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April 1997

Editorial - Shame Bureacrats Shame!

Paul Martin - PHPS, President

Why don't we have an integrated approach to managing the Port? We have been promised that integrated management would happen, but it has not. Why do we continue with a myriad of ill resourced, uncoordinated bureaucratic initiatives and rules, that are not followed through?

In the most recent surveys of community attitudes, the ratepayers of the Shire said loud and clear that they want the natural and recreational values of the waterways protected. They have been saying this for over a decade. But the authorities are not prepared to act on this. If a coordinated management plan can be implemented for Sydney Harbour, why not for Port Hacking?

Sustained demands for integrated management

In 1992 PHPS sought an integrated approach to the management of the estuary. In our published proposal we highlighted that the present situation of:

  • overlapping and competing jurisdiction,

  • the absence of any overall plan or "vision" for the Port,

  • emphasis in decision making only on the interests of a small number of users of the Port, and

  • the lack of community involvement in the management of the area

are all leading to a slow and irreversible deterioration in the Port and the Hacking River, which will ultimately result in the loss of amenity to all users of the waterway.

The Port Hacking Planning and Advisory Committee was reactivated by Sutherland Shire Council to address the need for an integrated approach to management.

A false commitment to integrated management

In 1994, Sutherland Shire Council and a number of government departments re-committed themselves to the principles of the Plan Of Management for Port Hacking. The purposes of the Plan were to:

  1. Preserve the ecological and aesthetic values of Port Hacking and its catchment.

  2. Provide for maximum opportunities for beneficial recreational and residential use of the Port and its surrounds, within the constraints of sustainable use.

  3. Provide a basis for the co-ordinated management of the entire Port and its catchment to achieve these ends.

A collaborative enforcement approach will be sought involving
  • National Parks and Wildlife Authority
  • MSB
  • Waterways Authority
  • NSW Water Police
  • Fisheries Department
  • Sutherland Shire Council
  • Environment Protection Authority

....followed by inaction

Navigation dredging was approved on the basis of an integrated approach, with various environmental, amenity and safety initiatives being agreed to as part of the total approach.

Dredging took place. Nothing else happened! There is no integrated plan, no intention to create an integrated and effectively policed approach. There has been no attempt to live up to the commitments that were made.

Isolated attempts at coordination have broken out in relation to one-off issues like the management of Jibbon beach (driven by the local Progress Association), and in response to the urgent issue of personal water craft. But such efforts are sketchy, inefficient and uncoordinated. They are less than a token attempt at grappling with a major issue.

What is the community paying the bureaucrats at Sutherland Shire Council, Waterways, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Fisheries and a host of other authorities for? What is Catchment Management about? Surely all must see that the result of this failure of coordination is that no-one is satisfied, and all lose.

One possible consequence of inaction

How can the state government re-commit to another round of dredging, if the agreement on which the dredging program was based is being ignored by the Council and government departments that agreed to it?

The Port Hacking Protection Society led the development of the Memorandum of Understanding under which maintenance dredging was funded. The Memorandum contained a package of environmental and management elements, all forming a framework within which further dredging was considered sustainable. All those who committed to this package (environmental, boating, regulatory) acknowledged that dredging in isolation was not a sustainable approach. Because environmental protection and management aspects of that Memorandum have not been implemented, future dredging is at risk. PHPS have repeatedly highlighted this issue, but inaction is all that we see.

The consequences of bureaucratic indifference

The issues that demand integrated management are not trivial.
  • Deaths do occur if high-power-to-weight vessels and swimmers, canoeists and divers are put in proximity. This is a demonstrated reality, acted out in Australia every summer, in the UK and in the USA.

    Avoidable death in Port Hacking will ensue from a failure to separate swimmers, divers, small sailcraft and surfing craft; from high-power-to-weight craft. It is most likely on the basis of past incidents that the death will be of a child. If the authorities do not create real separation of machine intensive uses from the more passive uses, they will be responsible for these deaths.

  • Resident and foreshore user rights are no less than those of recreational users. They are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their homes, and the parks and beaches. They cannot move as rapidly (if at all) from the point of nuisance, whereas the transient users can (and at high speed).

    High-power-to-weight vessels aggravate and upset a large number of people. In one petition in this area, taken up over 5 years ago, more than 1,500 people demanded the removal of the jetski nuisance from the Port, (the number was later reported to have risen to an eventual 3,000 signatures after a further 12 months).

    The number and the danger of high-power-to-weight vessels has increased since that time. Zoning, backed by effective policing, should be in place to protect the legitimate right to quiet enjoyment of the foreshores and the shallow areas of the Port. This cannot occur without close coordination between the different authorities.

