Hope Beach spreads itself from Cape Direction in the west to Goats Bluff in the east, a distance of about 5 km. It is backed by dunes that are quite large by Tasmanian standards. The beach forms the southern shoreline of the South Arm isthmus. Ralphs Bay is contained behind the dunes and this large embayment of the Derwent River provides a sheltered habitat for shorebirds.
Betsey Island lies offshore and between the island and the beach lies Black Jack Reef, notorious for snaffling the boats of the unwary.
Although we had come to Hope (driving through farmland then walking in along the dune top path) we weren’t sure we were done with Cape Direction. I stood beneath the cyprus pines that grow on the dunes in this western corner of the beach and contemplated its shaggy slope. Cathy energetically sought a path and although it was possible a way existed, the dense scrub made it uninviting. So we decided to tackle the rocks instead.
The reef at the base of the cape was an equally unlikely route around to Pot Bay but we gave it a go, timing breakers. It defeated us within metres but presented us with a great view westwards towards the Iron Pot Reef.
As we set off along the sand a lone surfer stood on the dunes assessing the surf. A pied and sooty oystercatcher were chilling together, and later we spotted six more of the pied variety, along with a dozen hooded plovers – a great sight, given they are endangered.
It was only when we’d reached the eastern end (where the beach unexpectedly curves and broadens) and had climbed up Goats Bluff that we saw that those sand dunes, a bulwark against the ocean, were being sand mined.
We could make out Black Jack Reef where one of the Incat ferries, Condor 11, ground to a halt on a trial run in 2011. But it is only the most recent shipwreck in this area. The best known one gave the beach its name.
The Loss of the Hope
The Hobart Colonial Times May 1827
We have the painful duty to report the loss of the barque Hope, which vessel was wrecked on Sunday morning last, on the long Sandy Beach, between Betsy and Iron-pot Islands. It appears she was on her way from Sydney hither, with about 100 tons of freight, and the following passengers: Ensign Barcley, 40th Regiment; Mrs. Bisbee and Mr. Bisbee (wife and brother of Mr. Bisbee of Hobart Town who came as passengers in the ship Elizabeth from England to Sydney); also Mrs. Westbrook mother of Dr. Westbrook. Of this place, another passenger per the Elizabeth, and three others, among whom is Mr. Edmund Johnson, nephew of Mr. Joseph Johnson of the Green Ponds.
The Hope made the Heads on Saturday afternoon; and took on board, off Cape Raoul, the pilot, Mr. Mansfield, the same evening, shortly before dusk. The Hope at this time was being towed in by two of the ship’s boats; but the pilot having taken charge of the vessel, told Captain Cunningham, that he could safely bring her up the river, without the assistance of the boats; from which, in consequence, she parted.
The Captain, however, wished the vessel might be towed in; but the Pilot observed, that his long experience in the river Derwent would enable him to bring her up in safety otherwise. The Captain was perfectly aware of sufficient room being afforded in the Derwent for any vessel to be brought up with almost any wind, and therefore acquiesced with the Pilot’s wishes; and, leaving the charge of the vessel in his hands, retired to rest, where he remained until awakened by the vessel running on shore.
The wind light and variable, and the vessel proceeded up the river but slowly. The night was rather dark and rainy; and about 4 o’clock on the morning of Sunday; about two hours before day break, she, by some means, we can scarcely conceive how, ran ashore, on the long sandy beach, in Shoal Bay, as above stated.
Although the night was rather dark, the wind was not violent, but the surf was running tremendously high. On the lead line being thrown, she was discovered to be in seven feet of water, while her proper draught was fifteen. The moment she struck, the consternation and terror became general; and the scene is described as truly terrific.
The Captain raving at the pilot like a man distracted, the latter standing in mute dismay— females just left their beds— sailors not knowing which way to turn, to relieve the creaking vessel, which was expected to go to pieces every moment, as she already leaked like a sieve— the heavy surf rolling over her, adding horror to the scene— while the dismal half hour guns of distress seemed to signal the death knell of all on board. Daylight at length appeared and discovered to the sufferers their truly perilous situation.
About 10 o’clock of the Sunday morning, two whale-boats, of Mr. Lucus’s fishing party, which had been laying off Bruny Island, came up to the wreck. They had heard the proceeding evening the signal-gun nfor the Pilot, which drew their attention and induced them to bend their steps thitherward.
They immediately lent their aid, with the ship’s jolly boat, in getting out the ship’s bower and kedge anchors; but the attempt proved fruitless, for one of the whaleboats (the property of Mr. Kelly), was stove, having her head absolutely dashed off, and the crew narrowly escaped with their lives. Captain Cunningham then jumped into the jolly boat alone, which parted from the other boat, and nearly fell a sacrifice to his eager promptitude, to save the vessel. Finding every other hope lost, to all the lives they could became their chief object.
The venerable Mrs. Westbrook and Mrs. Bisbee were safely conveyed on shore, after a state of most dreadful suspense for four hours. All this time, the rolling of the vessel almost precluded anyone from keeping their feet, while the state of the two females was most dreadful; overcome with weakness and terror, and fatigue, they could not stand without support, which was kindly afforded by a Mr. John Elliot and some other Gentlemen passengers. With the Ladies, Mr. Clarkson, charterer of the Hope, came up to Hobart Town by the whale-boat in the course of Sunday, bringing the fatal news to Town, leaving the other persons on board. Immediately on learning the fate of the Hope, the Agent (Mr. Behune), dispatched the sloop Recovery, a small craft, in order to bring away a portion of her cargo, in which she succeeded, having returned the following evening with as many tons of goods as could be thrown on board from the wreck.
But to return to the ship. On Sunday night, between 11 and 12 o’clock, the rudder gave way, and the upper part of her stern was driven in. At this critical hour of the night, it was every moment feared that the stern post would give way or be driven in also; in which case the vessel must soon afterwards have foundered, and every soul on board perished as the surf was still running mountains high. The other passengers who did not come up on Sunday safely arrived in Town on Tuesday – till which period all hands were employed at the pumps, in imminent peril, every moment in danger of being washed overboard. When some Gentlemen who left the wreck on Tuesday, who had visited it on Monday, the sea was gaining on the vessel every hour, her main mast had been cut away, and all hopes of saving her were given up. Some casks of spirits, which were on board, were ascertained to have been damaged by the salt water; and the tea and sugar, which also formed part of her cargo, must inevitably be destroyed. We understand, that among the persons who had merchandise on board is Mr. James Lord, owner of the Marquis of Lausdown.—- We are not aware whether the vessel is insured or not.
The government brig Prince Leopold, in coming from Maria Island with the remainder of the wreck of the Apollo, saw the Hope off the Heads on Saturday, and safely arrived in the Harbour the same evening. Monday she discharged her lading, and on Tuesday was immediately sent to the relief of the wrecked Hope.
There were rumours that £30,000 in silver coin had been buried on the beach by two soldiers. Captain John Laughton purchased the wreck at an auction, but in another nasty twist of fate he drowned while inspecting it (Shipwrecks of Tasmania).
South Arm is Calvert country. The name is everywhere and at the eastern entrance to the river the Calverts once had fruit orchards on a farm called Pleasant View. In September 1939 they sold it to the army and in 1944 the army built Fort Direction. The military base extends across both Cape Deliverance and Cape Direction.
Even down at the bottom of the world, the idea of falling to the enemy made people jumpy. That’s why, from 1804, shortly after the colony was established and on into WWII, a network of batteries and bunkers was built down both shores of the Derwent to where in Storm Bay the river merges with the Southern Ocean. Standing right at the river’s mouth, Fort Direction and the Pierson’s Point battery were the first line of defence against enemies arriving by way of the Southern Ocean (Tasmanian Times, 25 Feb 2011).
Seacroft Bay and Fort Beach
On one of summer’s more perfect days, Cathy and I set off on a walk along Fort Beach, Seacroft Bay’s only beach. It was low tide and our ambition was to walk across both capes and on to Hope Beach. But the army had not responded to my request for permission to traverse military land and we anticipated that our walk would be a brief one that would end abruptly where the beach gave way to military land.
The low dunes backing the beach are infested with marram grass and the river had been nibbling away at them. Blessington Street runs behind them and the houses here enjoy superb views over the estuary. We chose to walk along the swash, stopping to consider an outcrop of rock emerging from the sand and remarking to each other that we had finally reached the last beach on the Derwent River’s eastern shore.
There was a woman with a dog quite a distance ahead of us. Beyond her a man took a path up from the beach and disappeared into the bush on to what had to be military land. If he’d gone that way then so would we.
The dog owner had stripped down to her bathers and was about to plunge into the perfectly transparent water by the time we reached her. We got chatting and she told us it was possible to continue on via the rocks, or alternatively by way of the path the man had taken. We quickly decided that the rocks would be more adventurous and walked on, undeterred by the sign we saw on the beach.
Passing four pied oyster catchers, I wondered about the impact of toxic waste on the birds who call by and unwittingly spread toxicity further afield and on those birds who make their summer residence here and possibly bury into it.
The rocky platform at the base of Cape Deliverance was beautiful, the pools rich with kelp and seaweed. It was tessellated in places and there were dropstones and small formations that the geo later suggested were probably remnants of an earlier rock platform.
