Important Australian Dinosaur Fossil Site Threatened by Developers

Rare Australian Dinosaur Fossils Threatened Desalination Plant

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 down under.

Desalination Plant to be Built on Dig Site

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 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. The fossiliferous rock is very important to palaeontologists but planners are confident that the strata will not effect their ability to construct and operate a huge desalination plant on the coast, converting salt water into drinking water.

Survey of Fossil Site Undertaken

Details of the fossils had been included in investigations carried out by the Department of Sustainability and Environment and it has been stated that the fossils only exist in the first ten metres of beachfront below the surface and it is proposed that the inlet and outlet pipes for the plant will be placed well beneath this level. Australian palaeontologists and field workers who have excavated vertebrate fossils in that area remain concerned and doubt whether the inlet and outlet pipe placing will help to protect the rare Cretaceous fossils.

Officials for the Australian Government and supporters of the scheme state that the Earth Science community themselves has acknowledged, if the inlet and outlet pipes are to be ten metres or more below the surface strata where the existence of these fossils have been detected will have no impact to the operation of the plant at all.

Full Geological Appraisal May be Required

The State Government is yet to decide whether to conduct a full environmental effects statement (known as an ESS), for the controversial project. Department of Earth Science staff at the Monash University have 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.

Prehistoric Animals Living Near the South Pole

Commenting on the palaeontological significance of the site, it has been 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 dcosystems present at this time during the mid 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.

Drought Conditions Persist in Australia

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 mid 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.

Article Source: Mike Walley

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