  • All seagrasses are of critical importance. They provide shelter to different types of sea life. Posidinia seagrasses represent the 'old growth forests' equivalent in the estuaries. They are not replaceable and are in a state of decline all along the coast. A failure to protect the seagrasses, particularly the 'old growth forests' will result in irreparable harm to the fisheries and other natural attributes that the community love.

    Seagrass beds should be protected from vessel produced impacts. Critical to the fish nursery function of seagrass beds is the control of sediment. In a Chesapeake Bay study it was shown that high powered vessels stir up the sediments to a depth of around 2.5metres. Even if physical impact is not visible, the adverse impacts occur.

  • The foreshores are of critical importance. Many animals spend their lives in the intertidal zone. These animals are often used for bait and food. Unfortunately, with increased population pressure, more people harvest the limited supply of these animals and, in the process, decrease the stocks and destroy the habitat.

    Legislation is in place to protect intertidal zones. However, policing of the legislation is virtually non-existent with responsible authorities often located in area.

The Association believes that estuarine waters are important places which should not be interfered with by the schemes of man ........ We believe that this action will result in the destruction of the principal nursery place of Port Hacking's estuarine system and lead to the virtual extinction of many of the marine creatures which now find sanctuary there in the shallow waters of the sand delta after having been spawned in the frontage waters of the Tasman Sea. The sand delta is an ancient place put there by the ocean thousands of years ago and it is an integral part of the ecology of the estuary held in a delicate state of balance with the rest of the environment . . . .

The estuary of the waterway is rich in a wide range of marine creatures and if properly managed, it can be expected to continue indefinitely as a place of natural and renewable resource. At the same time, it can serve as a recreational area for fishing, boating, swimming and other forms of aquatic enjoyment and remain a place of unspoiled beauty.

The assumption that fish catches are based on a renewable resource that can be harvested forever is sound, providing that the integrity of the estuary is maintained in an ecologically viable condition.

Sourced from: Metropolitan & Districts Professional Fisherman's Association, in opposing the construction of the proposed Tombolo in 1987

Protecting the Rights of Port Users

Port users have the right to enjoy their recreation, provided it neither causes risk to human life, discomfort to other legitimate users, nor lasting damage to the environmental integrity of the waterway. This is a core principle of PHPS' approach to these issues, the main reason why the Society has supported responsible approaches to maintenance dredging and improved boating facilities.

The principles espoused by PHPS are a minimum of what the community would expect:

  • Is there any reason why one would want to limit the protection of the life of users?

  • Is there any reason why Sutherland Shire Council or any other authority would wish not to safeguard the legitimate rights to quiet enjoyment of ratepayers and foreshore users?

  • Is there any reason why anyone would wish to compromise the fish nurseries of the Port?


In the recent surveys by Sutherland Shire Council ratepayers have said "above all we want the environmental values of the waterway protected. We want to be able to enjoy its natural values, and we don't want these natural values spoiled". They said the same ten years ago in a previous survey of resident s' attitudes.

What the community is asking for requires a clear and coordinated plan, well resourced, and with committed action by government. We are not getting this.

We have all waited long enough. We need an integrated approach to managing the Port, not a myriad of ill resourced, uncoordinated bureaucratic games. No one arm of the bureaucracy is at fault, they all are.

PHPS seeks:
  • a single authority (the "Port Hacking Management Authority") responsible for the overall management of the Hacking Catchment, to be established within the term of the current Parliament. This authority would have the power to establish governing rules which would override both State and Local government rules, and would include representatives responsible for the National Park areas in an advisory/co-ordinative role.

  • rules governing the area under this Authority which will encapsulate specific principles and values which are designed to provide for the long term good governance of the area in the interests of all user groups. These are outlined in this document.

  • administration of the area under the Authority will incorporate genuine community involvement and representation,

  • an independent public enquiry or commission headed by a reputable and independent expert be established to recommend the legal and operational structure of the Authority and the principles regulations and controls which ought be enforced by that authority so as to give effect to the governing principles, to report within 18 months.

Why not let your favourite arm of government know that they are letting us down? Maybe then they will take their commitments seriously.

Dear Editor (by Phone)

After each issue of the Protectorate, we receive phone calls from people commenting on issues raised in the newsletter.

From Yowie Bay - A long-term resident of Port Hacking suggested that the Camellia Gardens is a main source of rubbish pollution into Yowie Bay. He also suggested that a dye study of sand movement in Port Hacking showed that sand was entering the Port from outside.

