Monday, June 26, 2006

THE SWANS ARE DEAD – Foreword & Acknowledgements

The paper, "THE SWANS ARE DEAD" by Bob McmaHon, is in seven parts. It came out of experiences, and an issue of contention, in Chile that have resonances in Tasmania and the Tamar Valley specifically. It is published here in the hope that:
1. people will spread the word and use the information freely;
2. Tasmanians will think seriously about what’s at stake when all too little attention is paid to the ways natural resources are exploited;
3. Tasmanians will also think seriously before allowing others to take advantage of their resources; and
4. in the whole process, pay more than scant regard to Tasmania's resources and their true value.

This site has been facilitated by T3RT – The Three Rivers Trust – and specifically so via The Two Swans Project and The zingHOUSE Graphics Network.

A limited edition book is currently in production and so too is there a DVD being produced that draws upon the Blackneck Swan's Story and the environmental degradation that it marks. Watch this space for further developments and for more information please eMail the author.

All material published on this Website is copyright and the Moral Rights of the authors have been asserted. Reproduction without the written permission of the author is prohibited except for the purposes private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted by the Copyright Act

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident". Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

THE SWANS ARE DEAD by Robert McMahon


Like many detective stories this one had a scene in a taxi. While it would be false for me to claim a detective role, I did travel to Chile especially to investigate an incident of death on a grand scale. The detective work was done by others. With few expectations, and with only one possible contact in the country, and with no facility in the Spanish language, it was a surprise when the first person I met after I got off the plane began talking passionately about the incident which had brought me here. Luis, the diminutive taxi driver, began waving his arms and shouting: “Los cisnes mueren. Los pajaros mueren.” He shouted because I was foreign and he wanted me to understand.

It was an electrifying moment. I knew those Spanish words and not many others. I was here for the ‘cisnes’ after all. The swans. The iconic black-necked swans of South America, Cygnus melanocoryphus. ‘Pajaros’, I knew meant ‘birds’. The word ‘mueren’, from the verb ‘morir’ like the French ‘mourir’ – to die.

Luis took both hands off the wheel of his beat-up taxi and flapped his arms like a bird flying. Something awful had happened here. Taxi drivers are wordly people aren’t they? Cynical even. They don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves. Yet here was one taxi driver overcome with concern. It seemed as if he might burst into tears.

Steady rain deepened the twilight gloom of a foreign land that was strangely familiar, like the memory of a place in which one lived long ago, in childhood perhaps. Luis was driving me from Pichoy Airport towards the city of Valdivia. Ciudad de Rios y Humedales, reads the tourist literature: the city of rivers and wetlands. And it was the first sight of the Rio Cruces Wetlands (Santuario de rio Cruces) that got Luis so animated. So the swans are dead. The birds are dead. And those that didn’t die, flew away. That was the message of his flapping arms and his shouting. In the gloom, the silver scratches on the black surface of the water, might, prior to late October 2004, have marked the passage of black-necked swans.

1 The Chile Connnection





That moment with Luis in the taxi, April 11 2006, was not the beginning of the story for me. Turn the clock back to January 21 of the previous year. Seated next to me on a plane flying south from Santiago, Chile’s capital, was a young man, Paul, reading the afternoon newspaper. He spoke English fluently and talked fervently. I was flying to the southernmost town on Earth, Puerto Williams, to take up a job on a charter yacht : 6 weeks of sailing Cape Horn, the Beagle Channel and climbing the mountains of Tierra del Fuego. He was travelling to Temuco, a city just north of Valdivia, for a weekend of sunshine and relaxation with his girlfriend.

The first of the two headline stories in the paper he was reading concerned the suicide of one of Pinochet’s former military henchman implicated in the murder of thousands of dissidents during the Pinochet dictatorship following the overthrow of the democratically elected President Allende in 1973. The subject is a touchy one in Chile, which is to be expected, and the young man was discomfited by my interest, but paradoxically pleased that I knew something of Chile’s history, amused as well that I judged the military officer’s suicide to be 30 years too late. He wanted to get off the subject and drew my attention to the second headline story, a far more urgent problem than ancient history he assured me.

