Dead dolphins on beaches of Port Phillip Bay or, worse, floating belly up into the city, could serve to end Victoria’s channel deepening project faster than any legal action taken by opponents of the project.

The Federal Court has ruled that the information provided to Peter Garret regarding the Channel Deepening Project’s original proposal was adequate as far as the Act goes, despite being fundamentally changed by the unintended erosion at the heads. This decision simply highlights how useless the much amended federal legislation has become.

The judge was strangely impressed with the EES process, despite the sacking of the first non compliant panel, and informed the Blue Wedges Coalition, who took the action, that they may be able to appeal the Federal Minister’s decision once the Statement of Reasons had been released. The judge refused a request of Blue Wedges for as adjournment until this Statement had been provided giving Garrett’s advisors time to address the issues raised in court — surely a perversion of due process.

The history of such battles in Victoria shows that the defeat of conservation groups in the courts tends to motivate the broader public. It often motivates support for protests rather than leading to their resolution.

The danger for Garrett, ironically, will come if the project proceeds. While Australians protest at Japanese whaling in Antarctica, it could be dolphin deaths in Port Phillip Bay that highlight the hypocrisy of the Australian Government. It has done so in the Gippsland Lakes.

Late last year, the Victorian Government cut environmental flows to the Yarra River by 200 million litres per day. This action will amplify the affect of dredging spoils from the mouth of the river and the risk of a blue green algae outbreak in the Lower Yarra. Reduced flows also increase pollutant levels by radically reducing the dilution. Half the flow, double the pollution/nutrient – it’s an equation that leads to an unpleasant answer.

The EPA issued a warning today for fishermen in Port Phillip Bay not to eat locally caught fish. Lesions have been found on trevally, rock and channel flathead, flounder and the most popular recreational fish, King George whiting.

As the State Government takes environmental flows from river systems the impact on coastal fisheries and marine ecology is becoming increasingly dramatic. The EPA, the body likely charged with managing channel deepening, appears to have gone into a blind panic. It first said that the lesions were natural, then it said it did not know what caused them. State taxpayers and recreational fisherfolk must be wondering why they paying millions of dollars annually through their licences for management.

The collapse of marine and fisheries management is happening on another front at Lakes Entrance at the height of the tourist season. The flow from the Thomson River has been diverted to sell to Melbourne water customers. Now there is a blue green algae outbreak. The problems in Lakes Entrance have been heralded by, you guessed it, the deaths of half a dozen dolphins. Other dolphins in the Lakes have also been found with lesions, although again it is unknown what has caused them. This time the government is relying on the private Dolphin Research Foundation, which it funds indirectly along with Esso and other large companies. This may explain why there has been so little publicity.

During the first hearing into channel deepening local commercial fishermen showed the panel photo of dolphins in the Lower Yarra and told of up to 100 arriving each summer. The most recent survey of Lakes Entrance for the more than 100 resident dolphins has the failed to find any. They have either died or have left the Lakes or both.

How did that song go? “How can we dredge with the Dolphins dying?”