Mining activity in the Kimberley has surged 500 per cent since 2003, sparking an urgent need for a regional land use plan to earmark precious areas, an environmental think-tank says.
The Pew Environment Group commissioned the Centre for Conservation Geography to map current and proposed mining activity in the region using freely-available State Government data.
Proposed major developments include the LNG hub at James Price Point, precious metal projects in the East Kimberley and a coal mine in the Fitzroy Catchment.
Onshore oil and gas activity in the Canning Basin has increased, along with interest in uranium, bauxite at Mitchell Plateau and copper at the Horizontal Falls.
Pew project manager Rupert Quinlan said proposed mines now threatened almost eight in 10 rivers, wetlands and floodplains in the Kimberley and about a quarter of its conservation areas had mining or exploration permits over them.
"If you look at the southern part of the map where the Fitzroy River is, mining exploration basically covers hundreds of kilometres of that river system," he said. "Across the Kimberley, either current mining or proposed mining impacts on 76 per cent of rivers and wetlands and floodplains - there are very real risks, particularly with some of the open cut types of mines, on groundwater and water quality."
Mr Quinlan said was not suggesting mining should be banned, but that ad hoc development should cease until a regional land use plan was in place.
He said mining applications were assessed case by case with few places that couldn't be mined
"While there might be a conservation park on the surface, it doesn't prevent mining taking place underneath it," he said. "We do believe mining does need some boundaries; we need a balance if we're going to be able to get the economic values that mining can deliver and the longer term value of having intact, healthy rivers, rugged landscapes that tourists want to see.
"There are some places that really are too special to allow mining to damage them."
Environs Kimberley spokesman Martin Pritchard said companies believed it was "open slather" in the Kimberley, which could become a new coal and uranium mining province with "huge ramifications" from pollution.
"When you've got places like the Horizontal Falls and the Fitzroy Valley covered with mining tenements, there's been a significant failure by the WA government," he said.
A spokesman for the Department for Premier and Cabinet said through the $63 million Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy, an "unprecedented expansion" of conservation reserves was underway, including four new marine parks.
The State had also committed $21.5 million over five years to addressing the threat of wildfires, feral animals and weeds threatening the region's biodiversity in partnership with conservation groups, pastoralists and traditional owners.Further expansions to the conservation reserve system in the Kimberley were being negotiated with traditional owners, the spokesman said.