The second story concerned the recently commissioned CELCO paper pulp mill (cellulose plant) in the Valdivia region of southern Chile. Pollution from the mill had caused an environmental disaster. There were dead swans. Social unrest. An outcry. Calls for the mill to be shut down. Much worse, said Paul, was the personal part he played in the disaster. He was an architect, and the firm he worked for had been involved in the design and construction of the pulp mill. He felt morally implicated. The environmental catastrophe, he said, was Chile’s “international shame”.

The plane landed in Temuco, hit terra firma like a brick and bucked and slewed up the flooded runway in an explosion of water. The passengers clapped because the pilot brought the plane to a stop before it careered off the end of a runway that seemed much too short for landing in a deluge. So much for Paul’s weekend of sunshine in Temuco. I flew on south to the land of storm and ice and thought nothing more of paper pulp mills until I arrived back in Tasmania in March 2005.

To a storm of a different kind. We were going to get our own pulp mill. Not a closed loop, chlorine free mill as promised before I left for the uttermost ends of the earth, but an “ordinary one” said the CEO of the company that proposed to build it. Nor was it going to be located outside the environment in a place like the Hampshire Hills, fed by the plantations that had consumed the landscape there, but in everyone’s backyard on the banks of the Tamar River, adjacent to the woodchip mountains at Longreach, where Tasmania’s forests come down to the sea, the same native forests that would feed the pulp mill.

While ‘independent’ pulp mill study groups went to Europe, Canada and China (financed and peopled by the very groups; company, government, chambers of commerce etc. that, on the whole, supported the proposed pulp mill as an article of faith) and returned with glowing reports of the social, economic and environmental benefits of pulp mills, there was an apprehension in Tasmania that the reports were just too rosy to be true. Or irrelevant to the Tasmanian situation. Especially when the CEO of the company that proposed the mill said, disarmingly, that he had no intention of building a European style mill.

What model of mill did he plan to build then? Attention shifted to the ‘global south’, an expression that has a strong whiff of neo-colonial exploitation about it. To South America in fact, where European companies are currently ‘relocating’ pulp mills, because, quite simply, it is cheaper, and, dare I say this, environmental regulations may be less restrictive or at least negotiable?

In November 2005, a study group of two people from the Tasmanian Government’s Pulp Mill Task Force (Dario Tomat) and the then named Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (Stewart Johnson) visited Brazil and Chile. Their report, published in April 2006, was, in relation to the CELCO plant near Valdivia, mostly accurate as far as it went, which wasn’t far enough. While the report mentioned the dramatic loss of the swan and herbivorous bird populations due to the “severe and widespread decline of an aquatic plant”, it gave no scientific detail, which I believe was available at the time in Chile, instead, dealing with the huge issue of the ecological collapse of the wetlands with the lame assessment that “reports were inconclusive on the cause of the plant decline”. On the contrary, reports on the “cause of the plant decline” were very clear, and had been for some time. Enough of their report for now, but I will return to it later because there is one stunning sentence in the concluding dot points which warrants an autopsy, followed by the application of a flamethrower.

A little earlier than this study group’s departure from one part of the ‘global south’ to another, Marianela Rosas, forestry student at the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia, visited Tasmania in September 2005. Frank Strie, Tasmanian forester and rigorous critic of what passes for the practise of forestry in Tasmania, had met her at an international forestry students’ conference at Melbourne University, where she had given a presentation on the short but troubled history of the CELCO pulp mill near Valdivia, He invited her to Tasmania. She repeated the presentation at the University of Tasmania, Launceston Campus. Three episodes in her presentation stuck in my mind:

1. Initially CELCO intended to discharge its liquid effluent into the sea but violent protest from fishermen (characterized as ‘natives’ by Marianela) whose livelihood depended on an unpolluted sea, dissuaded the company from proceeding. The violent protest included the smashing of monitoring equipment.

2. Because of environmental transgressions the mill was forced to shut down three times by the courts and by the regulatory authorities: April 2004, January 2005 and April 2005. Many people in the audience in Launceston doubted if the courts and the regulatory authorities in Tasmania either enjoyed, or were prepared to exercise, anything like the same powers as in Chile.

3. On the question of community reaction to the dying swans, Marianela said the average person only started to be concerned when swans fell out of the sky and crashed through car windscreens.