Soon we came to the kind of risky gulch that has you wishing you’d remembered to bring a first aid kit along, just in case. A little later we walked around a point and were elated to see the Iron Pot lighthouse right ahead of us, at the end of the low lying reef.
This was not the only surprise. In Pot Bay, tucked between the two capes, there was another beach. While Fort Beach gives every impression of being the last beach, this secret beach appeared to hold that honour. Obviously I hadn’t been too observant when sailing passed this area, perhaps because it’s not possible to sail between the capes and the Iron Pot. There’s that dodgy reef and sometimes there are cray pots off it, so it pays to have ample sea room.
Marram grass hadn’t made as much of an inroad on this beach’s dunes. Native vegetation still owned them. Cathy pointed out that we were not the first to have visited that day. There were footprints: human, dog and bird.
Tucked away beside the dunes we found a structure made from driftwood and plastic debris and after enjoying it we carried on walking along this largely litter free beach.
The Last Beach on the Derwent
Beyond Pots Beach we found another, even smaller beach (T 414, Short 2006). Although little more than a 80 m cove below Cape Direction, it is the beach that actually has the honour of being the last beach on either side of the river.
Tackling Cape Direction
That small beach was so protected we couldn’t get all the way around the rocks because of a fairly dramatic drop off and so we decided to do like mountain goats and scramble up the cliff. I was still picking my path upwards when Cathy disappeared from view. Although I was sure I’d have heard her if she’d fallen over the edge, I tried peering over the edge to make sure she wasn’t spreadeagled on the rocks below. I called her once and then I called her again, this time a whole lot louder.
She appeared above me and said she’d found a path. Trusting that no snakes were sunbaking in this vicinity, we made our way through tall grass and scrub to a path that led around the headland, taking cover when we noticed a Toyota 4×4 heading towards us. Behind us, and way up on Fort Hill, there are Defence Dept buildings and houses. The Toyota must have seen us but as no one accosted us we continued on our way.
Ahead we could see signs and a small concrete building. Later I read that:
‘The naval command [lived] on the hill at Fort Direction. These men had to carry out watch over the entrance to the harbour. A small weather board building of four rooms was constructed on the top of the hill with the adjacent flag pole for the raising of signal flags. A watch was maintained 24 hours a day from 1940 – 1945. As many as fifteen naval personnel lived in quarters just below the top of the hill.’ (Potter, RSL website)
The signs warned about asbestos in this vicinity but beyond them there were cliff top views to die for, so as a vague protection I held my phone in front of my nose. The sea breeze hadn’t yet roused itself and we figured any asbestos left on the surface was dormant today and must surely have been blown far and wide by now, or was beneath ground lining shearwater burrows. It was easier to simply not think about the other nasty chemicals we might be exposing ourselves too but instead to focus on the quite dramatic views of the Iron Pot and Bruny Island from this high vantage point. They were heady, and so we lingered.
As we searched around for an onward path we discovered that there were middens up and a steeply plunging cliff face on the north eastern side with a pebbled cove beneath it. We could now see all the way along the cliff line to Hope Beach. Hope looked so close yet so unattainable.
Headlands are tricky for walkers because the way can be barred by private land, but being military land we didn’t want to find ourselves in the middle of an explosives test. There were fences and box thorn and no doubt moon bird burrows, and although it was conceivable we might find a way, we decided on balance that we would turn back. I wondered about kayaking the capes and then I remembered one particular time I’d sailed them.
The Capes by Sea
The fleet stretched out ahead of us one balmy Saturday on the return leg of a long distance race around Betsey Island. We were towards the back of the fleet, the conditions favouring lighter yachts and we were sailing excitingly close to the surf break off Hope Beach.
We were off Cape Direction when we observed that the boats out ahead of us had heeled dramatically. The big blue Beneteau liked rough weather. When lighter yachts heeled, she’d barely lean, but this southwesterly was intent on causing havoc. Much earlier in the day the frustration had been a long period becalmed while the rest of the fleet sailed a sneaky breeze.
We hadn’t even considered reefing before the wind whammed into us and the yacht heeled like I’d never experienced her heel before. Suddenly the cliffs and the Iron Pot, on what was now a lee shore, seemed exceedingly close and the normally laid back crew leapt into action with alacrity. There was a cacophony of yells to ‘down traveller!’ ‘main out!’ and ‘reef!’ And where there were usually one pair of hands on a line there was now the urgency of many, some at cross-purposes.
As we made it around both capes and the Iron Pot with sufficient sea room to keep us safe, the wind swung behind us, the crew grew animated with unanticipated hope and the yacht, now sailing in far more favourable conditions, began to power up steadily through the fleet.
Making Like a Ghost
Cathy and I turned back (but If you’re planning to walk further than us then see below for a couple of tips.)
This time we took the path that ran along the cliff top passed the shearwater colonies and in so doing bypassed the Lone Pine Memorial where a dawn service is held each ANZAC Day. At various points we tried short cuts but we didn’t want to damage burrows and the hollows behind the dunes roared ‘Snakes!’ at us and so we kept out.
There was something quite old time about taking the neat path we found over a fully mown hill as though we were on a clear road to somewhere, like walkers between villages in the olden days. The sweep up Fort Hill was devoid of people until we crested a rise and saw not very far away from us the same white Toyoto we’d seen earlier. Three people were bent over, working silently at some incomprehensible task, apparently just as eager to ignore us, while we, trying to avoid them, searched again (but more frantically) for a short cut off military land and on to the beach.
They were only about 10 metres away from us anyway, and we were beginning to feeling foolish. Tired of feeling like ghosts we called out, ‘are you conservation volunteers?’
‘Army,’ they said, avoiding eye contact, and turned back to fencing a tiny tree (a lone pine?) behind a small monument while we stood about a metre away photographing the little memorial in front of the tree with its engraving of the Dardenelles. Then, feeling as though we had transformed into ghosts again, we carried on down the path back on to Pot Bay Beach.
Au revoir, timtumili minanya
We had stood at the mouth of the Derwent (known before settlement as timtumili minanya to at least some of those living along its banks). Ocean beaches and headlands stretched out to the east. Our walk had included two capes and and had taken us from the river to the meeting place on the eastern shore of the Derwent River, Frederick Henry Bay and Storm Bay with three of the Betsey Island group of islands – Betsey, Little Betsey (hidden from our vantage points) and the Iron Pot just off shore. From this point on we’d be walking ocean beaches all the way to the mouth of Pittwater Lagoon, but we thought we might just have a go at seeing if we could walk Cape Direction from the Hope Beach side.
‘Thu 17 Aug South Arm to Cape Direction Grade: Easy Map reference: Blackmans Bay 1:25k Book by: 8:00pm Wed 16 Aug Start at: 10:45am at car park opposite South Arm War Memorial Group limit: 20 Bring: The usual daywalk gear This is an easy walk from South Arm to Cape Direction opposite the Iron Pot Lighthouse along a newly made track and the fore shore. We will do it `out and back` rather than as a circuit, avoiding the steep box thorn and mutton bird burrow ridden climb up from the western end of Hope Beach and precarious cliff top walk to the cape. It is an easy 4 hour walk with time for coffee at `The Sand Bar` on the way home. There are magnificent panoramic views, especially from the cape.’
* This is an Aboriginal name for the Derwent River, found in the Tasmanian Aboriginal gallery at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Interestingly, the spelling for the people living along the western shore is given as Muwinina, which is different to the spelling I’ve found in other sources.
Johns Point and its Beach (T417): The minuscule, the long and the vast
There is a great sweep of rock platform with cracks and tessellations that curves around Johns Point at the western end of Fort Beach and then narrows as it wanders north along the base of the cliffs. We’d planned to walk out of Half Moon Bay south onto Fort Beach, but we ended up doing it the other way around because sometimes its okay to be contrary.
The Minuscule but Long
Invertebrates in their tiny rock pool worlds live their quiet watery lives along the reefs here, grazing and hiding out in the variegated forests of seaweed, while beside them the river and Storm Bay sweep one into the other. There’s an altitudinal order on the reef. When the tide recedes some barnacles, periwinkles and limpets will sit out the dry period while other reef species make sure they’re fully immersed.
Many of these tiny beings know more about the river than we would imagine and between conversations with Cathy as we walked along beneath the cliffs that sunny day I was contemplating barnacles in particular, those small hermaphrodites in their calcareous huts that choose to stand on their heads, that relative to their size have the longest penises* in the world (it’s true – move over, elephants!), their wispy little cirri feet swaying in the water but who look to be as sessile as trees. Why move, when the river brings endless meals of assorted meats and veg in the form of phytoplankton and zooplankton, right on to your calcareous plates and your perfectly adequate cirri spoon them into your mouth?
Only, if these arthropods were really that sedentary I wouldn’t find them seeking trips on Samos’shull, so what’s going on?