We looked up information about movement of sand into and out of Port Hacking. From studies carried out by the Public Works Department (Port Hacking Tombolo EIS, 1987) they concluded that there is no significant present day movement of sediment into Port Hacking from offshore. Sand filling of dredged channels and dumped on beaches after storms are redistribution of sands in the Port. Much of the sand being redistributed was dumped off Deeban Spit by shell-grit mining in the sixties and from dredging works. Public Works used a number of methods to estimate the magnitude of sediment movements within Port Hacking. These have included: Measurement of sand accumulation at dropovers, measurement of the movement of bedforms (sand dunes) on the bed of the estuary; radioisotope sand tracing (dye test); comparison of historical hydrosurveys; photogrammetric assessment of historical vertical aerial photography; and theoretical calculations based on numerical modelling. The map shows the relative intensity of sand movement in Port Hacking.

From Maianbar - A resident is concerned by the number of nippers pumped by a commercial bait collector almost daily in intertidal areas around Maianbar. He pointed out that whereas nippers had at one stage been abundant in the area, their numbers were declining alarmingly. He was concerned to have the practice stopped.

Enquiries with NSW Fisheries confirmed that a commercial bait collector had a licence to pump bait in the Deeban Spit area. Fisheries are certain that the numbers of nippers taken would not dangerously deplete numbers. Fisheries also argue that nippers had to be taken from somewhere and that if they were not available in the bait shops then anglers would use more destructive methods of obtaining bait.

Dear Editor (by Letter)

Dear Editor,

Please keep up the vigil for the "Port". Congratulations on the "Bumper" issue, especially the article on Holsworthy "Airport".

R Ricketts, Gray's Point

Rust PPK has been commissioned to prepare the EIS for a second Sydney Airport with a separate consultancy led by Airplan to undertake the airport planning for the options being considered. Rust PPK plans to release information throughout the EIS process. Update 1 is now available.

Phone the Information Line on 1800818017, fax comments to 96009741,
post to PO Box 669, Liverpool NSW 2170,
Internet information on,
e-mail on

Dear Editor,

I write regarding the articles about PWC (Jet Ski) in the Protectorate. I have lived on the shores of Port Hacking for almost 20 years, and have witnessed all kinds of idiotic behaviour on the water by users of all types of craft.

While I thoroughly agree about the intolerable noise of PWC's, I believe many users are responsible in their behaviour.

I would like to encourage PHPS to broaden their quest for a better environment for the users and residents of Port Hacking to include high powered speed boats and cruisers.

These speed boats are noisier and faster than most PWC's. They are of major concern especially in the Gymea Bay area. Also the few large cruisers that travel around the Port at speed enough to cause wash up to a metre high to pound the shore line, jetties, moored boats etc. The wash is causing a lot of damage for the sake of going a few knots slower.

So in closing I appeal to PHPS to take on the whole problem, not just the PWC's. I am not anti boat-users, I actually own 2 boats myself.

J Lubben, Yowie Bay

Dear Editor,

I work at Captain Cook's Landing Place at Kurnell where the rock platform has been listed as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). On a weekend just before Christmas I was in my office, which overlooks the shoreline, and noticed a group of people carrying sacks and bags moving along the rock platform.

When I went down to investigate I could see they were collecting animals from the rocks immediately under the sign that prohibits collection and specifies a fine of up to $5,000 for taking marine life from an MPA. I spoke to one of the people collecting and pointed out the sign and explained the reason for the restriction on collecting in the area. The person I spoke to feigned ignorance of the restriction and thanked me for letting him know. I could see, however, that the collecting did not stop and it seemed that a large group of people were actually picnicking in the adjacent carpark and consuming the catch.

I went back to my office and first contacted the National Parks office, however the ranger on duty that day was out at Towra Point and was likely to take an hour or so to return, so I contacted the 1800 043 536 listed in the directory as the NSW Fisheries number for reporting illegal activity. There was no response on this number, so I contacted the closest District Fisheries Office (Sans Souci), again no direct response just an answer phone message giving an after hours contact number. This number turned out to be the home number of the Fisheries Inspector. After speaking to his wife I was able to find out that it was more than likely that the Inspector was up river at East Hills and that really there was no prospect that he could take action over the illegal collecting I was reporting.

I have a nasty feeling that this experience may be the norm for people reporting all manner of illegal activity in and around our waterways. It seems to me that it is time that resources be made available to put in place a quick response team that could take action to protect foreshore areas and take action over any illegal activity going on around the waterways.

As the situation currently stands, those involved in illegal collection must realise they can do so with impunity. It seems pointless to declare areas as Marine Protected Areas if we cannot go the next step and actually protect these fascinating and diverse ecosystems.

