Why is the East West Link a threat to zoo animals?

Opinion article by Michael Petit

The proposed East West Link presents a threat to the animals at Melbourne Zoo.

If Oregon can shut down highway construction adjacent to its zoo for four months over concerns about the health of one pregnant elephant, what are the ongoing risks to the animals at Melbourne Zoo?

These are the questions that need answers before any contract is awarded.

Has there been a study of the risks posed to the health of animals?

An examination of the Linking Melbourne Authority (LMA) Comprehensive Impact Statement (CIS), video and media comments makes it clear that any detailed examination of the noise, vibration and lighting from the toll road and tunnel project adjacent to the Melbourne Zoo will not occur until after the contract is signed. This is a huge mistake.

The LMA’s documents and statements reveal no detail whatsoever on anticipated levels of noise and vibration but simply that the project will “meet international standards”.

However, the noise levels sanctioned by VicRoads for new major toll roads including the proposed East West Link are at levels that, according to two reports from the World Health Organisation, would cause adverse health effects on people and by reasonable extension to vulnerable zoo animals.

Tolerable noise levels are critical at night when species such as elephants and rhinos that will be within 100 to 150 metres of the road and, like people, need a good night’s sleep. In fact, many species are even more sensitive to noise and vibration including our Australian nocturnal animals.

Is the LMA right to compare the Melbourne Zoo with the Oregon Zoo?

The Oregon Zoo is no comparison: Melbourne plans are infinitely worse.

The LMA’s CIS East West Link Fact Sheet – Melbourne Zoo cites a tunnel under the Oregon Zoo to support its argument. Last October, Acting Melbourne Zoo Director Kevin Tanner sent a letter to Zoo Members also citing Oregon Zoo as an example of a successful tunnelling project.

However a comparison with the proposed East West Link reveals that it’s chalk and cheese.

The Oregon tunnel is a subway passing 79 metres underground with a lift to the surface. And in 2012 the Oregon Department of Transportation suspended works on US 26 for four months to avoid any risk of miscarriage for one elephant at the Oregon Zoo.

The Oregon tunnel was already 79 metres below the surface but the East West Link will emerge or start at ground level and burrow 30 or 40 metres underground directly outside the Melbourne Zoo. And the elephant habitat at the Oregon Zoo is between 200 and 300 metres from a major highway whereas in Melbourne twin exit ramps will emerge as close as 40 metres at the southeast corner of the Zoo.

The East West Link open cut road and ‘tunnel’ would be dug, blasted and opened to thousands of trucks and other vehicles within earshot of the zoo. The consequences to the zoo could be horrendous.

Why are night noise levels of critical concern to zoos and its animals?

The 2009 World Health Organisation Night Noise guidelines for Europe set threshold values that, if breached at night, would threaten human health causing increased risk of cardiovascular disease, autism, sleep disturbance and loss productivity.

It is not a stretch of imagination to conclude that this also applies to zoo animals, many of which are much more sensitive to external noises beyond human detection.

The annual average night exposure should not exceed 40 dB(A) outdoors, a standard accepted in Europe and many other countries. These are the real international standards.

And what are the night-time levels in Victoria? We don’t know. VicRoads doesn’t take any measurements from midnight to 6am. Critical hours for zoo animals whether asleep or nocturnal.

This is crucial information missing from the CIS. Certainly night-time noise maximums should be required before building a major road work next our zoo. And what about afterwards when noise, vibration and lights from tens of thousands of vehicles are put on the road?

The CIS has tabled contour maps that suggest noise readings in excess of 67 dB (A) at the southeast corner of the Zoo. This is an alarming reading and not one easily mitigated.

The difference between 40 and 67 decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, so that noise 10 decibels louder are actually 10 times louder.

For animals in a zoo, like people trying to get a good night’s sleep, the period between midnight and 6am are crucial hours but at VicRoads they don’t even get a sounding.

What are you doing about the concerns you have raised?

The Moreland Community Against the (East West) Tunnel is planning a Children’s March for the Animals to the Melbourne Zoo on 4 May to appeal to Zoo management to abandon its silence.

Mums, dads, family and friends will gather at Princes Park at 1pm with children in the lead in costume or face painted as their favourite zoo animal for the 500 metre walk to the front entrance of the Zoo. They will then walk to mark the spot where the project comes within 40 metres of the Zoo’s endangered species habitats. Dress up, carry a favourite zoo animal or come as you are to let Zoo officials know we care.

One Comment on “Why is the East West Link a threat to zoo animals?”

  1. Peter DURKIN April 11, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

    Just a note for todays live blog- Aust Garden History Presenter was not Audrey Grant- BUT John Dwyer

    But thanks for all the work! It¹s great

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