What’s going on is the exploratory tendencies of all of us who are either young or young at heart. After being brooded by their parent they become travellers in the body of water they find themselves in, swimming free in their naplius one-eyed larval stage, part of the great planktonic realms of the river. These little crustaceans are in their cyprid stage by the time they’re ready to settle down. Brushing up against a boat’s hull, they choose it. Landing on a rock, that’s where they stay. Shoved against a jetty paling, their little feet cling to it or, more adventurously, they hitch a ride on a passing whale**. The cement they exude from their antennae is so powerful science is trying to mimic it and Charles Darwin, who walked this river paying deep attention to its geology and life forms, had a particularly fascination for the not so humble barnacle — he knew of its achievements, both physical and chemical.
I knew from my earlier walks that across the Derwent, just inside the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, there were other rock platforms with a similar species richness and that just as the barnacle’s home looked like a tiny volcano, Charles Darwin had discovered deposits from an extinct one off Taroona. I was beginning to see how the vast geology of Tasmania reveals itself if you put on your walking shoes – fossils in siltstone and sandstone on either bank, similar weathering, layers of shell in the South Arm stratigraphy. We were enjoying the patterns unfolding in the rocks when unexpectedly we arrived on a little beach. Cathy pointed out a line of houses on the cliff top. My attention had been on the tiny secrets the rocks and pools were unveiling and I was somewhat surprised to see civilisation above the blue sweep of the river that was filling the hollows and depths of the drowned rift valley spread about us.
Beside the jetty we stood on the sand for a moment contemplating the scope of Half Moon Bay and relishing the fact that we had now walked its entirety, avoiding pesky roads. But beaches are transient landscapes. They change every day, and incrementally so do we. Some events marked in the sand – the small wanders of a plover, for example – get extinguished by wind or water. Some traces and tracks get sandwiched by sand, perhaps even fossilised. That’s one of life’s lessons you can read on a beach, the nature of memory.
We could not claim to know the beaches we had walked so far. In human terms, our meetings with beaches were no more than briefly meeting someone’s eye at a bus stop, but this walk around the reef, and the pleasure of discovering a beach was a completely fulfilling way to while away an hour at the end of a longer walk.
*This Californian Academy of Science video is worth a watch.
** A whale washed up on a NZ beach carrying some stupendous barnacles. A video worth watching because it also demonstrates the respect of the local maori for the whale.
Lauderdale, an outer suburb about a forty minute drive east from central Hobart, is situated on the isthmus where the South Arm peninsula officially begins. Carry on through it and there are two routes you can take to reach the Arm End beaches that are on the far side of a second more southerly isthmus. Of the two options, I like taking Rifle Range Road. It wanders along the western slope of Mount Augustus and continues onto Collins Springs Hill. There are tracts of dry sclerophyll forest, views west across Ralphs Bay to kunanyi, views east over Calverts Beach and lagoon and finally a spectacular view of the Iron Pot and Betsy Island.
Opossum Bay Beaches
Opossum Bay stretches its 1.5 km length west to southwest. It harbours three beaches, although, if you’re not a local, its easy to make the mistake of thinking that there is one beach only. Opossum Bay beach is easy to find while the other two are easy to overlook, unless you are paying close attention to the landscape.
I pretty much started this blog here, with my first walk around Gellibrand Point, accessible from this point. Now I was back here with my friend Cathy. We’d set ourselves the goal of walking the coastline to the end of Seven Mile Beach and we’d planned to do it on low tide days over the coming months.
T 422 Mitchells Beach: in the shadow of its middle sibling
The tide was out on Mitchells Beach and it seemed lighter and more gracious than when I had been here last. On that day a band of cobbles barely separated the winter sea from the eroding slope at the western end of Opossum Bay and the stone percussion in the roll of the swell had been audible to us some distance above it. But the day Cathy and I had chosen had begun with a big frost. Now the sky was blue and on the far side of the river there was snow on kunanyi.
We turned our backs to the mountain and walked east along the pale terrace of sand the low tide had exposed, in the long gone footsteps of family bands of the Moomairemener, believed to be members of the Paredarerme (Oyster Bay tribe). They called the land along the eastern shore of the Derwent River Nannyelebata and they were people of both the coast, the river and the lagoons that are to be found on this diverse peninsula, a peninsula largely in kunanyi’s rain shadow with few hills. As there are no real makers of rivers around here (save Den Hill, Jim’s Hill and Blatherwick Rise – all rather too lowly to whip up a creek) their water sources were springs and the freshwater that collected in the dunes, as well as their freedom to follow the seasons further up the river and to cross it in places.
Mitchells is a reflective beach of about 850m, the longest in this bay, and stormy weather can invigorate the waves that are eating away at the weed infested slope. We stopped for a moment because I wanted to try to understand what the stratigraphy was saying about this beach’s past.
Still catching up on each other’s news, we reached the rocky platform and headland that separate this beach from Opossum Bay Beach, embraced with so much enthusiasm by the locals that houses literally perch on the wrack line.
T 421 Opossum Bay Beach: houses as rampart
We walked along sharing the memories it has given us. Cathy knows it far better than me and she mentioned that we had the option of a footpath between here and South Arm. I’ve viewed its houses, boatsheds and slender sweep of sand on windy days from heeling yachts and also when, becalmed, there’s been ample time to absorb the view more fully. The beach houses and shacks on their bluff are the rampart the rising river meets and the views are of the estuary widening.
There’s a difference between walking and exploring, and concluding that today at least we fitted in the latter category, we shunned the pathways on the headland above us at the eastern end in favour of the shoreline and clambered around the headland with its jetty by way of the rocks.
T 420 Glenvar Beach: The Secret Beach
We crossed a boat ramp and walked into the more hidden part of the bay. Too often I’ve been that sort of beach walker who stops at the end of a stroll along the sand without testing its boundaries. That’s why I’d never found Glenvar Beach. Recently a friend had told me that she’d rented a beach house at a Gellibrand Beach. She described where it was and spoke about the lovely way the swells sometimes swept into the bay from three different directions.
Glenvar is definitely the smallest and most crescent shaped beach in the bay. Here, the houses also show an inclination to cosy up to the water, but held more tightly between two headlands, the feeling is more intimate. I figured this had to be my friend’s ‘Gellibrand Beach’. Cathy and I lingered on the rocks before beginning our walk out of it, admiring all the things large and minuscule about it – the nautical things like boat sheds, the sea walls in places, the features in the siltstone – fossils included – a feather or two along with shells and the vibrant seaweeds of the reef.
I came back here the other day after a storm. Kelp lay washed up on the beach. This time I walked the lanes between the houses on on the headland seeking out a path to the beach. That’s the way to arrive on Glenvar. Not by directions but by following the lean of the land until you arrive on the sand.
Blatherwick Rise* stops Glenvar Beach. We set off along the rock platform at its base. The siltstone here has been sculpted by the winds and rain so that its stippled with hollows. I was pretty thrilled to have reached this spot because once, crewing on the big blue Beneteau in a long distance race, a buoy was placed off here and we’d had to check the chart, none of us precisely certain about where the mysterious Pigeons Holes were to be found.
It’s a favourite spot with the cormorants, perhaps because there’s quite a variety of fish here. I counted twenty one of the birds taking in the long view and apart from a gull or two, they were the only members of the avian nations that we saw on this walk. We also discovered the remnants of a battered metal boat lodged on the rocks.
Our rock hopping had warmed us. We took off our jackets and explored the platform with its mollusc rich rock pools fringed with red and green seaweeds. Beneath the water where the rocks give way to sand the stingrays and the flathead lie camaflaged and all these are reasons why divers like this spot.
We walked the shoreline, sometimes scrambling, wondering where above us the house owned by Brian Ritchie (Violent Femmes) happened to be. According to the website for the tv series Sandcastles that featured it, he left the Big Apple seeking the serenity of The Apple Isle and bought this land from Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil and ex Labor MP).
At one point we found a narrow path beneath casuarinas and sauntering along this cliff top path we heard voices below us. The water seemed unusually blue just there. Two heavily tattoed men on a motorboat, oblivious to our presence, were getting ready to dive. We regarded them silently before continuing on, coming to a small beach neither of us expected to encounter. Its beauty was marred by the litter it was assiduously collecting. (Later I checked Short’s inventory but it isn’t noted there.)
We filled our bags with plastic bottles and styrofoam and then clambered over more rocks and down on to another beach in the next bay along.
Half Moon Bay
Like Opossum Bay, Half Moon Bay has three beaches within its 3 km extent and it also faces west across the Derwent’s estuary, which is vast here, the swells and waves from Storm Bay flow directly into the river, merging with the water from the D’Entrecasteaux on the other shore. Humans may demarcate the boundary with a mark (the Iron Pot in this case) but the moon and the weather determine where and how the waters mingle.
T 419 Half Moon Bay Beach and its smaller sibling
This beach (T419) we found ourselves on was known to Cathy but not to me. Robertson (2008) calls it Half Moon Beach and Short (2006) calls it Pigeon Holes Beach . It’s about 150m long and on a summer’s day it would be a lovely place to come to with a beach umbrella and a good book. But if you were a bird, that’s what you’d be dreading. Your eye would be on making a nest here and beach umbrellas play havoc with that.
The smaller beach we’d stopped to spring clean is in effect a little companion tucked into the long headland that is Blatherwick Rise, so seemed to me to be not quite Opossum Bay and not quite Half Moon either. Unrecognised, it’s without a Beachsafe number (unless my beach interpretation is shaky here and I’m suffering from beach confusion).