J Atkins, Lilli Pilli

Dear Editor,

Streets in Sutherland Shire still have overhead telephone cables that disappeared from the majority of Australia's suburban streets decades ago. Energy Australia has made no attempt to underground its electricity cables and in many Sutherland streets have added more cables to meet the increasing demand for power. Optus is adding a "thick" cable to the existing ones. The cable "roll out" continues in spite of many protests from residents and Councils because carriers like Energy Australia, Optus and Telstra are exempted by Federal legislation from following various State and Local Government laws, including laws about town planning and environmental protection. A National Telecommunications Code exists requiring carriers to consult local authorities and environmental groups, but basically, if they want to, the carriers can mess up your street, enter your property and remove or mutilate trees at will.

There is no need for any overhead wires. In the UK, Germany and even Western Australia there are undergrounding policies for all cables. Why can't Federal legislation require carriers to do the same in the whole of Australia? Besides, satellite services will be available this year and will be used in areas such as Avalon, Whale Beach, Clareville and Palm Beach.

Recently we formed the group Sutherland Cables Down Under to fight to have all overhead cables removed from the Shire. Our objective is to protect and enhance the quality of the Sutherland Shire environment by ensuring that telecommunications suppliers either locate their cables underground or provide alternative environmentally acceptable delivery systems, and by ensuring that Energy Australia locates its power lines underground in the longer term.

Sutherland Cables Down Under is not opposed to technology that will provide better communications services. It is opposed to delivery of that technology by means of unnecessary cables that results in visual pollution.

Sutherland Cables Down Under is made up of residents who voluntarily give up their recreational time to fight for a better deal for all who live or holiday in the Sutherland Shire. For the actions of the group to succeed you need to support it. Take one or all of these steps:
  • Write to the Telecommunications Carriers and Energy Australia and let them know you find their actions unsatisfactory.

  • Write to the NSW minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, Craig Knowles and let him know that you want the State Government to develop and implement policy to underground all cables (address - level 33, Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney, NSW, 2000)

  • Write to the Federal Minister for Telecommunications and let him know you find the regulations covering carriers unsatisfactory and the actions of the carriers unsatisfactory.

  • Collect names and signatures on a petition requiring cables to be located underground (call 9528 6329 for petition forms)

  • Attend the next meeting of Sutherland Cables Down Under to help plan how to stop further cabeling work and achieve the group's objectives.

Sutherland Cables Down Under

7 McKinely Avenue, Bonnet Bay. (tel: 9528 6329)

Action Called For

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW is an umbrella organisation which represents thousands of members ranging from local heritage protection groups to the large well-known environmental lobby organisations. The following resolutions were passed unanimously at their Annual General Meeting, late last year.

Noise pollution in natural areas

We call on the government to recognise that:
  • the ability to escape from machine noise is of great importance in an increasingly industrial society,

  • the waterways and national parks are areas where many seek to relax and recover from industrial pressures; and

  • machine noise created by a small number of users has a disproportionate impact on the needs of the greater number of those seeking quiet enjoyment of nature:

by passing laws which will have the effect of restricting the noise created by motorised vessels to a level consistent with the quiet enjoyment of a natural environment.

Shallow and intertidal areas

We call on the government to recognise the special significance of shallow and intertidal areas as fish and marine creature habitats, and to pass laws that properly protect these areas from the adverse impacts of (particularly) powered vessels, in the form of:
  • physical damage to the sea bed and seagrass;

  • disturbance and turbulence;

  • physical damage through mooring; and

  • the effects of wash from high speed vessels.

Waterways Authority

We call on the government to alter the charter of the Waterways Authority to require that it place paramount importance on the needs and interest of the broader community, and the need for environmental protection, in carrying out its service to the boating community.

The Minister, Mr Scully, has indicated that he will be putting in place protection plans. There are large parts of Port Hacking that readily justify such protection.

Small Powered Craft on Port Hacking

  • Guam "Recreational Water Use Master Plan"- restricts jetskiers and windsurfers in sensitive 12 mile area. Restrictions are more stringent during times of fish migration.

  • San Juan County (USA) -banning jet skis from all county waters.

  • Monterey National Marine Sanctuary (USA)- limit jetskis to special zones.

  • Santa Barbara County (USA) - Concentrates the use in high powered personal watercraft in one area, away from the homes and areas used by the public for recreation.

  • Florida Bay (USA) -Jet skis have been restricted to a buoyed off area away from most of the tourist attractions but close to a jet ski rental point.

  • South Australia - local government restrictions on launching of jetskis and boats along sections of the coast, near popular beaches.

  • Perth -proposed ban on personal water craft.

  • Oregon (USA)- 250' distance from swimmers, surfers, kayaks etc. and other restrictions.