During her presentation it became apparent to me that we in the Tamar region, who were about to receive a pulp mill, had a lot to learn from the Valdivia experience, and that we had better learn it fast or be condemned to repeat history. I resolved to go to Chile at my own expense and educate myself on the social, economic and environmental consequences of the CELCO plant.

2 Two Cities & Two Swans


There are similarities between the cities of Valdivia and Launceston. The former has a population greater by about half, but the latter is more spread out. Coincidentally, both cities are sited on the confluence of two rivers: Launceston has the South Esk and North Esk joining to form the Tamar River and Valdivia has the rio Calle Calle and the rio Cruces joining to form the rio Valdivia. Both cities are sited on estuaries subject to tidal influence: the difference between low and high tide in Launceston is more than three metres and in Valdivia a little over one metre. While Valdivia is only 17 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean with the tidal influence extending up the rivers, the rio Cruces in particular, for a considerable distance past the city, Launceston is located some 50 kilometres from the open sea and the tidal influence stops at the city.

I went by bus from Valdivia to the town of Niebla at the mouth of the estuary, on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, a 17 kilometre drive along the north shore of the rio Valdivia on a sparkling autumn day under a rich blue sky. That the light and the feel of the landscape were so familiar was neither a whimsical interpretation nor an expression of homesickness on my part, but sensations derived from remarkable landscape parallels. Both Launceston and Valdivia share the same latitude and on the drive the bus passed through a few small copses of native forest; all too few and all too small, the predominant tree type being nothofagus, very similar to the Tasmanian myrtle, nothofagus cunninghamii. I stood in the hilly fishing village of Niebla under the shade of giant Tasmanian blackwoods, macracarpas (Monterey cypress) and radiata pines (Monterey pine) from California, surrounded by a screen of high gorse from Britain and low scrubby black wattles from Tasmania, so like home with its mix of Tasmanian native trees and shared exotics, some of them pestilential. But it was the landscape across the estuary that was more disturbingly like the landscape Tasmania has become in the past two decades. Eucalyptus nitens (New South Wales blue gum) plantations blanketed the hills, walling in the little historic port of Corral, captured in 1820 from the Spanish by the swashbuckling, outmanned and outgunned, Lord Thomas Cochrane. Just like the Tamar estuary, Corral had its own woodchip mountain, much smaller than those at Longreach and not sourced from native forests, with a ship in port loading chips for the Orient.

Both estuaries have a fish farm in a similar place: the Chilean one is along the shore from Corral towards Valdivia and the Tasmanian one is located on the Rowella shore opposite the Longreach woodchip mills and the proposed pulp mill. (As an aside, and this could be of future relevance to the operators of the Tasmanian fish farm on the Tamar, I was told in Chile by an authoritative source that the operator of the fish farm was getting increasingly concerned about the possibility of pollution moving downstream from the rio Cruces Sanctuary and affecting his stock, but was too scared of CELCO to make his concerns public).



Which is where the fishing similarity ends, because, unlike the Tamar region, fishing is a mainstay of the local economy of the Valdivia estuary and coast. It is small scale, family and community based, and finds its vibrant expression in the roofed over, open-sided fish market located on the waterfront, the Feria Fluvial, in the centre of Valdivia. Operating just about every day of the year, the market was packed out on Good Friday morning, with shoppers in this very Catholic country making their faith-based purchases. I filmed and photographed this most filmic and photogenic of places: piles of fish from small herring sized to metre long barracuda named ‘sierras’ stacked like neat piles of billet-wood; shell-fish of many varieties piled up like miniature scree slopes, including sea-urchins which fetched 200 pesos, about 60c Australian per kilogram, and mussels just a little dearer; fishmongers, of native appearance (los naturales), hawked their wares in deafening machine-gun Spanish; an elderly woman, who had made herself a conical hat out of a newspaper, flashed a gap-toothed grin while the resident school of tame sea-lions hauled themselves out of the river onto a concrete revetment and bellowed clouds of steam at the tons of fish out of reach a couple of metres above their heads.





