Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, said the monitoring program will provide a longer term understanding of the impacts of the spill on the marine environment, in addition to the operational monitoring, surveillance and wildlife program already underway in the region.
'The Australian Government's oil spill operations to date have focused on containment, clean up and wildlife rescue,' Mr Garrett said. 'But while we have been focusing our operational response on the immediate impacts of the spill, we have also been focused on the need to ensure ongoing monitoring of the potential impacts of this spill on the marine environment.
'We have agreed a comprehensive environmental program, funded for at least two years by PTTEP, that will provide the data required to measure, and appropriately address, any of the longer term environmental impacts of this disaster — now and into the future.'
Independent expert advice from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the CSIRO was sought by the Government on the detail of the plan as well as state and territory agencies.
'This is a scientific plan that will shape our ongoing environmental response. The program includes marine life surveying, wildlife and habitat studies, water quality tests and shoreline ecological assessments,' Mr Garrett said.
'We are not only interested in the immediate impacts of this disaster, we will be carefully investigating ecological changes that could indicate potential impacts that need to be addressed.
'The Government will continue to remain vigilant. Aerial surveillance will continue daily — as it has from day one, and trained wildlife observers will remain onboard to report any sightings of wildlife in the area until the clean up is finished.
'We have environmental experts and equipment in the region, watching and caring for wildlife, and we have patrols monitoring our marine reserves carefully.
'To date the immediate impact on wildlife includes the death of sixteen birds and we have not had any reports of whales or dolphins in trouble.
Toxicology tests undertaken on fish specimens to date show no contamination by oil.
'The Australian Government is very focused on managing this spill and the long-term protection our environment. This agreement ensures any impacts will be very carefully monitored well into the future.'