A group of pristine islands and their residents face "increased risk" of ecological disaster if a 25-year-gas drilling project goes ahead, environmentalists warn.
Santos's Barossa under-sea development could "impact" sensitive wildlife and disrupt fishing around the Tiwi Islands, 300km north of Darwin, according to Environment Centre NT marine scientist Jason Fowler.
He fears “huge volumes of chemicals, cement and waste” could be dumped into the sea during construction.
"It's covered in turtles, seabirds, fishing – it's absolutely amazing," he said.
"There are three different fishing lodges on the Tiwis and people fly from all over the world to go fishing there. I can't overstate how stunning the place is."
Of particular concern is the long-term influx of fast-moving ships associated with the project, which Mr Fowler believes could harm the region's turtle population.
“When a ship is going faster than six knots… turtles can't get out of the road and they get collided with by the ship,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“Obviously, if the ship propeller hits them, it just chops them up very, very quickly.
"So you're looking at a 'turtle mincing machine' up and down the coast for the next 25 years."
Traditional Owners set to challenge Federal Government approval of drilling project
The Commonwealth’s approval of the drilling is now set to be challenged in the Federal Court by Tiwi Islanders who say they were not consulted by Santos.
It is the second time the project has been challenged, with Traditional Owners from the nearby Jikilaruwu clan taking the South Korean government to court for its financing of the development.
The drilling was approved in March by Australia’s off-shore gas regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).
Senior Lawman and Tiwi Traditional Owner Dennis Tipakalippa will represent his community and ask the court to overturn the Commonwealth's decision.
"It's all about our future generations. That's what I worry for. What are they going to have, who are they going to be?" he said.
"Our lives are not just lived on the land, but in the sea – this home that we have loved for thousands of generations."
Lawyers argue stakes couldn't be higher in gas drilling case
Lawyers from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) will argue consultation did not take place, making NOPSEMA’s decision invalid.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Tiwi community,” EDO special council Alina Leikin said.
“Their food source, their traditional practices, their culture and the country they’ve protected for millennia will be at risk if this drilling goes ahead.”
Santos told Yahoo News Australia they could not comment on the case as it was before the courts.
NOPSEMA confirmed they are aware of allegations but could not comment on matters subject to court proceedings, and provided a link to their original decision.
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