I visited the fish market several times during my ten days in Valdivia and was left in no doubt as to why the fishing communities protested so violently against the proposal to pump pulp mill effluent into the sea. It was not just an issue of micro-economics versus macro-economics, the former expected to be sacrificed to the latter in this day and age, but the survival of traditional fishing communities, a whole way of life, that was at stake. One cannot but be heartened by their success. But there was a merciless equation in operation and the price had to be paid elsewhere.

Moored in a long line downstream from the fish-market were half a dozen river cruise boats, Valdivia’s main tourist attraction being the boat cruises downriver to the historic forts of Corral, Isla Mancera and Niebla as well as cruises upriver through the rio Cruces Sanctuary to view the remarkable concentrations of black-necked swans, “an especially bad tempered but beautiful bird” asserts the Encyclopaedia Britannica, variously estimated at 5000, 6000, 16000 and 18000. One would imagine the upriver cruises to be an unviable tourist enterprise now, dead in the water you might say, like the birds the tourists came to see. The ecology of the wetlands, and the little tourist industry it supported, are joint victims of the merciless equation.

3 Dr Eduardo – Ecology and Marine Biology



My only contact in Chile came good. I met Marianela Rosas at the bus terminal and we walked across the Pedro de Valdivia Bridge over the rio Valdivia, to the island of Teja, the northern portion of which is occupied by the campus of the Universidad Austral de Chile. She had arranged a meeting with Dr. Eduardo Jaramillo, Professor of Ecology and Marine Biology, the man in charge of the ecotoxicological monitoring programme in the rio Cruces Sanctuary. This was my chance to find out what really happened to the ecology of the wetlands from the man who verified the cause of the ecological collapse.

Fortuitously, Professor Jaramillo spoke excellent English, having gained his PhD in Zoology at the University of New Hampshire in the USA, so that I did not have to rely on Marianela to translate. With that barrier dissolved, I was also relieved that the expected barrier of formality did not exist. Having picked up on Marianela’s deference to the rank of Professor prior to our meeting at the university, I had assumed that a high degree of cultural formality existed in Chile, such as one customarily experiences in Japan and parts of Europe. However, dressed casually in an open necked yellow shirt, Eduardo greeted me affably and devoted a substantial slice of the afternoon to explaining what had happened in the wetlands, despite being very busy as evidenced by the constant ringing of the phone. He solved that problem by taking the phone off the hook.

I knelt on the floor next to him seated on a chair in front of a computer screen, as he scrolled through a very detailed presentation which he had prepared in English. At the conclusion I asked Eduardo if he would mind giving a summary for the camera. He agreed. I set up my camcorder on a tripod and he obligingly spoke for five and a half minutes. What follows is essentially that summary, with some extra and explanatory comments from me. What was missing from his summary, of necessity, was the detailed science of the ecotoxicological testing undertaken in the Sanctuary.

The Rio de Cruces Santuario de la Naturaleza is a wetlands site listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971. (Tasmania has ten Ramsar listings). Beginning on the rio Cruces next to the university, the Sanctuary extends 25 kilometres upstream, has an average width of 2 kilometres and an area of 4877 hectares. But prior to May 22nd 1960, the wetlands did not exist: the area was flat agricultural land through which meandered the rio Cruces. At 3.12pm on that fateful Sunday morning of May 22nd 1960, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the world, 9.5 on the Richter scale, struck the region, causing the rio Cruces valley to drop between 1.5 and 2 metres. The earthquake killed a few people in the city, but the resulting tsunami killed 5700 people and flooded the valley, creating the wetlands we know today. Two months after the tsunami, on July 25th, the Rinihue Lake collapsed and also flooded the valley, an event which happened once before in 1575.

The first warning signs of an environmental problem occurred during late autumn and into winter 2004, when a dramatic decrease in the population of black-necked swans was noticed due to migration and an increase in mortality for unknown reasons. The second situation was the demise of the aquatic macrophyte, ‘Luchecillo’, (Egeria densa), the primary food of swans and other herbivorous birds, which occurred in the first trimester of 2004. Aerial photographs showed the extent of the denudation of the Sanctuary. This was followed in the spring of 2004 by brown water coming down out of the Sanctuary into the city. Again aerial photographs showed the dramatic difference between the clear waters of the rio Calle Calle and the brown waters of the rio Cruces.