T 418 South Arm Beach
A quick clamber over the next lot of rocks and we were on South Arm Beach, the long, generous curve of sand backed by dunes. We increased our pace because we were fast running out of time. Sometimes we walked below houses. We exchanged waves with a couple on a sundeck toasting their mountain view with glasses of wine. I found an enigmatic layer of shell in the dunes. It could have been a midden, but one of Ralphs Bay’s most intriguing features are the dense layers of shell. This lovely embayment lies held in the crook of the peninsula’s skinny arm and I thought I might be seeing an exposed part of that layer.
We walked passed boat sheds. We passed the conifers. We reached South Arm (no more than a village or a far-flung Hobart suburb, take your pick) and as we turned to walk over the headland by way of the roads, we eyed out the rocks below Johns Point. We’d hoped to walk around and complete Half Moon Bay but we had run out of time.
If we’d taken the South Arm to Opossum Bay trail that runs close to the road, we’d have done that 4.5 km walk in less than two hours, but we had chosen to scramble over rocks instead and we had dallied on beaches. The school bell chimes at 3 p.m. though, and one of us could not be late. That last Half Moon beach would have to wait until next time.
* According to Place Names Tasmania, this name was ‘advised by Mr G. Calvert and Mrs B. Gellibrand; family by this name lived for many years in old days at top of rise on South Arm Road.’ Locals also call it Blatherwick Hill.
** They also record this information about (The) Pigeon Holes: “Pigeons as we know, favour ledges for nesting and roosting. Mr Cramp recalls that pigeons used to nest on a cliff face at Opossum Bay, South Arm. There was a considerable number of them, and the ledges were—“.
I’m writing in defence of the ocean and the shore, not something I’d anticipated when I first set out to explore the coastline. Back then, the idea was to log the diversity and beauty of all that I saw, but in the 21st century it’s not so simple.
That’s why this blog is a Tasmanian take on that ubiquitous tale of industry and the powers that be colluding to rob the public of their common wealth while holding out jobs as a carrot and blindsiding the environment that sustains us.
But carrots are quickly nibbled away and environments don’t always recover.
It may be uncool in the strange climate we inhabit these days, but I would go so far as to frame this story as one of elder abuse. That elder is Mother Earth who nourishes billions of people (and all those other species we largely couldn’t give a rat’s arse about). The irony, of course, is that each time she’s bashed we’re bashed too except so many of us have become anaesthetised to what’s happening. We forget that
we are the protectors,
We are the thing it needs protection from
We are that which needs protecting
(Quoted in Murphy, 2012)
Okehampton Bay: Big Fish Snaffles up the Lure of Profit and Expansion
The desire to get bigger, to generate more profit and to be the best has Tassal, a Tasmanian salmon producer, angling to put 28 pens in Okehampton Bay on the East Coast. There will be 800,000 fish at full capacity. That’s a whopping amount of poop, streaks ahead of that expelled by the whole of Triabunna (the closest town) after endless nights of food poisoning and infinite days of giardia.* I’m sure you can easily visualise the soup of nutrients that will combine with the currents and the tides flowing into Okehampton Bay and along Mercury Passage of which it is a part.
Whales migrate through here, dolphins and seals regard it as their hunting grounds and habitat and divers collect abalone from these ostensibly pristine waters for the export market.
Tasmania benefits from its clean and green brand, but Tassal has recently been trashing it for themselves and for others. The company has acquired a reputation for being a heavy users of antibiotics, for overstocking, for damaging the sea floor in Macquarie Harbour at a distance further than anticipated out from their pens. They’re also responsible for a significant amount of debris that washes up on the shorelines. And this is a shame. Tasmania needs clean and green. It needs sustainable industry. It needs long term, permanent jobs. I’d like to be honouring them for their contribution to the economy but the cost to the environment is just too high.
Their lease in Okehampton Bay is 80 hectares and stretches to within 530m off Lords Bluff, it’s northern headland. So close, and not much room left for boating.
It’s 700m from the shore at the other extreme. And it’s 7 km from the Maria Island Marine Reserve, which is seriously ouch. The island is a much loved national park. There’s a marine reserve there too, and it’s one of Tasmania’s most iconic views, visible from different points along the east coast south of Freycinet Peninsula.
Understandably, Tasmanians who have warm memories of blissful days on this vehicle free island rich in wildlife and 360 degrees of scenic beauty, are dismayed. For some of the sailors I’ve discussed this with, it makes for a waterway ruined. Tassal says it isn’t fish farming in Mercury Passage (Tassal Sustainability report 2016) and here’s the actual quote:
When investigating potential sites for expansion of farming, Tassal will examine various sites, some which may be suitable from an environmental and social perspective, and some that are not. Mercury Passage, located adjacent to Okehampton Bay, is one such example. We will not farm in Mercury Passage. A rigorous stakeholder engagement process is undertaken to ensure our social licence to operate.’
But this is downright sneaky. Mercury Passage includes bays and embayments, of which Okehampton is one. It’s part of the passage’s shoreline after all! That statement, plus a temperature graph without a key in Sustainability report 2016, the debacle in Macquarie Harbour with no apparent contingency plan beyond charming the regulator were enough to make me particularly curious about this fishy business, the focus of local debate and protest.
Actually, one other thing. The local council claims that the last time Okehampton was pristine was ‘when Aboriginal people fished there in canoes’ (The Mercury, 23 Nov 2016), so here’s what it was like when the French explorer Peron visited in 1802: “The marine animals were very abundant on these shores, and we saw huge troops of dolphins, cetaceans and innumerable legions of seals” he wrote ( Plomley, 1983:72). But hey – isn’t that how we want the oceans to be?
A similar abundance of seals was seen around Ile des Phoques [Island of the Seals] in 1987. (Ranson & Brown, 1987). And the Maria Island National Park and the Ile des Phoques Nature Reserve Management Plan 1998 states that around Maria Island there is still a rich marine flora and fauna representative of a variety of Tasmanian east coast habitats (Edgar 1981). That’s why a stretch of coastal water around the north western shore was added as a marine extension to the Park. And it’s also considered the most significant representation of the Maugean biogeographic province reserved in Tasmania (Kriwoken, 1991).
The plan notes extensive seagrass beds which act as fish nursery areas. According to locals, sharks breed here too. Tassal, heedless of the precautionary principle and disrespecting the possibility of damage, are shrugging off known unknowns, have experiments up their sleeve and will ‘monitor’ what happens to this environment.
So, regardless of their poor record in Macquarie Harbour (and IMHO the D’Entrecasteaux) they’re telling us they respect the environment (only not as much as profit) and are asking us to trust them I really, really want to. But I think Mother Earth is up for another bashing.
Seeing It for Myself
I’d Google Earthed Okehampton Bay, checked it on maps, viewed the Tassal lease on paper, read reports (see below) until I could no longer see straight, but as I’m not particularly familiar with Triabunna and Spring Bay (although they once provided the yacht I was on safe harbour from a storm) I thought it would be insightful to go and actually see the lease so I knew what I was writing about.
Just as the kayak was going up on the roof rack, a friend who is also concerned about Tassal’s expansion plans rang to say he’d arranged for me to go out on a yacht to view the lease. ‘You’ll see much more of it this way,’ he said.
So on one of those stunning winter days when there is no breeze and the sky is impeccably blue, the geo, the dogs and I stepped onto one of those ‘I wish it was mine’ sort of yachts and, with its equally concerned owners, motored out passed Bricky Point and Horseshoe Shoal, Sappho Spit, Windlass Bay and Point Home. Once around that headland we were into Okehampton Bay.
But as we crossed Spring Bay we passed by the shed that had once housed fishmeal, causing a stink, literally. We passed the Tasmanian Seafoods building and the jetty where the super trawler would have been based if community outrage had not put a halt to this massive fishing trawler’s plans to operate in Tasmanian waters. The concern then was overfishing. The new concern is overstocking.
Tassal have planned a long jetty here and a start has been made. It means the local yachties need to roll over because one of the racing buoys has been a fixture here, so the jetty means a course change. This may not seem important if you don’t sail, but it does demand that one community gives up the rights it has enjoyed for a company project destined to use the common wealth for its own profit. Racing here is a pleasurable activity, avoiding large boats is not. What offset is Tassal offering, I wonder?
Just a hop across the bay’s entrance there’s still the old wood chip infrastructure. It used to provide employment for Triabunna. A tourism venture is planned here but if Tassal is given the go ahead then noise, lights and visual impact could be problematic.
All the Profligate Beauty
On this perfect winter afternoon Mercury Passage shimmered blue and silver and Bishop and Clerk stood tall against the sky while the dogs snoozed on deck and we all chatted. No aquaculture wins beauty points. Spring Bay Seafoods, Tassal’s new partner, farms in this vicinity too but it has struggled because warmer waters have caused algal blooms and DST [Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxin] disease.