Local Initiative to Clean Up Jibbon Beach

Newly elected President of the Bundeena Progress Association, David Rogers, has been making progress in getting the authorities to fix up Jibbon Beach, and to have proper facilities for the hundreds of people who use this significant area. The major difficulty he faces is, as always, the overlaps of jurisdiction and the lack of resources that make it close on impossible to grapple with the proper management of the Port.

He has now enlisted the support of the Catchment Management Committee, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sutherland Shire Council and the Waterways Authority to try to develop an integrated approach to the problems of toilet waste, rubbish and incremental destruction that has been slowly destroying this special place.

The Seagrasses in Port Hacking

Dr Ron West, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Sciences at the University of Wollongong has carried out research on estuaries over many years and has provided the following information about the Port's seagrass meadows.

Anyone who has swum and snorkeled around Port Hacking has seen meadows of underwater plants. Although easily confused with seaweeds, such as kelp and sargussum, these meadows are seagrasses. They are different from seaweeds because they produce leaves, roots and flowers and seeds. Also seaweeds generally grow on rocky shores but seagrasses grow in shallow waters along sheltered sandy beaches and on mud bars in creeks and rivers. The large areas of seagrasses in Port Hacking are critical to the health of the Port. To understand why, we need to understand the "seagrass ecosystem" - the underwater pastures of Port Hacking.

The seagrass ecosystem

A walk at low tide along one of the sheltered beaches in Gunnamatta Bay, Jibbon Beach or Bonnie Vale often reveals the shallow edge of the seagrass beds. The lower depth limit to these beds, however, is often in at least 3 to 5 metres of water. There are three main species of seagrass in Port Hacking: Zostera, Posidonia and Halophila. Zostera and Posidonia, look similar to land grasses, but Halophila looks more like a two leaf clover. Halophila and Zostera are are often found at sites exposed by the lowest tides, whereas Posidonia is usually only seen by snorkeling in shallow waters. Posidonia likes marine conditions. Halophila and Zostera are more tolerant of freshwater and are found well up the rivers and creeks entering Port Hacking.
While we think land plants have evolved from the sea, we believe seagrasses have evolved from land plants returning to the sea. Because they live completely submerged in a salty, turbulent environment, with their roots in anoxic (no oxygen) muds, seagrasses have evolved many specialized structures. For example, they have special gas tubes which transport gases between the leaves, where oxygen is produced (photosynthesis), and the roots, which are in the anoxic muds. This explains why you may see a constant stream of bubbles from damaged leaves. Many seagrass species have also developed strange shaped pollen and specialized flowering structures so they can use currents to help with pollination and with distributing fruits and seeds.

As well as being interesting plants in themselves, seagrasses provide food and shelter to other plants and animals. Just as bushes and trees provide the habitat for birds and wildlife, seagrasses provide habitat for fish, prawns and other marine life. Some of the earliest scientific studies on seagrasses were carried out at our doorstep, a result of the Marine Laboratories being located on the shore of Gunamatta Bay. Some of these studies have shown that seagrasses in Port Hacking are very productive plants. They use the nutrients of the rich muds and can be as productive as some of the richest pastures and food crops. For example, the seagrass beds in Port Hacking produce, each year, about 1,800 tonnes of dried leaves (or 18,000 tonnes of wet leaves). This material is a major source of food for estuary animals.

In the tropical areas, seagrasses are the pastures for the dugong. In temperate waters such as Port Hacking, only a few animals graze on living seagrass leaves. Small crustaceans, such as shrimps, eat large quantities, although no-one knows how much. Probably most seagrass leaves drop off and are decomposed by fungus and bacteria which are the food of animals living in the seagrass meadows. Typical seagrass beds have hundreds of different species of invertebrates, such as marine snails, prawns and worms. These small animals are, of course, food for larger fauna, such as fish and birds.

Seagrass Species in Port Hacking

Probably the most common seagrass in Port Hacking is eelgrass or Zostera. It's scientific name is Zostera capricorni and it occurs mainly in estuaries, from the Victoria border in the south to central Queensland in the north. Zostera is very variable in the size of the plants, but it has shoots with long, narrow leaves, often dark green or brown appearance. The shoots spread like land grasses, with an underground rhizome sending out branches and producing new leafy shoots. Leaves can be from 2 to 30 cm long and from 1 to 5 mm wide. The smaller plants are found on the exposed sandy shallows, while larger plants occur in the deeper water.

Slightly less common, but occurring across the shallow sand flats along the southern shoreline of Port Hacking, is the larger seagrass species, strapweed or Posidonia australis. This species of seagrass is related to a similar species (Posidonia oceanica) found along the sheltered beaches of the Mediterranean, in France, Italy and Greece. Posidonia australis is found in extensive meadows throughout southern Australia, but in New South Wales is mostly confined to open embayments such as Botany Bay, Port Hacking and Jervis Bay. Posidonia has wider and longer leaves than Zostera, sometimes up to 1 cm wide and 80 cm long. The leaves are usually bright green, with 2 or 3 leaves coming from each shoot. Again the plants spread by rhizomes or underground shoots. Posidonia is very slow growing and individual plants can be decades old.