From the beginning the citizens of Valdivia pointed towards CELULOSA VALDIVIA (CELCO), a 555,000 tons/year pulp plant as the ultimate cause of the environmental changes. The plant is located 25 kilometres upstream from the northern boundary of the Sanctuary, that is, 50 kilometres from the city.

US$80,000 was made available to establish the cause(s) of the ecological collapse. In three months 15 hypotheses were tested. Many were easy to reject, such as agricultural chemicals, because sampling showed such chemicals were absent from the wetlands. One hypothesis, advanced by a very passionate and wrong-headed individual, maintained that the plant decline had been caused by an increase in ultra-violet radiation. This hypothesis was easily disproved because the most advanced testing apparatus in all of Chile exists in Valdivia, and showed no change in ultra-violet radiation levels over a period of years, in addition to which, no other wetlands in the vicinity showed any adverse effects of anything. Despite overwhelming evidence, the individual persisted with his beliefs during a very memorable public brawl. However, rigorous sampling proved that wastewater effluent from the pulp mill was the cause.

Luckily baseline studies had been done prior to the construction of the pulp mill. Armed with that data and with data from sampling taken upstream of the pulp mill effluent discharge site, it was easy to demonstrate that downstream of the pulp mill wastewater outlet, a huge increase in suspended solids and a huge increase in suspended heavy metals had occurred since the mill had begun operation, most notably iron (Fe), aluminium (Al) and manganese (Mn). The average increase over the baseline figures of these three metals is as follows: Fe increased, on average, by a factor of 5.7, Al by a little over 8 and Mn by a factor of 6. At some test sites, notably at Boca Nanihue, Cudico and Nanihue, the readings for each of the metals was near or over double the average increase. Further support for these findings, as if any was needed, was that when the pulp mill was closed down in January and April 2005 and ceased production, the presence of heavy metals in the water dramatically declined towards the baseline figures.

Aluminium sulphate was used as a reagent at the mill as part of the physico-chemical treatment of the wastewater. In water the aluminium sulphate forms aluminium hydroxide (AlOH) which is a flocculant, causing particles to coagulate and drop out of suspension and be deposited on the bed of the wetlands. The depositional process was further aided by the hydraulic brake of the incoming tide. The high levels of chemicals such as sulphates, chlorines and heavy metals killed off the aquatic macrophytes. The Luchecillo, said Eduardo, turned into mucous.

Autopsies of dead swans revealed a dramatic weight decrease in excess of 2kg for a normally healthy bird of 5-6kg, as well as a lack of muscular development in baby swans, which meant that even if by some fluke a bird grew to maturity it wouldn’t be able to fly. Autopsies of stomach contents of dead birds revealed the presence of no Luchecillo, nothing but sediment and parasites.

What about dioxin poisoning? Because no dioxin testing equipment exists in Chile (just like Australia) there was no data available. What is your best guess as to the role dioxin contamination might play in the Sanctuary in the future, I asked Dr. Jaramillo? His answer was to the effect that dioxin is a poison that accumulates in the environment and therefore one can only assume that the environment will, in time, start showing the effects of that contamination. The carnivorous birds, such as the herons, which so far have escaped the effect of the eradication of the aquatic plant life, may well start showing the effects of dioxin poisoning.

4 Sinister Symmetry


Professor Jaramillo invited me to accompany him and his three doctoral students; Sandra, Heraldo and Christian out on the wetlands to collect samples for laboratory testing. I walked through the quiet streets of the slumbering city on Easter Saturday, past the beautiful swan posters in shop windows produced by the Accion por los Cisnes (Action for the Swans) and the wall emblazoned with anti-CELCO graffiti, and waited by a pontoon on the rio Calle Calle for the university boat to arrive. It pulled in on the appointed time, which was surprising, because Eduardo and the students had been on the wetlands before dawn collecting samples in the upper reaches of the Sanctuary. We spent the morning and into the afternoon collecting water and sediment samples as well as the roots of rushes from designated testing sites in the lower reaches of the Sanctuary, for analysis back in the laboratory, in addition to which on site instrumentation testing of the water was carried out. The following were being tested for: turbidity, temperature, salinity, density, conductivity, direction and velocity of current, TSS (Total Suspended Solids – organic matter) and DS (Dissolved Solids).