As we rounded the headland and Okehampton Bay came into view I was thinking about how salmon producers state that the ocean’s resources are fast running out, and they are therefore providing a community benefit. But as the oceans succumb to acidification, microplastics and warming, so will salmon. Also, it’s beginning to seem that fish farming with its explosive expulsion of nutrients locally accelerates the ocean’s distress. It seems to me it would be better by far better for us as a species with our habits of overconsumption and waste, to focus our attention on ocean health and behaviour modification so that the ecosystems we depend on continue to sustain us. And their argument is all a bit of a furphy really, because when it comes to salmon farming wild fish still end up down the gullets of farmed salmon by innocently swimming into pens or ending up ground into food pellets.
Tassal, we could see, that beautiful afternoon, is leaping enthusiastically into developing this lease. The lease marker buoys are in, pens are being developed and we were gobsmacked by how huge this lease is in the landscape. It stretches out across the entrance to the bay and deep into it, appearing to shrink the dimensions of the coastline. Truly, it’s scary vast!
The skipper put the boat in neutral and we gazed sombrely at the loveliness of the mainland and the Maria Island coasts. We watched the ripples of baitfish on the water, seagulls so full they look laboured taking off. Okehampton’s beach is enjoyed by locals in summer, our companions said. I turned to look at Maria Island. It looks so close here; you can see Darlington. No worries, according to Tassal. Tourists love to visit fish farms. (Who are these peculiar people, I had to wonder. It’s like paying to visit a battery hen farm, is it not?) And I’m not disputing that people are keen to visit big black pens, but is that not truly bizarre?
Tassal say that 5 independent studies (2006-2009) suggest that nutrients can occur out to 500m from the source. I don’t believe in a fluid environment that nutrients screech to a halt at the 500m mark. Look at the way litter finds its way independently across oceans -airoplane wings, for heaven’s sake – and how nutrients consumed are transported to other reefs inside avian and piscean bellies. Tassal’s big dump may well contain antibiotics, if they don’t get their act on and stop this bad behaviour. Good luck whales. Good luck dolphins, seals and birds, in avoiding entanglements and antibiotics. Good luck all you other species we don’t really give a rat’s ho hum about either but are destined to encounter poop soup.
To counter watery rises in temperature, Tassal are breeding heat tolerant salmon and will experiment with integrative farming, growing seaweeds, urchins (both feral and native) and mussels beside the pens to sop up nutrients and help out the reefs. Who knows, perhaps they’ll introduce their brand new but not adequately tested waste management system, developed belatedly and in a hurry (reactively, in other words) when nutrients from their pens in Macquarie Harbour spilled past the scientific estimates of the impact zone. It’s success is still questionable. And again, if only all this were possible without an unsustainable impact.
But Tassal, it’s not!
I hope like hell that this farm doesn’t go ahead. Worse case scenario, I hope like hell that integrative farming is the success Tassal expects it to be. But it’s got to be a definite yes before many Tasmanians accept the notion. At the moment it seems more like fingers crossed.
When I talked about this issue with friends, I discovered a growing distrust about decisions made behind closed doors. The fact that DPIPWE and Tassal share a building in the city centre leads to a perception of a snug relationship, the kind of relationship that at least one of its competitors seems concerned gives them preferential treatment. Huon Aquaculture are taking the regulator to court for not heeding scientific advice and mismanaging stocking limits in Macquarie Harbour with devastating consequences for the environment. Tassal have jumped in to support the regulator.
Around Spring Bay
On our return trip we headed across Spring Bay towards the Eastcoaster Resort. Close by a proposed 350 mm water pipe will enter the bay, heading out and around to Okehampton Bay and if you’re wondering why a water pipe, fresh water is needed to wash down salmon in order to prevent disease. But the East Coast is drought prone. To support Tassal (as well as a golf course and potentially some farmers), the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council is planning to build dam. The dam will be on the property of two council staff, a lucrative arrangement. But Tassal will have a long wait to get this water and let’s hope the rains fall. Let’s hope the promise of additional water to the community holds good and it’s not the community sacrificing water to Tassal, kind of easy to imagine.
And for what? This company turns over a huge profit already. It’s an industry roughly thirty years old. They don’t yet know their full impact on the environment. Far better for them to perfect their techniques rather than expecting the planet to accept getting whacked while they work things out.
For a start they could take their fish farms out of bays and out of sheltered waters and leave the East Coast alone. They could work towards minimising their oceanic footprint with real integrity so that they stop impacting on the disappearing species all about us.
Socially, this farm has split the community. Jobs are needed here, no one disputes this, and with a park on their doorstep and tourism on the rise, Triabunna could enhance its appeal as a choice destination. That’s one of the reasons those opposed to the fish farm believe the site is inappropriate, that the environmental impacts will be significant and that this is salmon farming on the edge.
This from the EPA’s own website:
The Tasmanian salmon industry is one of Australia’s largest and most valuable aquaculture industries. Increased sea surface temperatures may present challenges for the production of this cool-water farmed species as they are currently farmed near the upper thermal limits of their optimal growing temperature. A temperature rise of 3°C may result in severe stress to Tasmanian salmon. Warmer temperatures are also likely to increase outbreaks of disease in aquaculture operations and changes to rainfall and changes in salinity, nutrients and sediments may also have a negative impact. (EPA, 2017)
Let’s Grow Tasmania’s social media and television campaign from LGTF (see video) began in late December 2016 depicting a fisherman defecating over the side of a boat, claiming “farming 800,000 salmon in Okehampton Bay is about the same as 10,000 people taking a dump in the bay every day”.
That’s a hell of a lot of poop soup.
Mother Earth is drowning in our waste. We’re throttling her.
So hand’s off Okehampton Bay.
Some further reading:
For the planning documents relating to Okehampton Bay, check this DPIPWE page.
Once, in Alaska, poking about a waterway, we watched the first salmon return to breed. Their life cycle begins in the gravels of the home river where they are born. They leave it for the ocean but return to it to breed, recognizing it by its scent, along with other cues. The icy chill, the glacier, the clear stream and the salmon (now more ruby than silver) made for a moment of mystery and magnificence.
Those were sockeye salmon, but the Atlantic salmon farmed in Tasmania are not native here and these days there’s a lot of conversation – protest even – about the environmental impact fish farms are having. Resistance has been growing against their planned expansion in Tasmanian waters.
That luscious pink steak on a plate had grown extremely popular because it was regarded as a gourmet choice – healthy, sophisticated and quick to prepare. Ethical, even, with many believing that farmed fish take pressure off wild piscean populations. That’s turned out not to be true (although the ratio of wild stock in feed has diminished somewhat) and farmed salmon are not naturally pink fleshed, people have learned. It has also become more commonly known that controlling disease outbreaks in pens is a difficult management issue that sometimes involves the use of anti-biotics. Seals still die seeking salmon in the farms, although not as many as in the early days but search through the relevant agency’s right to information index indicates that relocations are still frequent. Hundreds of birds get entangled each year. It’s a young industry leveraging off being clean and green but environmental sustainability, especially in a time of climate change, is tightly constrained by environmental factors, such as warming oceans, and the perception many have is that they have betrayed public trust about their practices and could do a whole lot better. They say they’re trying and the three companies have chosen different ways of improving but the chorus is growing that fish farms do not belong in bays.
Sailing, the sight of pens in an otherwise beautiful location that would normally elevate one’s spirits has quite the opposite effect. They can be noisy, spoiling the serenity of otherwise quiet anchorages. There is a particular one that is always in the way when I want to tack. Debris can mess with propellers and cause injury and it’s not always apparent when there’s a tow underway. These are situations that can be dangerous. Fatal, even. On the other hand, they have brought much needed employment to Tasmania and generate considerable wealth for the state.
GREAT TAYLOR BAY
Great Taylor Bay is off South Bruny Island with Partridge Island protecting its north western entrance. There’s a popular anchorage off the island. We ducked in here to escape bad weather on our way down to Recherche Bay this last summer. South Bruny National Park is at the southern end. Jetty Beach, also down south, is probably the best known beach in this bay because of easy public access. Too easy maybe. When we were last here there were five vehicles spread along the beach and this in a national park. There are anchorages along Great Taylor Bay’s eastern flank at North Tinpot Bay, Tinpot Bay and Mickeys Bay.
Great Taylor Bay, like all the D’Entrecasteaux bays, is really beautiful – the moody water, the forests, beaches and the islands. It can feel wild and remote, approaching by boat, so long as you ignore the dark farm with its caged salmon secured near the entrance of the bay. Tassal has a 30 year lease here and there were seven or eight pens that I counted as we sailed passed making for Mickeys Bay.
Mickeys Bay, an embayment off Great Taylor, can’t be accessed by road. It’s surrounded by hills and forest, has a lovely serenity and offered good protection from the prevailing wind one day in February (2017) when we decided to anchor here. It has a fairly narrow entrance, guarded on each side by the other two islands in the Partridge Island Group – Seagull Rock, a tiny islet, and Curlew Island, somewhat bigger. There are a few properties around the edge of the bay, although they are set well back and are relatively unobtrusive.
There was a yacht already there and by the time the stars were out we were nine overnight.
