Peer-reviewed scientific research says that the intertidal area near the planned controversial gas processing precinct at James Price Point is the world’s only preserved landscape that was shaped by dinosaur traffic.
Dr Tony Thulborn is an expert on dinosaur footprints and has studied most of Australia’s best sites, including the intertidal area of the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome. In his latest study published in the peer-reviewed online journal PLoS ONE, he outlines his findings that the intertidal area near the site for a planned controversial industrial development, north of Broome in Western Australia, is the only landscape in the world that was created by dinosaurs.
Dr Thulborn says “I think it’s the only place on earth where you can actually see an ancient landscape that has been moulded on that scale by the comings and goings of dinosaurs everyday.”
James Price Point was just another camping spot north of Broome until 2009 when it was chosen as the State Government’s preferred location for a precinct to process gas from the extensive fields in the off-shore Browse Basin. Since that time it has been the centre of a growing controversy with concerns about impacts on Aboriginal Heritage, surrounding communities and the natural environment. As attention focussed on the red sandy cliffs and large intertidal rocky shoreline, it became apparent that Cretaceous dinosaur footprints extended from Broome, through the development area, and right along the 200 kilometre coastline of the Dampier Peninsula. The value of these prints was recognised in a 2010 decision by the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, when he included this long stretch of intertidal area in a broad listing of much of the Kimberley as National Heritage.
Dr Thulborn’s latest research is the first peer-reviewed study to single out James Price Point as being exceptional within the broader dinosaur trackway.
“What’s interesting about James Price Point in particular is that it seems to be a major intersection on that dinosaur highway” he says.
The dinosaurs in question were predominantly sauropods: Brontosaurus-type dinosaurs which include the largest animals to ever walk on Earth. Dr Thulborn’s research focuses on the impact large numbers of these animals, thought to weigh up to 60 tonnes, left on the landscape. He has found the James Price Point intertidal area has preserved the 130 million year old Cretaceous landscape where sauropod pathways subsided under the weight of the immense dinosaurs.
“All the channels filled with water are the big troughs and thoroughfares that were trampled down by big groups of dinosaurs moving along” says Dr Thulborn, “I think it’s the only site on the planet. I think it’s worth saving.”
Dr Thulborn is keen to point out that his scientific paper has passed through rigorous peer-reviewing and that he doesn’t want to get involved in the politics. However he has previously voiced his concern about the impact of any industrial development on his beloved dinosaur footprints, and facilitated a letter of concern being signed by 80 of his colleagues from around the world expressing that sentiment in 2009.
When asked about the proposed gas precinct being located a few kilometres south of the main James Price Point intertidal area, Dr Thulborn says “Let’s just say that I’m…extremely wary. I think there will be damage, and I think it’s extremely unfortunate.”
The gas precinct is a State Government project with Woodside Petroleum investigating whether they want to commit to becoming the foundation proponent. In a response to Dr Thulborn’s research the Department of State Development released a statement saying:
The Western Australian Government contracted two palaeontologists with internationally recognised expertise and interest in dinosaur footprints and track-ways to provide more definitive information about dinosaur footprints at, and near, the proposed Browse LNG Precinct north of Broome.
The palaeontologists’ findings and their report will be released when the EPA has completed its consideration of the Strategic Assessment Report and made recommendations regarding the precinct project.
The Environmental Protection Authoritiy (EPA) will base its recommendations on the palaeontologists report and other submissions it has received, and will include any necessary management or mitigation measures if disturbance of fossils is considered possible.
The EPA is due to release its assessment of the environmental impacts from the planned precinct mid 2012.
You can read Dr Thulborn’s research here.