No single moment of my stay in Valdivia brought home to me the reality of the ecological collapse that had occurred in the wetlands, than when, after only a few minutes on the boat, we exited the channel between the island of Teja and the mainland. The channel connects the rio Cruces with the rio Calle Calle, and while it is grandly named the rio Cau Cau, it is only about one kilometre long. At that moment, as we turned the corner into the Sanctuary, in the crystalline light of an autumn day in the southern latitudes, I saw a stately pair of black-necked swans in the far distance gliding amongst the rushes on the far shore.
“In the past”, said Eduardo, “you would have seen a thousand birds here”.

The day was beautiful, but with a beauty that would break your heart in the knowledge that the water the boat was skimming across, was, beneath its blue surface colour which was a reflection of the autumn sky, nothing but a poisonous soup.
“There is a sinister symmetry to all this”, I replied. “These wetlands were created by a natural disaster in 1960 and destroyed by a man-made one 44 years later”.

5 “Do you know ‘dumb’?”



On the following day Eduardo drove me up the road past the airport to look at the pulp mill, surrounded by its eucalypt plantations. I stood on the effluent outflow where the muck was dumped into the rio Cruces, probably no more than 20 metres wide at this point and fast flowing. There had been no attempt by the company to disguise the outflow or even to fence it off. There was no evidence of social embarrassment or cover up: CELCO was either demonstrating a commendable honesty and transparency or it didn’t give a stuff. No smoke or steam emanated from the mill because it was undergoing a maintenance shutdown. Eduardo spoke to a resident of a little hamlet nestled in the trees a few hundred metres down a muddy road from the mill. The stink from the mill had been atrocious at first he said – it had even been so 50 kilometres away in Valdivia – but now there was not much smell. As a result of the furore over the stink, the company installed odour treatment technology that should have been installed in the first place, and changed some operational procedures. To keep the people sweet who lived close to the mill, the company installed tap water in the few houses and put a couple of street lights on the muddy track that ran past the hamlet, the latter day equivalence, I suspect, of distributing beads and mirrors to the natives.

On the boat the previous day there had been a conversation comparing the two pulp mill companies in Chile. CMPC, closely allied to the conservative parties in government, behaved, it was agreed, like a good corporate citizen. CELCO, close to the Christian Democrats, on the other hand, behaved in a way that was….. Sandra struggled for a word that I would understand.
“Do you know ‘dumb’?” she asked.
“Yes”, I replied. “Tasmanians know ‘dumb’. Sometimes I think we invented it”.

If Tasmanians, notoriously insular when it suits us, are prepared to learn from the experience of other places, as we occasionally are when it suits us, then we might learn things that contradict the inherited wisdom of our social engineers, such as ‘big is best’, for instance, or the propaganda message that using up renewable resources like forests and water at an unsustainable rate is ‘world’s best practise’. For example, two economic arguments of the pro-mill lobby in Tasmania are a) the large number of local jobs that would be created in operating the mill and b) the big flow-on investment effect of the mill. I decided to test these two articles of faith by asking Dr. Jaramillo about the CELCO example.
There are 300 people employed at the mill, he said. How many locals? 20. And what do they do at the mill? They clean the toilets. (Make allowance for the exaggerated simplicity of this reply: they probably clean other things as well). Where do the other 280 employees come from? Somewhere else. Santiago. Maybe other countries. Jobs in a pulp mill are specialist jobs: computer specialists, chemists, engineers etc. I doubt whether there were any unemployed people in the Valdivia region with those skills, he concluded.

What about the flow-on investment effect of the mill? His reply was to drive me to a little red painted kiosk, like a slum humpy, standing in mud near the boundary fence of the mill. It was shut. Sometimes they might sell a beer to a log truck driver, said Eduardo. Next he showed me two holiday accommodation complexes of nicely built wooden cabins, diagonally opposite each other a kilometre back down the highway from the mill, both built during the construction phase of the mill on the promise of the prosperity the mill would bring to the area. One complex had never accommodated a single person and scrub was encroaching on the forlorn clearing in which it stood. The other, while it had a restaurant which had never served a meal, did at least have one car parked beside a cabin. Two shattered dreams and perhaps there was another in the making a further two kilometres down the road, that is, three kilometres from the mill.