The next day, once all but two other yachts had sailed away, the geo decided to do a spot of fishing from the tender. Flathead were plentiful in 2005 when the Lady Nelson overnighted here, I later discovered, and he was hoping to catch us dinner. Another couple had also decided to put fish on the menu. They’d spread a gill net between Curlew Island and the shore. Just putting it out there, but in my humble opinion these should have been banned decades ago. Along with a fish for the plate, there’s the by-catch factor that can include seabirds of which Curlew Island has a few.
I decided to circumnavigate Mickeys Bay from Seagull Rock around to Curlew Island. It was sunny, the water was still and clear. There’d been a full moon the night before and the tide was way out. The conditions were perfect.
I kayaked over to Seagull Rock and began to work my way back along the bay, kayaking over and beside a fringe of seaweed, mostly those beautiful strappy canopy forming brown macroalgae, like kelp. I was expecting to lose myself to the beauty, but beauty wasn’t what I got. They lacked the variety and robustness of the ones I’d seen in the Tinderbox Marine Reserve. That’s not surprising in a quiet bay like this one, but their vivacity was frequently lost within the dirty brown miasma of a brown filamentous species, similar if not the same as one I recollected seeing at Baretta. It looked to have attached itself into the thallus of the seaweed like a parasite and seemed to be successfully suffocating everything it encountered. On the few occasions that I found something still vibrantly alive, the brown miasma was right up beside it, rocking and rolling with the movement of the water, just waiting to pounce. Or so it seemed to me, a novice in the world of seaweeds.
I was doodling along but often I stopped and floated, trying to figure out what I was seeing. I wondered if my perception was skewered somehow, if maybe Tasmania just happened to have some dead ugly reefs. If maybe a species as dominant as this ugly miasma could be normal. But what kept coming vividly to mind was my favourite Eastern Cape (RSA) river, the Kwelera, and how over the course of one summer we watched grey water from an ablution block turn a happy rocky shore into a soapy, slimy one where nothing grew.
Each time I reached one of the beaches around the bay I walked, collecting plastic and other litter. I was disappointed at just how much of it there was. Some was fish farm debris, the lines entangled in old washed up branches or caught up on the wrackline, which, I noticed, on the longest, sandiest beach, had spilled over the low bank, with plastic sometimes caught up in a tussock or lying in a thin line on the grass.
The day I had thought would be wonderfully spent on the water was turning out to be a dispiriting experience but I expected that on the deeper, eastern side of the bay, in shadow cast by the forest that afternoon, the seaweed would be healthier.
I walked this pebbled northern shore. I floated above the seaweed. It seemed to me it was an opportunistic seaweed invading the space where others should grow.
In the distance I could hear the rumble which we’d earlier concluded must be coming from the fish farm. I thought about its possible impact – the faeces, the unswallowed food, the way the debris accumulates beneath the pens before it is picked up by the currents and tide and I wondered if anyone knew how those currents might move around Great Taylor Bay. It seemed to me entirely feasible that if fish farm debris was washing into Mickeys Bay, then nutrients were making it in here too and given its shape they might be having a hard time flushing back out.
Observing this bay of dismay I wondered if what I was seeing was the result of a seasonal trigger, climate change, the impact of habitation or the passing parade of yachts that might have poor waste management strategies.
Or all of these things combined.
I hadn’t noticed anything amiss when I’d first paddled from the yacht to the shore. The water was clear. I’d seen ripple marks in the sand and down beneath me what I took to be seagrass standing upright, all at a distance from each other. But later, when I studied the photos I had taken, I noticed that in the little hollows small clouds of that miasmic seaweed seemed to be resting like brown cotton wool. Studying my photos later I couldn’t decide if the seagrass was healthy or not. Searching the web I struggled to identify this filamentous alga.
CURLEW ISLAND: BIRDS AT RISK
Curlew Island is 0.415 hectares of non-allocated Crown Land, and at least in 2001 was home to Pacific and Kelp Gulls, Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers as well as Caspian Terns who have (and possibly still do) use it as a breeding site, along with Black-faced Cormorants, Little Black Cormorants, Great Cormorants and Silver Gulls (Brothers et al, 2001).
On the point near Curlew Island there were a whole lot of pipes and what looked like a fish farm pen in the process of being built. The land just there had a most unpleasant vibe because of the mess lying about in what had seemed at first glance to be a lovely wooded area. I looked at that island and noticed some birds. I considered that net. I thought about that fish farm, about 5 km away, and how, when you sail by, you often see birds hanging about the pens. No place for a net, I thought. And I didn’t like the idea that birds from Curlew Island might get entangled in fish farm netting.
Until I’d noticed the mute trouble the bay is in it had seemed stunning. I’d paddled around it, drifted, communed with it. I’d walked it. I’d seen two tiny groups of minuscule silver fish (less than a dozen in each) and I’d seen a ray.
‘Good paddle?’ the geo asked when I got back. I told him about the trouble I’d seen.
‘How was the fishing?’
‘Two little flathead too small to eat.’
But now, months later, I wonder if I was entirely wrong about what I saw.
The more I read the more it seemed that studied opportunistic species associated with fish farms are green, like Ulva and Chaetomorpha and they weren’t on my radar as I kayaked. On the web I finally located a look alike species to the ‘miasma’ called Ectocarpus, found in New Zealand and elsewhere in Australia. There are two varieties in Tasmania (one also found at Eaglehawk Neck) and they are migrants from the UK that have grown resistant to anti-foul and heavy metals like copper. This species hasn’t been studied much from what I can see and although to me, a rank amateur, it looks opportunistic, I haven’t noticed it linked to fish farms.
Which begs the question – why is it so abundant in this bay? If my identification is correct, then is it thriving on heavy metal contamination here?
Tassal’s baseline environmental monitoring program doesn’t cover Mickeys Bay but they do have a monitoring spot in the middle of Great Taylor Bay, M8, that has indicated higher than average chlorophyl readings and Oh’s thesis also notes increases in opportunistic * green algal species in Great Taylor Bay. She monitored just outside Mickeys Bay.
I would really like to see Tassal include Mickeys Bay in its broadscale environmental monitoring program (BEMP) because both boats and fish farms use anti foul, although fish farms are apparently trying to phase it out. Tassal is farming a waterway they do not own, a waterway in which the public, marine mammals, birds and other species have a vested interest and it would be a way of returning the favour that both the community and the environment are extending to them were they to increase their monitoring stations.
In 2014 the Aquaculture Stewardship Council auditing team identified areas where Tassal could do better. Principle 2 (Conserve natural habitat, local biodiversity and ecosystem function) related to feed testing and making lethal incidents publically available within 30 days. Principle 3 was about protecting the health and genetic integrity of wild populations through the development of an area based management plan (my italics) and Principle 4 (Using resources in an environmentally efficient and responsible manner) related to the feed ingredients used at the farming sites. Tassal also has to abide by Principle 5 (Manage disease and parasites in an environmentally responsible manner) and was also advised it could do better in relation to Principle 7 (Be a good neighbour and conscientious citizen).
Tassal holds Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) salmon certificates for the Tin Pot Point and Partridge Island farm sites, according to WWF’s the Aquatic Stewardship Council scheme, but there is concern about bias in this regard.
Changes in the Channel have been noted by many, including abalone divers and recreational fishers. The fact is, that since the first species let go their grip on the hulls of the boats of the first explorers from Europe, the D’Entrecasteaux has been disrupted by a multiplicity of different activities, visitors and the like. It’s just been growing ever more intense, to the point where it’s health is of growing public concern.
The more I read the more interested I became in fish farms, concluding that they do not belong in bays at all. But I also began to consider the impact of my own sailing on the environment and the things I could personally do to reduce this. If there are heavy metals in Mickeys Bay then less damaging anti-foul needs to be considered.
This report notes: ‘Opportunistic species should not always be considered bad, they are a natural part of an the functional ecology of an estuary and serve a very useful role in “mopping up” excess nutrients. Consequently their presence can actually help ameliorate/ remediate the effects of nutrient fertilization. It is when they actually alter the structure and function of communities that they should be considered undesirable.’
Once, several years ago, bound for Stanley across Sawyer Bay, an open, 25 kilometre long coastline, I sailed passed Port Latta in a fast diminishing gap between gales. While the skipper took waves in her face with the broadest of grins, my friend and I tucked up under the dodger and watched the coastline go by. I was identifying old landmarks I hadn’t seen in a while – Rocky Cape, where this bay begins, and then the long jetty of Port Latta. Behind that jetty there’s Australian Bulk Mineral’s large, grey processing plant that belches smoke and in its shadow there’s a cluster of houses. Looking at them from out at sea, I felt for the people who had to live there and knocked it off my bucket list.
The holiday home had a couple of books on local history and an outstanding view along the coastline of the bay all the way to the volcanic neck that is The Nut, standing elevated above the landscape at Stanley, but I had not realised until we arrived that Cowrie Point was the site of those homes I’d looked at through the rain from that bucking yacht all those years before.