The other main seagrass in Port Hacking, paddleweed or Halophila has rounded, clover like leaves and occurs in the shallows and the deeper waters, often with a patchy distribution. Each Halophila shoot produces only two leaves, with the rhizome generally growing close to the surface. This is a fast growing species that colonizes quickly.

Seagrass Beds in Port Hacking

Many areas around Port Hacking have seagrass beds. Look but be careful not to disturb them. There is quite a large meadow of Posidonia in the clear waters at the northern end of Jibbon Beach. This area is a wonderful spot to snorkel, and watch some of the more colourful marine fish moving in and out of the seagrasses, rocks and algae. Another excellent area to snorkel is at Bonnie Vale, although it is very shallow so be sure to pick a rising tide. Here, the scattered patches of seagrasses (Zostera and Halophila) are home for large numbers of small fish, as well as cuttlefish and some large octopus (including some blue-ringed octopus!). Much of the sandbar on the south-eastern shore of Gunamatta Bay is also covered in seagrasses, with all three species occurring in quite large patches. Again be careful not to disturb these shallow and fragile ecosystems. Further into the Port, to the south west of the large sand-bars of Maianbar, there are large areas of Posidonia, Zostera and Halophila, although these areas can be quite deep and perhaps are only suited to the more experienced and adventurous divers.
Seagrass areas in Port Hacking

Managing Seagrass Areas

The importance of seagrass beds has only been widely appreciated for the past 10 to 20 years. Previously these key habitats received little attention and were destroyed and degraded from a variety of causes. In the majority of NSW estuaries, major developments for agriculture, residential properties, industries, shipping ports and airports, have directly affected the extent of seagrass. The impact of this widespread loss of seagrass beds on fisheries is not known, but cannot be good.

There are many local examples of large-scale losses to seagrass beds. For example, various developments around Botany Bay (port, airport runways, dredging, etc.) have been responsible for the loss of about 60% of the original area of Posidonia meadows. The once naturally stable southern shoreline of Botany Bay, which had extensive and rich Posidonia beds extending from Captain Cooks Landing Place to the western side of Towra Point, is now mostly sand held together by a series of man-made rocky groynes. A small change in wave energy (~10%), caused by dredging and reclamation, was enough to destroy the seagrass beds. Individual plants in that area were probably centuries old. The Posidonia is unlikely to re-establish. In other NSW estuaries, the loss to seagrass meadows is less obvious, but just as severe. As a result of similar losses throughout Australia, the latest State of the Environment Report for Australia lists seagrass meadows, particularly the large Posidonia meadows of southern and western Australia, as among the most important of the conservation priorities.
A path cut through seagrass beds at Bonnie Vale that will take several years to regrow Photo: Ron West
Of the seagrasses in Australia, Posidonia is the most threatened by the changing environment. This plant is very slow growing and extremely slow at colonizing new areas or colonizing degraded sites. There are virtually no confirmed reports of newly formed meadows of Posidonia australis and this species, like its European counterpart Posidonia oceanica, is slowly declining in terms of the number of sites and the area it occupies. Areas of Posidonia known to have been damaged in the 1950's and 1960's, have shown little subsequent regrowth. The two other seagrass species, Zostera and Halophila, are less prone to long term damage. They can recolonize damaged areas, usually over a period of 5 to 10 years. For example, major storm events can wipe out large areas of these two species, and the meadows will then slowly recover over a period of a few years.

In Port Hacking there have also been some permanent losses to the seagrass beds, particularly the Posidonia beds. For example, the shell-grit mining in the Port, which ended in 1973, caused extensive damage to the seagrass beds west of Maianbar. A large area of the Posidonia meadows have been destroyed and the site is now covered with patchy sand and Zostera.
Aerial photo of Posidonia beds (dark areas) at Jibbon. Note the light circular patches, evidence of damage caused by the anchors of moored boats.
Everyday activities, such as boating, also have impacts on seagrass beds. Boat anchors and moorings cause long term scars in some seagrass beds, particularly in Posidonia meadows. The attached chains move back and forward across the seagrass beds, scouring the bottom and removing plants. The bared areas, which can be seen clearly on aerial photographs, remain for tens of years, perhaps longer. Another impact of boats is the cutting of propeller "tracks" across seagrass meadows, which occurs regularly when large boats are caught in shallow waters. These tracks can remain for decades, longer if they occur in Posidonia beds.

