22 Oct 2012

Huge footprint of dinosaur discovered

8:23 am on 22 October 2012

A huge footprint of a dinosaur has been discovered on the Kimberley coast in Western Australia. Believed to be a sauropod print, it measures 1.7 metres.

The ABC reports the fossil is embedded in rock at James Price Point, within the proposed precinct for a liquefied natural gas project for Woodside.

Palaeontologist Steve Salisbury from the University of Queensland has been working there over the past year to document dinosaur track sites.

"It's a unique glimpse of an ancient ecosystem unmatched anywhere in the world," he said. "This is our only window on Australia during the age of dinosaurs 130 million years ago."

Dr Salisbury said his team has found "amazing" fossil sites recently exposed by storms.

"This coastline is so dynamic we can't second guess where track sites are going to be because the sand just exposes and covers them up all the time.

"I don't think government and industry should be making important decisions about the future of this area without really knowing what we've got."

The ABC reports fossil footprints from the cretaceous period occur in sandstone rock platforms along a 200km stretch of coast north of Broome. They are exposed only at low tides and listed as National Heritage.

Dr Salisbury said the tracks represent at least 16 types of dinosaurs.

"These are the only dinosaur footprints in Western Australia.

"This is the only place in Australia where you get tracks of sauropods (giant brachiosaurus-like herbivores), and some of those here are potentially the biggest in the world," he said.

LNG project

James Price Point is the proposed location for an onshore gas processing plant and export terminal and dredging a new port and shipping channel for LNG tankers.

Dr Salisbury said modelling by Woodside shows there will be a significant build-up of sediment north and south of the breakwaters surrounding the port.

"Even if they can get through the construction stage without doing too much damage, nearly all the track sites in the area are likely to be buried forever under massive amounts of sand as a result of the breakwaters changing the currents," he said.

In a written statement, Woodside said:

"If footprints or other fossils are discovered during construction, Woodside will ... identify how the footprints will be avoided, salvaged or scientifically documented."

But Dr Salisbury believes the entire coastline of track sites should be preserved in place and protected for their cultural significance to Aboriginal people as part of an ancient songline.

"There's a whole scientific story that we're only just beginning to understand that requires knowledge of all the track sites linked together," he said.