I went down to the inviting beach to stick my feet into Bass Strait’s waters. The high tide had piled seaweed high along the wrackline and the beach was backed by both feral and native plants over to my right. The rocky platforms of what I took to be a point, and the pebbles that I found, were unexpectedly stunning. They looked like agate with volcanic intrusions but when the geo went to take a look he said no, they’re Precambrian sediments with iron oxide deposits in the joints and sometimes in the bedding plates. There were stratigraphies laid on their side with sharp edges, long thin columns with longitudinal jointing, tessellations, pale colours, burnt ochres, swirls and speckles. Neptune’s necklace flourished in some of the rock pools but others seemed entirely empty. Cowrie Point, he said, was actually a tombolo.
On the eastern side of the tombolo I found another beach (T 997), this time a half crescent curve of about 100m, rather narrow, that backed onto the beach I’d just come from. Again, but that bit closer, there was a view of the jetty and the looming plant, the white smoke dense in the sky, sitting improbably with the lovely proportions of the quiet beaches. Occasionally there was a low industrial rumble.
Just passed another outcrop of rock was a third beach (T998) and beyond it a stretch of rocks and then the industrial works. There was a lone house above the rocks of T998. Two men stood below it with a dog. I was strolling slowly, looking at the differently shaped sponges that had washed up, but eventually I turned and walked away.
Later, when one of the men came around to the Coral Point Beach with his dog, he told us his family’s story of Port Latta.
He was barely school age when his family built their Cowrie Point home and it predated the refinery which was built in 1967/68. It’s the terminus of an 85 km pipeline that starts at Savage River mine on the West Coast. What runs through this pipe is a slurry of crushed ore. When it reaches Port Latta it’s transformed into marble sized pellets that are baked at 1000 degrees C, which then travel via a conveyor belt along the jetty to the ships that take the pellets away to Port Kembla and China.
The refinery, he said, spoiled everything and devastated the shack owners. Thirty seven homes were razed so it could be built and for the first twenty years they’d been unable to use their house at all. The plant was so loud and noisy, the smoke terrible. When they hung up their washing it turned black. Worse, the chemicals that leached into their water burnt them, but the company didn’t want to know. The conditions were so intolerable and depressing that those who could moved away.
‘There weren’t any greenies back then,’ he said, as though that might just have made a difference, and expanded on how beautiful this stretch of coastline had once been, the ways they had enjoyed it and just how much it had been spoiled. He said more recently the processing plant had changed to gas and it wasn’t so bad anymore but as we stood there white smoke was dense in the sky and the whole place began rumbling.
‘It rumbles when they’re tweaking the mix,’ he said. ‘Wind’s northwesterly.’ We stood in silence, happily upwind, listening to the plant before saying our good byes.
I couldn’t find anything about Cowrie Point’s social history but I did find out that there is a landfill at Port Latta that accepts general and hazardous material and this has resulted in groundwater contamination. I also found out that ABM holds the Savage River Project through its indirect subsidiary, Goldamere who in 1996, entered into an asset purchase agreement with the State Government of Tasmania. Goldamere would purchase the Savage River mining operation assets as well as the Port Latta pelletising and shiploading facilities for a deferred payment of Aus$13 million. As well as that, the government agreed to indemnify them against all liabilities, both pre-existing and on-going, caused by environmental pollution or contamination that have resulted from past operations.
Port Latta to the east, The Nut rising above a faint sea mist to the west, and Cowrie Point perched on the edge of the Little Peggs Beach State Reserve. There were spectacular sunsets and lovely beach walks and Stanley not that far away. It was all exquisite, as long as I kept looking west.
Go there. Definitely go there. Explore the exceptional beauty. Discover what it’s like to think you own paradise and then to have hell settle in beside you.
Coningham’s string of pocket beaches, notable for their boat sheds, are skinny, sandy and eroding. Where my kayak and I were carried ashore by a small, crashing wave I found a stormwater outlet and around it, supporting the slope and trying to buy it a little more time, sandbags piled on top of each other.
Coningham is one of Hobart’s small, outlying beach communities where weekend shacks have given way to full time homes for people willing to commute about forty minutes into the city. Because the beaches are largely backed by reserve and cliffs they aren’t that obvious from down on the sand, but higher up the slopes of Shepherds Hill there are long views across the bay to the Tinderbox Peninsula, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Bruny Island. Further off to the north kunanyi dominates the skyline.
Little penguins have a tiny presence here, their numbers much reduced now that this area is more built up, the beaches less quiet. Once, two years ago as we sailed down the Channel just off Ranggoerrade (an Aboriginal name for North West Bay), we encountered a group of about two hundred penguins. It’s not uncommon to see or hear a couple out on the water but a flock that big was exhilarating.
Where the beaches are backed by, or separated from each other by cliffs, they’re mostly composed of hard Triassic fluvial sandstones as well as some Permian marine siltstones (Sharples, 2014). I discovered, when I read this report, that Old Station Road leading in to Coningham is on reclaimed land, and that a small area of low-lying ground on the northern tip of Hurst Point ‘is the artificially lowered floor of a disused coastal sandstone quarry these days fringed by several boatsheds on the shoreline.’
During my first summer of sailing, a group of us once dropped anchor off Coningham Beach to while away some time in the sun. There were beach umbrellas and swimmers in the water and on the boat music and great company. The day felt perfect.
Then, a couple of months after my kayaking trip across Ranggoerrade from Dru Point to these beaches, I came back with a friend and we walked the Coningham Clifftop Track. This peaceful walk takes you from Legacy Beach up behind the cliffs and along the steep shoreline out to Snug Point through dry sclerophyll forest. It’s used by several endangered species, including the forty spotted pardalote and the swift parrot. There are blue gums and sheoaks, heath bent grass, gentle rush and tailed spider orchids. It’s beautifully serene until you reach the point. There’s a turning circle up there. It’s possible to peer down over the cliffs. There directly beneath is an ugly fish farm, that one that always seems to be in the way whenever we want to tack.
Andrew Short (2006) points out that Coningham’s beaches are reflective. He means that of all those beaches thrashed by waves, reflective beaches receive those waves with the least energy. The surf zone is narrow, as are the beaches, and their sand is coarse.
Here’s a quick list of the beaches using Andrew Short’s numbering system:
1. T478, (Clarks Beach, aka The Dog Beach) 150 m of north facing sand with some rock flats between two sandstone points.
2. T479 (Little Coningham Beach) with its boat sheds. It’s in the next little embayment and is a bit longer than Clarke’s.
3. T480 (Coningham Beach) is on the eastern side of Hurst Point. It’s longer than the first two (about 500m), also has boat sheds and there are houses on the slope behind it.
4. T481 (Legacy Beach) 500m west of Snug Point, backed by forested slopes. It has cliffs and rocky platforms.
Sharples, Chris & P. Donaldson (2014). A first pass coastal assessment for Kingborough Local Government Area, Tasmania. University of Tasmania, Hobart.
As I kayaked towards the next headland I couldn’t see a thing beneath the water because of the sea state and I was trying to angle the kayak against the uppity swell. Walking, a path may take you away from the shore. In a kayak, the sea state can keep you at a distance from it too. I was having to focus harder and unlike when I’d kayaked the Tinderbox Peninsula’s eastern shore with numb legs, this time I’d adjusted my pedals too far forward, so the only purchase I was getting was with the tips of my toes. Meanwhile, the fetch was increasing, the water was darker and deeper and the white crests were getting more numerous. There was a small beach, only accessible by boat, on the northern side of the headland. Waves were breaking on it. I’d come back and explore it another day, I decided, because I did not want to risk capsizing.
Snug’s Coastline on Foot
Snug is another place on the Channel Highway that I’ve habitually driven through en route to other destinations, except for once, when we’d walked up to Snug Falls in the forest behind the town one wintery day. Not once when driving did I bother to imagine what it was like when this area was the domain of the South East Tribe or what impressions D’Entrecasteaux, Bass, Flinders and their crews formed on those early expeditions as they made the acquaintance of this part of the bay, comfortably secluded beneath the Snug Tiers and fed by the streams running down from them. Not for a moment had I stopped to imagine a fishing fleet operating out of Snug or small freight ships visiting in the early 1800s. In fact, I had never even connected Snug with the coastline.
In the 1820s timber cutters did business here and farmers took up land. A tiny settlement began to grow, but bushfires destroyed it in 1854, and returned again on 7 February 1967 to repeat the performance. There’s a monument in remembrance of those who lost their lives.
It was only more recently, with my attention increasingly focussed on Tasmania’s coastline, that I decided on a whim one day to turn south off the highway to see if I could reach the shore of North West Bay. I didn’t notice that the road was, in fact, called Beach Road.
It took me to the Esplanade and I found a caravan park, a footy field, a beautiful beach and and a peaceful little river. I was immediately won over by the way it curved around some lovely cliffs and quietly nosed its way into the bay between beach and headland. A little footbridge crossed it, providing access to the headland and so, without hesitating, the dogs (on their leads) and I bounded up it. There was a light drizzle. I soaked up the beautiful views. With Bruny Island at the opposite end of the bay it looked like an enclosed lake. There were a couple of yachts on moorings, the water was somnolent and a small motor boat puttered across it.