The remaining seagrass beds of Port Hacking are in relatively good condition, a fortunate result of the generally good water quality and lack of major industry along the foreshore of the Port. Nevertheless long-term damage has already occured to the Posidonia beds. As activities within the Port continue to increase, the long term survival of seagrasses and the myriad of animals that live in these pastures, will depend on careful management by the authorties and thoughtful action on the part of the public.

Stop Press

NSW Fisheries have released a draft Fish Habitat Protection Plan for public comment. The objective of the Plan is to ensure that there is no further nett loss of seagrasses within the coastal and estuarine waters of NSW. The plan aims to protect the extent of existing seagrass beds by preventing or limiting some threatening processes. Management proposals include regulations on activities such as construction of jetties, location of moorings and fishing.

Bundeena and Maianbar Water Cycle Study

A packaged local treatment works for Bundeena and Maianbar would be more environmentally friendly and cost effective than pumping more sewage to Cronulla. This is one of the conclusions from the recently published study "Avoiding another Tragedy of the Commons", which looked at WaterCycle Management options for Bundeena and Maianbar.

A key aim of the report was to evaluate water use, water quality outcomes and the economic effects of a number of alternatives:
  • the alternative preferred by Sydney Water of pumping sewerage from Bundeena and Maianbar to Cronulla treatment plant ,

  • a water conservation modification of this,

  • a centrally managed on-site approach (using contemporary on-site designs rather than often ineffective absorbtion septics trenches or aerated systems), and

  • a packaged tertiary treatment plant.

A comparison of the water quality and water volume results from these alternatives is set out below.
  1. assuming a professionally managed and appropriately designed and maintained system
Economic evaluations of the alternatives also suggest that pumping more sewage to Cronulla is not the lowest cost alternative and that the cost to the community of adopting an inefficient solution is very high over a 25-year project life.
  1. assuming "postage stamp pricing" under which the community would only pay the same price as for all of Sydney. Sydney Water have proposed full cost recovery, under which the charges would be some three times higher than this figure

  2. this is costed for full cost recovery of the costs of operation of the management and maintenance system, and full recovery of all capital costs, plus a 10% commercial profit margin.

The WaterCycle management study contains over a 100 pages of detailed information about the different technologies, their impacts and their costs. It does contradict a lot of the conventional wisdom, and provides new solutions to old problems.

We will provide a more detailed examination of the study, and responses to it, in the next issue of the Protectorate.

PHPS Annual General Meeting

The 1997 annual General Meeting of the Port Hacking Protection Society (Inc) was held on Sunday March 16 at the Bundeena Community Centre.

In his Presidential report, Paul Martin reminded members that the 1996 AGM held in Gunnamatta Pavilion had focused on the problems relating to Personal Motorised Water Craft (PWCs, commonly known as jet-skis) and irresponsible boating practices, particularly featuring "tinnies". PHPS (inc) has pursued this issue for some years, calling on succeeding State Governments to tighten and adequately police regulations, and to increase areas of exclusion for these craft. In February 1997, Paul said, the Government had proposed a new series of regulations, after a number of incidents, and accidents, featuring jet skiers. PHPS (inc) will continue to press for the implementation of these regulations. Paul stressed that it was the volume of public complaints that had forced action on this issue.

Paul reported that the Port Hacking Planning and Advisory Committee and the Hacking River Catchment Management Committee were discussing possible areas of exclusion for powered vessels within Port Hacking. These areas are defined by Fisheries as sensitive seagrass beds, or fish hatchery areas. Any suggested areas will go to the Minister for approval. Progress is expected on this issue in 1997, and PHPS (inc) is represented on both Committees.

Paul was able to circulate to those attending the meeting a final draft of "The Tragedy of the Commons", the report of the PHPS (inc) organised Water Cycle Management Project. This project was made possible by a grant to PHPS (inc) from the Department of Land and Water Conservation (CALM). It deals with the broader issue of water cycle management with particular reference to the Bundeena-Maianbar sewerage options (see the article in this issue of the Protectorate for more details). Paul thanked all those involved in the Project and the production of the document.

PHPS (inc) has continued its community education approach through the publication of the Port Hacking Protectorate, from which PHPS (inc) still got much positive feedback. Paul thanked Miriam Verbeek and Belinda Allen for their work on the production, and Bill Snow for its distribution. Paul noted, with regret, that Belinda Allen was not renominating for the Committee for the coming year. The meeting thanked her, by acclamation, for her work.

Committee members continued to represent PHPS on various other committees. Paul thanked John Atkins for his work on the Port Hacking Planning and Advisory Committee, and Chris Lighthart for his work on the Waterways Users Group. Paul also thanked Vic Leuliette (Treasurer) and George Harrison (Secretary) for their work in ensuring the smooth functioning of the committee.

