Jean Cannon reported in our September 1992 Newsletter (No.182) that oil drilling is to commence off Kingston S.E. in November and off Kangaroo Island in mid-1993. I have a newspaper cutting from around that time (September 1992) that details BHP Petroleum’s plans to drill two wells in offshore South Australian permits. Below is a map that was featured in the article.


By Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve was a keen diver, underwater explorer & photographer before illness struck. He is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

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