Sydney Harbour runs a tight race with Uluru to take the title of Australia’s most iconic and recognisable feature and likely has as bigger role in bringing tourism revenue to our country. However, while Uluru is protected by a National Park, World Heritage Declaration and joint management with the traditional owners of the land Sydney Harbour gets used as a dumping ground by industry and surrounding suburbs and has it’s shoreline carved up by greedy developers aided by a complicit state government.
It hardly seems fair.
My Greens colleagues in state and federal parliment have fought long and hard to protect our waterways, Sydney Harbour included. I have always supported this fight but the contributions I have been able to make in my role as a Councillor have been modest as Councils have little direct influence over marine environments. They control land only down the to the low watermark and in central Sydney many areas of the foreshore are controlled by state Government bodies, such as the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority and the Barangaroo Delivery Authority.
So when I came across some innovative research being carried out by a group of Australian scientists with the potential to dramatically improve the health of our local waters, in an area over which Council has direct control, I was most excited.
The research, being carried out by the Centre for Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities (EICC) at the University of Sydney, involves attaching concrete flowerpots to seawalls in the intertidal zone to serve as artifical habitats for marine life. Around 50% of the shoreline of the harbour is now seawalls, which replaced the natural sloping rocky shores that would have originally been home to a myriad of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and algae. The seawalls don’t provide a suitable habitat for these organisms, which form an integral part of the marine ecosystem, and the negative effects on biodiversity that this causes are more significant than the effects of poor water quality - given how bad water quality is in the harbour this shows how serious the issue is.
The flowerpots serve as artificial rockpools and the results of trials carried out on the north side of the harbour have been stunning. Within 6-12 months of being set up the number of species in the vicinity of the flowerpots tripled and biodiversity increased seven-fold. The next stage in the research is to test what effect different types of concrete have on the results and a motion I moved at the last Council meeting, which was passed unanimously, will see the City of Sydney look at ways to partner with the EICC to conduct these trials.
I expect the benefits of this project to be not just environmental but also social. It will give kids of the inner City the opportunity to partake in the quintessential childhood experience of searching for life in rockpools and give nature lovers of all ages so much more to appreciate on the harbour foreshore. It is a solid step towards helping people to reconnect with our magnificent waterway.
I hope that a productive partnership between the City and the EICC can result and that this will be the first of many steps undertaken by Council over the coming months to improve the health of Australia’s most well known and well loved waterway.
For more information on the artificial habitat research being undertaken by the EICC see the following videos: