Questions to ask about coal and platypus following their reintroduction into the Royal National Park – media release 16 May, 2023

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre has today expressed reservations concerning the platypus reintroduction program into the Royal National Park, noting that among other issues, due to pollution people are not allowed to swim in the area where the platypus have been released.

In February this year coal waste material washed up all over the picnic grounds at Audley Weir.  Members of the Centre have been advised that the platypus have been released into this lower section of the Hacking River just upstream of Audley Weir, yet the platypus reintroduction team has released minimal information about results of research relating to the pollution around the Audley precinct.

Given the recent coal pollution, it is in the public interest to know what sort of tests were carried out prior to the release, including the results of sediment sampling in these areas. 

We hope these platypus survive, but also question whether there are healthier areas to release them for this experiment. 

Platypus are an iconic Australian species. The story gains more attention because the Royal is also iconic, yet at the same time this story glosses over the fact that coal waste is apparent through the length of the Hacking River, including areas where the platypus have been put back into the river. 

Last week the NSW Environmental Protection Authority advised the Environment Centre they issued Peabody’s Metropolitan Colliery with two penalty notices, imposing fines totalling $30,000 for coal waste pollution released from the mine in November 2022. 

The EPA have advised that the investigation into the major coal sludge spills into the Royal National Park last year is continuing.

None of the sludge released from the mine in 2022 has been cleaned up below the waterline in the Hacking River.  Coal waste from the mine washed kilometres downstream through to the Audley Weir precinct.

Some EPA officers have given verbal assurances that the EPA accepts that new coal waste material has polluted the river, but the agency has also made public statements about “historic” coal.  The EPA has not provided information as to what testing has been used to determine this.  The EPA has also stated that Peabody will not be required to remove the coal waste material in the river.

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre Chair Ian Hill has said he would welcome the publication of the water quality testing results performed prior to the recent release of the platypus. “The public also need to know the results of sediment sample tests and toxicity along the Hacking River stream bed where the platypus are expected to inhabit.”

Questions to ask the research team include:

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre spokesperson Dr Catherine Reynolds, suggested other questions to ask the platypus research team include, “How often were the various tests carried out?”  “Has the research methodology and rationale been published?”  “Are all the release sites subject to the same coal waste pollution as the Hacking River?” “What other successful translocations have been carried out?”

  • * One ABC report stated these platypus were taken from the Bombala and Dalgety regions. What is the condition of the streams they were taken from?
  • * What is the justification for the translocation?
  • * How many other successful platypus translocations have been carried out previously?
  • * Why was the platypus reintroduction announced with such fanfare in the media before a successful outcome to the experiment? ie. platypus successfully breeding.

Other information we’ve requested from the NSW Environment Protection Authority, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, includes –

– Core sediment sampling results showing the constitution of the sediment in the area just upstream of Audley Weir.

– Proof to support the claim that the coal waste through the Hacking River is ‘historic’.  

– Information about what clean up measures have been used to remove the coal waste spread across lawns around the Audley Weir Precinct, the cost of the cleanup, and whether Peabody contributed to this.

Background information:

The coal waste in the Royal National Park originally comes from Peabody’s mining operation underneath Woronora Reservoir. It overflowed from the mine’s surface processing facilities at Helensburgh last year, into Camp Gully Creek and from there into the Hacking River, with the coal waste flowing over 10kms downstream to Audley Weir.  See this link for more information:

NSW Labor have had little to say about the recent fines, or last year’s pollution events.  Labor’s Environment Minister Penny Sharpe promised an EPA with teeth, but has remained silent about the coal pollution in the Hacking and the recent fines given to Peabody.

A dead crayfish at Camp Gully Creek near the Peabody Colliery surface facilities, 2 March, 2023. Photo credit James O’Connor photography.

Permission is given to reproduce the following photos:

Hacking River No Swimming – 15 May, 2023.  At the Audley Weir Precinct, near one of the platypus release sites. Photo credit Dr Catherine Reynolds.
Coal sludge on Currawong Flat, Audley 10 February, 2023.   At the Audley Weir Precinct, near one of the platypus release sites, following the flooding in February this year. Photo credit Bob Crombie.
Hacking River, near Audley 15 May, 2023.  Photo credit Dr Catherine Reynolds.
Coal Waste at the Audley Weir precinct, Iron Bark Flat, 10 February, 2023, following the flooding in February this year. Photo credit Bob Crombie.
Coal waste covered sections of Iron Bark Flat, Audley Precinct, 10 February 2023. Photo credit Bob Crombie.

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