A fifty hectare blueberry plantation, newly established, filled up the landscape on the north side of the road. I advised them not to plant here, explained Eduardo, but they went ahead anyway. Every berry grown here is for export to Europe. While we may not test for dioxin contamination here, they will surely do so in Europe. Goodby one export business.

6: Outside the Environment


Now for that sentence in the concluding dot points of the Pulp Mill Task Force report on which I promised an autopsy. An autopsy is customarily performed on a corpse. The following sentence has very nearly attained that state of expiration I think you will agree. Remember, the mill in question is the CELCO mill 50 kilometres from the city of Valdivia.

“The mill location and wastewater discharge point were not ideal, with unfavourable dispersion characteristics in the regional airshed and a sensitive aquatic receiving environment”. It was the last phrase, “a sensitive aquatic receiving environment”, which woke me from the coma into which I was inexorably slipping during the reading of the report. This was language designed to deceive. This was sludge to match the sludge pumped into the river by CELCO. What terrible bad luck for CELCO to have pumped its effluent into something so exceptional as an ordinary river. There is an implication here that the company is the victim of an “aquatic receiving environment” that did not deliver as it should, an ‘insensitive’ receptacle for filth, sorry ‘wastewater’, but a ‘sensitive’ one.

And where should they have pumped their effluent in order to avoid such an unfortunate calamity (to themselves)? Move to the next dot point in which the authors, Messrs Johnson and Tomat, write that CELCO made a poor decision “discharging to the Cruces River rather than (the) sea”. Of course! The sea! The archetypal, insensitive “aquatic receiving environment”, the long-suffering, ever-forgiving, infinitely capacious dump of the sea. So ‘insensitive’ is the sea as an “aquatic receiving environment” it may well be considered completely outside the environment. If only the company hadn’t allowed the emotional appeals of a bunch of small time fishermen to dissuade it from going for the ‘outside the environment’ option from the start.

It’s back to square one for CELCO. The company is legally bound to desist from discharging effluent into the rio Cruces and come up with an alternative location by March 2006, and have that implemented by June 2007. In addition, it must also restore the ecological system of the Sanctuary. Dr. Jaramillo will lead the team of approximately 25 people which will oversee the restoration, a programme run by the Universidad Austral de Chile and financed by the company.

The Pulp Mill Task Force report does not pursue the implications for the Tamar Region of the lessons learnt in Valdivia. It should have. If there were “unfavourable dispersion characteristics in the regional airshed” in Valdivia, then how unfavourable will be the notorious temperature inversion of the Tamar Valley in fostering ‘dispersion’? How about the prevailing north-westerly air movement straight up the Tamar Valley? There is much to be learnt from the Chile experience which the report does not discuss.

I fear for the marine environment of the Tamar estuary and the coastline of north-east Tasmania if the proposed Tamar pulp mill goes ahead and its effluent is pumped into Bass Strait off Four Mile Bluff. I know the shallow sea of Bass Strait, with its beautiful coastline and powerful tidal surge up the Tamar estuary, is a “sensitive aquatic receiving environment”. But how sensitive is a case for study. We have no comprehensive picture of the ecology of the marine environment. Wide-ranging and very detailed baseline studies of the aquatic environment in the estuary, the Strait and the coastline must be undertaken.

Knowing what we know of the ecological catastrophe in the rio Cruces Santuario de Naturaleza, can we really be so ‘dumb’ as to allow history to repeat itself here?

7: Another Emblem

I conclude with a valediction to the emblematic swan. It is the third stanza of Coole Park and Ballylee by the Irish poet W.B.Yeats; my favourite poet, one of my favourite poems. The poet, wandering through the woods bordering the lake at Coole Park, the ancient seat of the Gregory family in Co. Sligo in the west of Ireland, hears “the sudden thunder of the mounting swan”. Through the branches he sees the swan on the lake.

“Another emblem there! That stormy white
But seems a concentration of the sky;
And, like the soul, it sails into the sight
And in the morning’s gone, no man knows why;
And is so lovely that it sets to right
What knowledge or its lack had set awry,
So arrogantly pure, a child might think
It can be murdered with a spot of ink”.