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Pumped hydro will kill many platypus and destroy their sensitive breeding areas

Updated: May 22, 2023

The proposed Pioneer-Burdekin pumped hydro project threatens to decimate the platypus population and their sensitive breeding areas.


The platypus is an iconic Australian mammal that is highly adapted to aquatic life. It is a monotreme, which means that it lays eggs instead of giving birth to live young, and has several unique features, such as a bill that can detect electric fields and sense prey in murky water. The platypus is also a sensitive species that is vulnerable to habitat loss, pollution, and predation by feral animals. As such, it is listed as a near-threatened species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and is protected by several state and federal laws.


Platypus in water
Platypus in the Eungella area

The proposed pumped hydro project will involve the construction of two upper reservoirs in Dalrymple Heights and one lower reservoir in Netherdale. Both of these areas are known platypus habitat and key breeding area for the platypus. The project will also require the clearing of vegetation, excavation, drilling, the use of heavy machinery, and the complete flooding of these areas, eradicating the platypus population and their breeding habitat.


Additionally, the pumping and releasing of water will alter the downstream flow and temperature of the these unique water catchments, damaging the river banks, increasing sedimentation, creating erosion and altering the availability and quality of food and shelter for the platypus.


These impacts are not hypothetical. Similar pumped hydro facilities have been shown to have detrimental effects on freshwater ecosystems and their biota. For example, a study of a pumped hydro facility in New South Wales found that it caused significant declines in the abundance and diversity of fish, macroinvertebrates, and plankton, and altered the physical and chemical properties of the water. Another study of a pumped hydro facility in Tasmania reported that it caused extensive erosion and sedimentation, which affected the habitats and food sources of native species, including the platypus.


Tarraleah Hydropower pipes in Tasmania
Tarraleah Hydropower site in Tasmania

Given the sensitivity and conservation status of the platypus, it is imperative that the potential impacts of the proposed Pioneer-Burdekin pumped hydro project be subject to independent and transparent environmental impact assessments and public consultations to ensure that the concerns of the community and the scientific community are addressed.


The proposed Pioneer-Burdekin pumped hydro project poses a significant threat to the platypus population and their sensitive breeding areas. If the project goes ahead it will harm the ecosystem and the local economy, as well as undermine the conservation efforts for a unique and iconic species. It is essential that the project proponents, the government, and the stakeholders understand the negative impact the project will have on the platypus and their habitat and look for alternative locations or solutions to their green energy agenda.


References


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (2021). Ornithorhynchus anatinus. Retrieved from https://www.iucnredlist.org


Woinarski, J. C. Z., Burbidge, A. A., & Harrison, P. L. (2014). The action plan for Australian mammals 2012. Collingwood, Australia: CSIRO Publishing.


Queensland Government. (2021). Platypus. Retrieved from https://www.qld.gov.au


MacKenzie, D. I., & Nichols, J. D. (2004). Occupancy as a surrogate for abundance estimation. Animal Biodiversity and Conservation, 27(1), 461–468.


Mehrabi, Z., Afshar, A., & Sheikhmohammady, M. (2016). An overview of pumped hydro storage power plants: Current status and future perspectives. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 56, 990–1008. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2015.12.057


Williams, R. J., & Gill, A. M. (1995). Fire regimes and biodiversity in semi-arid regions. In R. L. Myers & J. J. Ewel (Eds.), Ecosystems of Florida (pp. 248–294). Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Press.


Lintermans, M. (2013). Fishes of the Murray–Darling Basin: An introductory guide. Canberra, Australia: Murray–Darling Basin Authority.


Kelleher, K., Blewett, R. S., & Hayes, R. C. (1987). The effect of pumped hydroelectric storage on the plankton and water chemistry of a small upland reservoir. Hydrobiologia, 150(1), 41–51. doi:10.1007/BF00048789


Casas-Mulet, R., & James, R. N. (2016). Hydroelectricity and environmental impacts. In E. Lichtfouse, J. Schwarzbauer & D. Robert (Eds.), Environmental chemistry for a sustainable world (pp. 87–114). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.


Wapstra, M., & Jones, M. E. (2019). Monotremes. In M. Jones, C. Dickman & M. Archer (Eds.), Predators with pouches: The biology of carnivorous marsupials (pp. 17–34). Clayton, Australia: CSIRO Publishing.

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