Wild, windy and choppy surf conditions didn't stop hundreds of surfers from entering the water as part of national paddle out protest, Fight For The Bight.
Wild, windy and choppy surf conditions didn't stop hundreds of surfers from entering the water as part of national paddle out protest, Fight For The Bight. Elliot Kirkwood

PHOTOS: Byron on board for Bight

MORE than 400 protesters paddled out at Main Beach on Saturday to demonstrate intense community concern over a proposed deepwater oil project in the Great Australian Bight.

Michael Legge-Walkinson, who works with Byron Bay Surfriders, said they collaborated with Patagonia and Sea Shepherd to rally the community and send a 'fundamental' message.

"The message Australian surfers and coastal communities all around Australia are sending Equinor and the Australian Government is that they don't have a social licence to drill in the Great Australian Bight," Mr Legge-Walkinson said.

An environmental plan, proposed by Norwegian fossil fuel company Equinor, to drill into remote oil wells in the Bight is being assessed by offshore oil and gas industry regulator Nopsema.

 

Surfriders Foundation stated that if approved, Equinor planned to drill an exploratory well 372km off the coast of Ceduna at a depth of 2279m in late 2020.

Nopsema and Equinor have been contacted for comment.

"The risk to the Australian coastal and the marine environment is simply too great and we won't let it happen," Mr Legge-Walkinson said.

At 9am, community members crowded the surf club holding surfboards and signs that read 'No Way, Norway', 'Drilling Equals Killing', and 'Fight for the Bight' before gathering on the beach to spell out a message in the sand and entering the ocean.

Men, woman and children paddled out and raised their middle fingers towards a floating installation replicating a wooden oil rig.

More than 50 paddle-outs took place on beaches between Exmouth, Western Australia and Townsville, Queensland on Saturday as part of a Fight For The Bight National Day of Action co-ordinated by the Great Australian Bight Alliance.

Professional surfer Dave Rastovich, resident of Byron Bay for 20 years, represented Patagonia to share his experience working with the surfing community in the Bight.

"It is a beautiful pristine part of the world, with a thriving local economy, thriving local ecology and no one there wants any of this," he said.

"The level of threat is equal in the level of response; everyone is doing whatever they can to look after that place."

Mr Rastovich said the national rally urged Nopsema to 'carry out the wishes of the Australian people, which is to lock up the Bight and look after it'.

"This is one of the biggest demonstrations of surfers stepping up and wanting to do something to look after the ocean and land."

Sea Shepherd representative Lealah Shostak said community support for the rally escalated quickly, with more than 200 sign-ups on Facebook.

"What's a nicer way to protest for the ocean than paddle out at 9am on the weekend," Ms Shostak said.

"It's been a long fight and there has been many different companies being given different licences. The licence that Equinor has been given is an exploratory oil licence."

"I think the really touchy with the licences is that one day its an exploratory licence and the next day its a drilling licence.

"Once the train starts moving, its really hard to stop it but stopping it from even starting is the best thing we can do."

Three-time world surfing champion Mick Fanning has been one of many high-profile surfers to join the Fight For The Bight campaign, releasing a media statement via Surfriders Foundation last week.

"People right around the country are rightly concerned. I've never seen surfers turn out in these kind of numbers to make themselves heard," he said.

Bight local Heath Joske, a surfer and fisherman, also released a statement: "An oil spill in the Bight would be a catastrophe for everyone and everything. "The marine life down here would be devastated. "There's so much unique marine life down here - 85 per cent of it is found nowhere else - that a big spill could become an extinction event for a bunch of species."