Boat Harbour whale lover leads offshore wind pushback

Boat Harbour’s Rhys Westbury holds grave concerns over the impacts of offshore wind development on whale migrations.

COMMUNITY pushback to the Federal Government’s Hunter offshore wind plan is ramping up, with Boat Harbour’s Rhys Westbury emerging as one of the key local voices leading the charge.

Rhys, 28, is the administrator of the ‘Stop Wind Farm off Port Stephens’ Facebook group, an online community he initiated for locals to voice their concerns and share information regarding offshore wind development off the Hunter coast.

A month old, the group now boasts nearly 2000 members.

“Everyone was keen to get a wider circulation of information about the problems with the wind farms,” Rhys told News Of The Area.

“We wanted to gain momentum for the cause and widen our reach.”

Rhys grew up in the idyllic coastal enclave of Boat Harbour, a location famed for offering up-close-and-personal views of migrating whales.

“I have grown up in the area from when I was three months old to now,” Rhys said.

“It is quite a privilege to live there and I feel very blessed to call this area home.”

With an offshore wind zone declared off the Port Stephens coast in July, Rhys believes the area’s famous marine mammal visitors could be under threat.

“The very things our tourism industry is founded on – whales – are going to be affected.

“It is not just about the visual eyesore.”

Rhys, who has spent his life observing whales travelling north and south past Boat Harbour’s rocky outcrops, holds concerns that the local development of offshore wind will impact migration routes.

“Being based at Boat Harbour, we see them year on year,” Rhys said.

“They come in the winter and they return in the spring.

“We have seen with our own eyes how they travel back and forth year by year.

“We want to see them keep returning to the area, unsullied by this project.”

With floating offshore wind technology in its infancy in Australia, studies on the impact of offshore wind turbines on whales and other marine species are few and far between.

Representatives from developers proposing offshore wind projects for the Hunter zone admit that the data is not yet available on the impacts on whales.

This research, they say, will be conducted during the feasibility stage of their applications to develop the zone.

Outside of social media, Rhys is working hard to garner community support; door knocking, handing out petitions, distributing signage and urging local businesses to join the cause.

In July Rhys launched an Australian Parliamentary petition calling for “greater community engagement and information”, describing the Federal Government’s consultation period as “insufficient, with questions unable to be answered”.

“If the community does not want this project to go ahead, we ask the House to scrap this project,” the petition read.

The petition gathered 5282 signatures before closing on August 31.

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