Snug Beach (T477)
Landcare have been doing careful work here and the beach was almost (but not totally) devoid of litter. It’s a lean beach and I think of it as green hued because of the green river and the thin strip of overlapping vegetation separating it from the road. There are no dunes, so to compensate there are neatly laid sandbags suggesting to the sea that it keeps back. Blackwoods grow right down to the beach. Of course, as the sea is swelling, there is coastal erosion because Snug is on a soft sediment plain cupped by sandstone slopes and there are rockfalls on the beach’s southern headland (Sharples & Donaldson, 2014)
Walking Snug Rivulet
It was a foul day. Snow had fallen and then settled overnight, but been washed away by rain in the early morning, and apart from being bitterly cold the waterladen sky sagged. Grey misery pervaded the landscape.
‘I think this is a great day to go to Recherche Bay,’ said the geologist.
My preference was to sit by the fire with a book, but I was also curious to revisit rivulets, now in flood. As we visited previously dormant streams now grown powerful and active, I recalled the Snug River. This was the perfect day to walk its banks.
We started at the coast and walked upstream around a leisurely bend. The tannin water, the reeds, and the river widening peacefully further upstream made for a pleasant stroll. There is a little wetland area with native grasses and reeds and a white faced heron and a large egret were enjoying the mudflats. We counted 22 hooded plovers there too and there was pink epacris in blossom, prickly moses, leptospermum lerigium, acacia dielbata, banksia marginata, eucalyptus amygdalina and sag. The multiplicity was greater than my botanical knowledge.
We passed two black pipes, side by side entering the river close to where I was now picking up litter – a dummy, plastic bottles and a cardboard drink container.
Where the river narrowed there were rapids and somewhere along here the path left the wetland and we had to walk along the side of a road. There were signs about dog control – dogs on the loose have been destructive. The river is in close proximity to houses and it isn’t fenced. It’s not just dogs, it’s people too. The litter up here was disappointing.
A native hen swam the river, making use of more rapids further upstream, and as we walked along the bridge on the Channel Highway I saw two tiny black ducklings in the reeds below but could not see their mother. There was a track on the other side of the bridge that followed alongside the opposite bank and then meandered up a hill. It was the old main road, we figured, closed off now to vehicles. We were high above the river flats with a filtered view through eucalypt forest but still we were picking up litter – more and more plastic, more and more styrofoam, all heading incrementally down to the waterway and on out into North West Bay.
At the top there was nowhere to go. We didn’t realise we were in the area allocated to the Electrona Industrial Park. There were houses and a path in the forest nearby had broken bridges. Old car parts were strewn through the undergrowth giving it an abandoned, somewhat hostile appearance. There was no incentive to explore; we returned the same way and when we got back to the beach we crossed the footbridge and did the headland walk the dogs and I had done before, only this time we carried on walking alongside a seafood factory, wondering exactly what it was. We came to its entrance. A notice proclaimed ‘Ralphs’ [Tasmanian Seafood Pty Ltd]. There were piles of abalone shells, a bad smell and a lot of litter.
Another astute business man and this time an Italian migrant success story (if you’re the human and not the piscean abalone predators) because this company had its beginnings when Ralph Caccavo, a prominent Tasmanian businessman, began exporting live abalone to China in 1996. It is now the world’s largest supplier of live abalone caught in the wild, exporting more than 500 tonnes per year out of a total Tasmanian catch of approximately 2,600 tonnes. Ralph’s also owns government-issued abalone catch quotas in Tasmania’ (Company website).
We strolled up to the factory again more recently. The abalone shells were all neatly bagged up and there wasn’t quite as much litter lying about the hillside.
Abalone fisheries are in decline and several areas have been closed this year. In the D’Entrecasteaux, there’s a belief that at least some of the reason is because of fish farms. If a generous proportion of those 2,600 tonnes were still in situ, I wondered, would there be more birds? Would the ecosystems be more intact? One of those self-evident questions, really.
Surfing a Following Sea
I rounded Snug Beach’s southern point and turned into the next bay, rather muddy looking and quite triangular, with Snug Creek entering at its northern end. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a concrete post looking like a monument in the water, but actually just part of a substantial jetty that was now a ruin and maybe a reminder of the days when fishing was more active here. This was another area I wanted to return to because, also out of the corner of my eye, I saw an appealing boatshed on a thin muddy shore. But the swell pushed me, this time from right behind, and I was surfing down a following sea, the kayak’s prow burying itself in the wave ahead. It was getting to be far too full on for my liking and so I turned to face these swells rolling in from the D’Entrecasteaux because at least that way I could keep my eye on them and there was less chance of them knocking me over.
I did not expect much of Electrona, my next waypoint, because I remembered the community objection to the Pioneer Silicon smelter that was built here in the late 1980’s. The company actually only lasted three years. Profit eluded them and those industrial dreams crumbled.
The smelter had risen like a phoenix from the ruins of the Electrona Carbide Works with its strong link to the Great Lake up on the Central Plateau. This company, owned by James Gillies, who dreamed big and clearly had energy, was a motivating factor for the construction of Tasmania’s Hydroelectric Power Scheme. He needed power for his zinc smelting process and calcium carbide factory (built in 1917) and so he made it all happen.
He called his enterprise Electrona because of the electricity and electrodes used for smelting, but after the 1967 bush fires howled through and destroyed it, and demand for carbide kept falling, the company became insolvent and 250 people found themselves reshaping dreams of the good life and looking for work elsewhere.
I wasn’t thinking about wrecked dreams, huge ambition or job anxiety as I paddled passed. I wasn’t even thinking about the beach north of the marina – the one the swans had paddled out from. I wasn’t paying the shore much attention at all because I was tilting with white capped swells and that demanded most of my attention.
On Peggys Beach
To look more closely at what I’d missed, I came back on foot a couple of times and discovered that Electrona now consists of two areas, a residential community called Peggy’s Beach where most of the houses are reasonably new and a small industrial sector.
Where once there were workers’ cottages it’s now a quiet, middle class suburb with some particularly large houses up the northern end. But although it doesn’t look anything like an industrial suburb anymore, it still rubs shoulders with industry because up on the headland dividing the Peggy’s Beach community from Snug, the Electrona Industrial Park has a quite commanding presence on the skyline, and up there, on the road leading into the park, some of the more modest homes remain.
There are two beaches on either side of the community’s northern headland and on the advice of some small boys with fishing rods coming towards us along a track, we took a path through bushland down to the beach on the northern side. It’s about 250 m long and faces east across the bay, and it’s a varied beach, in some places narrow, rocky and undercut, and in others lightly coved, then spreading out to create, at low tide, a lovely sandy zone much loved by soldier crabs. There are reeds and a wetland of sorts and it has a beautiful serenity on a warm day. Even though it’s not that long, we poked around for quite a while here, chatting to the mother of at least one of the boys with rods. They were heading out in a dinghy to fish for flathead but she lingered on the beach and shared some local information.
What I liked in particular was the way the coastline weaved an irregular line and it was a great place to cast your mind back across the Holocene, because there are artefact scatters and traces of midden and we also found the silcrete quarry that it’s likely the Mouheneenner and / or Nuenonne used back in the day. Now it’s protected by the Aboriginal Relics Act 1975, so we looked and contemplated the quarry in particular, then walked gently on the beach, not wanting to crush the armies of crustaceans clicking their way across the sand. This beach extends northwards until it reaches the Margate Marina and it’s a shame that this marrs the view a little, as this marina is more of a working boat yard.
A walk around the headland in a southerly direction leads you to Peggy’s Beach (S), or beach T476, in accordance with Short (2006). I accessed it once via the track around the headland and on a different day by taking a path between houses. It’s short with a slight curve, backed by a rather weed infested hill that is crested by houses. It’s constrained by the headland to the north and to the south by a point that has been industrialised by Tassal. They’ve got two fish pens about opposite a stormwater, it seemed to me. Depending on where you’re standing (or kayaking) these pens don’t look that far off the beach and although they’ve been there each time I’ve visited, perhaps they are in fact empty. Still, the beauty of the beach is compromised by its proximity to aquaculture.
Driving along the Channel Highway in this vicinity, I’d seen a sign that said Sunshine Industries and it’s supported by some text that is possibly in Mandarin. I couldn’t see where this company was actually located and so I searched the web and discovered that in 2005 five acres of land had been bought on the bay by a Lendlease Project Manager, Jeff Hunt, who had turned it into a company called Coastal Waters Seafoods. On his Linked In page he says he was ‘the sole Director & Secretary, CEO, Contract Administrator and tank Room Manager and built the company from Nothing to a $35m turnover per annum’ – and that he became Tasmania’s second largest exporter of abalone and lobster – ‘by 2012 [he was] exporting over 200 tonne of abalone and 100 tonne of southern rock lobster to Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Taiwan, Japan and Dubai’ (LinkedIn). In 2013 he sold it to a Chinese company and it’s now known as Sunshine Industries.
The southern headland is also better explored on foot but on the day I kayaked this stretch of coastline I was relieved to find that on rounding it I had at last reached Snug and that Coningham, my final destination, looked a whole lot closer.
Note: Like other parts of the coastline I’ve walked and kayaked, there’s a lack of certainty about the nomenclature. Getting conflicting advice about which beach was the actual Peggy’s Beach, I’ve referred to them as North and South, but the northern beach is in Barretta Bay and prior to construction along this shoreline may have been part of one beach around the embayment. (It’s confusing!)