News National Protesters take to the waves to denounce Bight oil drilling

Protesters take to the waves to denounce Bight oil drilling

Opponents of drilling the Bight turned out across the country recently for a "paddle protest" to save the Bight. Photo: Katie Webb/Twitter
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A growing number of South Australians want the Great Australian Bight put on the World Heritage List as a decision on oil exploration in the region looms.

An Australia Institute poll of more than 500 people has found 84 per cent now support world heritage protection, up from 77 per cent in March.

The survey also showed that 66 per cent believe the Bight would be a more productive asset for SA as a marine park than as an oil field.

The results come on a day of national action as environmental groups and others oppose plans by Norwegian energy company Equinor to drill an exploration well about 370 kilometres off the South Australian coast.

“This is probably one of the biggest environmental demonstrations ever held in Australia, to be honest,” South Australian Wilderness Society director Peter Owen told AAP on Saturday.

The federal regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, recently called for more information on the company’s environmental plan with Equinor expected to respond by the end of November.

Australia Institute SA director Noah Schultz-Byard said the polling was a clear indication South Australians wanted the Bight protected.

“Properly valuing an internationally significant environmental and ecological asset such as the Great Australian Bight means protecting it from exploitation,” he said.

“More than 10,000 jobs in coastal tourism, fisheries and aquaculture rely on healthy oceans in SA. That would all be put at risk if a catastrophic oil spill was allowed to take place.”

However, Equinor has always maintained it can drill safely in the Bight and adequately manage any risks or incidents.

The company has also promised to continue to consult with local communities and others impacted by its exploration program.

If approved, it is scheduled to begin work on the Stromlo-1 exploration well in the summer of 2020/21.

On Saturday, people took to the water in about 50 paddle-out protests at venues across the country including Bondi, Manly the Gold Coast, Torquay, Bells Beach and Byron Bay.

In Adelaide, activists cleaned up a mock oil spill at the feet of Colonel Light’s statue and hung banners from the The Bluff at Victor Harbor, south of the city.

Mr Owen said he was hearing the events were “very, very well attended”, with protesters sending a message that they weren’t willing “to have the Great Australian Bight put at risk for multinational companies carrying out deep-sea exploration”.

“This is an issue that is really moving the nation at the moment,” he said.