Australian Dinosaurs under Pressure from Development
One of the widely publicised impacts of global warming and climate change has been the very severe drought suffered by much of Australia in the last couple of years. Many scientists claim that global climate change was one of the causal factors in the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and now climate change is indirectly threatening the excavation of rare dinosaur fossils.
In East Gippsland, south-east Victoria, the demands for drinking water have grown rapidly as the population increases. The area provides much of the Melbourne region with fresh water, now plans to build a AUS$ 3 billion desalination plant in East Gippsland could prevent the excavation of rare polar dinosaurs. The dinosaur bones are located in sediments found on a rock shelf on a beach at Wonthaggi, an area famous for its rich coal deposits, another legacy from ancient times. The fossil bearing rock has yet to be fully explored but palaeontologists claim that it is just one of six known locations where evidence of polar dinosaurs has been found.
The Australian Government’s Water Minister – Tim Holding has said that the fossils will not delay the much needed project. The intention is to build one of the world’s largest desalination plants on the coast, when completed it will boost the drinking water supplies to the urban population.
“This in no way impacts on our ability to construct and operate a desalination plant,” Mr Holding said.
“Details of the fossils had been included in investigations carried out by the Department of Sustainability and Environment,” Mr Holding stated.
“The fossils exist in the first 10 metres of beachfront below the surface and it is proposed that the inlet and outlet pipes for the plant will be placed well below that. The reason why is because these fossilised remains exist in the first 10 metres of the beachfront in that area and it’s proposed that our inflow and outflow pipes will be placed well below that.
So as the scientists themselves have acknowledged, if the inlet and outlet pipes are to be 10 metres or more below the surface the existence of these fossils will have no impact to the operation of the plant at all.”
Full Environmental Effects Not Known
The State Government is yet to decide whether to conduct a full environmental effects statement (known as an ESS), for the controversial project. Lesley Kool, who is co-ordinating the fossil dig on behalf of Monash University (Victoria), has led the calls for an environmental effects statement and a full review of the proposed project, not just to consider the impact on the rare 115-million-year-old fossils but also to examine the potential environmental impact on many endangered native animals and plants that live in this coastal area.
Commenting on the palaeontological significance of the site, Mrs Kool stated that the Wonthaggi location was one of only a very few sites where polar dinosaur fossils had been found, indeed this area if properly explored could yield a lot of data on the ecosystems present at this time during the Cretaceous. So far evidence of ornithopods (plant-eaters) has been discovered but scientists speculate that they may find evidence of theropods in these sediments also. Meat-eaters are rare from polar deposits. This area has also provided evidence of fresh-water plesiosaurs. It was thought that these long-necked marine reptiles were found only in salt water environments but now evidence from south-eastern Australia supports data collected from the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canada which shows plesiosaurs spending some time in brackish and freshwater. Whether these animals were juveniles from fully marine species or a group of plesiosaurs adapted to life in lakes, rivers and estuarine environments is open to debate.
The construction of this huge desalination plant, although badly needed by a parched Australia, could destroy forever fossils that could provide further information on the fauna and flora of the Cretaceous polar environment.
As more of the geology of Australia is explored a number of new and exciting discoveries have been made. This vast continent still holds many palaeontological surprises and a number of papers and reports have been published recently, many written by researchers at Monash University.
Recent report of carnivore tracks: Meat-eating Dinosaur Tracks Discovered in Australia.