PHPS (inc) participated in the Nature Conservation Council's Annual General Conference. Motions concerned with the protection of shallow water areas were passed by the Conference. Paul also mentioned PHPS (inc)'s very successful 10th anniversary function, held in September 1996.

The year ahead holds many challenges. The proposed gazetting of sensitive areas by Fisheries will require more effective policing, similar to the problems already associated with the harvesting of foreshore life. Protecting seagrass beds may well lead to conflict between waterway users, boat owners and PWC operators. Some boat launching facilities may already be in breach of existing regulations. Foreshore development controls continue to be a contentious issue. PHPS (inc) will continue its efforts to protect the quality of the foreshore and the waterway. PHPS (inc) will also continue to develop links with other similar groups engaged in estuary and coastal protection, in the belief that many of our problems are common.

Vic Leuliette presented the Treasurer's report. The meeting thanked Natalie Wickens for her efforts, once again, auditing PHPS (inc)'s statements for 1996. PHPS (inc) Committee for 1997 is Paul Martin, George Harrison, Vic Leuliette, Miriam Verbeek and Chris Ligthart. New faces are John Atkins, head of the field studies centre at Kurnell National Park, and PHPS (inc) representative on the Port Hacking Planning and Advisory Committee, and Harry Jenkinson from Cronulla who has had a long-term interest in scouting and recreational activities on the Port.

Polluting the Port

The Port is being polluted. It is being polluted from many sources and there is a danger that its clear waters will become dulled by abuse.

Thanks to 60% of the catchment being in the Royal National Park and the Garawarra State Recreation Area, Port Hacking has clean, clear water. But, with increasing residential and recreational pressure in the catchment, the danger is that the Port will be unable to deal with the increased pollution and we will loose one of the most treasured aspects of the Port.

Where is pollution coming from?

The Hacking River Catchment Management Committee (HRCMC), with the support of Sutherland Council, Environment Protection Authority and Department of Land and Water Conservation, collated available information on pollution sources in the Hacking Catchment and published it in The Hacking River Pollution Source Inventory. From the map you can see the catchment area and landuses the Inventory covers.
Major sources of pollution are: suspended solids from development and construction sites in urban areas; nutrients and organic chemicals from fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides used in gardens, from domestic animal faeces, stock manure and sewer overflows; micro-organisms from decaying matter and sewer/septic overflow and seepage; heavy metals from galvanised roofs, fuel combustion, brake linings, industry discharge and anti-fouling of boats; and weeds from dumped garden refuse and from garden runoff.

In the next few issues of the Protectorate, we will summarise highlights of the Pollution Source Inventory and details of what is being done to stop the pollution.

Stop Press

Paul Broad, Managing Director of Sydney Water, is providing the services of one of the Corporation's Environmental Scientists, Tony Cullen. For three months, Tony will assist the Hacking River Catchment Management Committee review and implement recommendations made in the Pollution Source Inventory. His work will include the formalisation of a framework, in consultation with stakeholders, for dealing with the sources and outcomes of water pollution and related issues within the wider catchment.

By obtaining assistance from several state government agencies and local government, the HRCMC is assisting government and community to work together to address catchment issues.

Fish and Seagrass in Port Hacking

by Ron West

Research in Botany Bay, Port Hacking, Jervis Bay and many other NSW estuaries has been among the world's best in demonstrating the relationship between seagrasses and many important fish species. During Spring and Summer months, these seagrass meadows are full of fish that have hatched at sea and travelled into the Port, particularly breams, blackfish, mullets, biddies, but also many other species. Even whitings and flatheads, which are found in sandy patches between seagrass beds, are probably feeding along the edges of seagrass beds.
Seagrasses are very productive plants. They provide the habitat for fish, prawns and other marine life. Source: NSW Fisheries
Yellowfin bream, one of the most common fish caught by both recreational and commercial fishers in NSW, is an example of a species that uses seagrass beds for food and shelter. In late summer, adult bream from estuaries all along eastern Australia form into large schools and move into open waters to begin a northward spawning migration. They spawn mainly in winter and mainly at the mouth of estuaries. After spawning, the larvae drift in surface currents, such as the souh-running East Australian Current, eventually finding their way into shallow waters of estuaries. Perfectly formed bream, about 1 cm long, move in their millions into the seagrass beds each Spring. They spend the first few critical months of their life in these beds. After 1 or 2 years they move into a range of habitats in the estuary until they mature at about age 3 to 4, when the spawning cycle starts again.

Each fish species has its own slightly different life history but the huge numbers of juvenile fish found in seagrass beds show how very important this habitat is.
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