The view from Goat’s Bluff is splendiferous and uplifting, but it’s a threatened vista because the toads are coming. I didn’t know if such a term (threatened vista) for endangered beauty existed but then I found literature on seascapes and this, right here on a Tas government site:
‘The condition of scenic landscape values is important for Tasmania for a variety of reasons… landscape values often have an association with environmental and natural resource values – the values that people appreciate in a landscape may often also be important ecologically.’
And the report goes on to recommend that ‘… scenic landscapes and areas of consistent and recognisable landscape character be recognised in local and regional strategies in relation to beneficial values including natural resource management; open space and recreation; vegetation management; catchment management; and coastal management.’
Which brings us to the messy issue surrounding Storm Bay
Storm Bay is bound by North Bruny Island, South Arm Peninsula, the Tasman Peninsula and the tip of the Tinderbox Peninsula, which means that there are any number of brilliant perspectives from which you can view this tempestuous bay.
It’s the wilds – right there, where the Derwent River and the D’Entrecasteaux enter it in company and sometimes a gale blowing across the bay can bring that sense of the menacing wild right up the river and into the city.
Storm Bay has a few anchorages along the exposed coastline of Bruny Island for yachts seeking sanctuary from foul weather. Samos has hung out in Bull Bay off North Bruny enjoying this environment distinct from the river, where the movement of the swell and the surf hold warnings and the feeling of being out here is unique from the river and Channel.
Let’s Not Forget the Voiceless
It’s not just people who are vested in the bay. It provides feeding grounds for the migratory shearwater and other shorebirds and seabirds. It is traversed by dolphins and whales, penguins and seals. Life flourishes on its reefs and I hope you’ll agree that seaweeds have a right to the good life too.
Storm Bay is the magnificently scenic entry that stops people’s hearts when approaching Hobart by sea, the you and me as well as those Sydney-Hobart sailors and passengers on cruise liners. And rounding the Iron Pot, as you sail down the Derwent marks the point, both mental and physical, at which you finally feel you are sailing the ocean, albeit coastal.
It is the aquatic commons of the whole glorious multiplicity of us and its moody beauty is deeply loved. Even on a fine day you know its mood can change in an instant and with too much sail out you are quickly humbled.
Goodbye to All That
Storm Bay is about to change into an industrial zone. The three Tasmanian fish farming companies – Tassal, Petuna and Huon Aquaculture – are encroaching massively on our aquatic commons and while their heady expansion plans are good for the economy in the short term, the public’s interest and that of other sentient and non-sentient communities stand to be sacrificed by government complicity. There are fish farm leases planned for Storm Bay and they’ll be visible over vast distances, all around the lovely shoreline. The relaxing high and sense of connection that Nature gifts us will give way to further despair. The scenic vistas will be destroyed.
We have already lost grand views and the sense of desolation many of us feel when we try to navigate through multiple leases or view bays and waterways taken up by ugliness reflects the all consuming loss felt by the people we replaced when their hunting grounds and sacred sites became no go areas and disappeared under pasture and houses. This time, buried in that same greed and disdain lies self mutilation.
Navigating Storm Bay, especially in gales, will become more dangerous. The plastic pollution, the exceeded nitrogen caps and the damage to reefs that the companies have caused in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Macquarie Harbour will happen here too. These companies are bringing along that same disdain for the commons, those same bad habits. For example, so often they’ve been advised that when towing pens they need markers on their lines because the distance can be such that other vessels could accidentally cross between with dire consequences. This week, in the Channel, we again noticed a tow underway without markers. It’s disrespectful, it’s frustratiang and it’s downright dangerous.
The weight of the farms on top of visible climate change impacts worries a lot of us down this part of the world. After all, we are a climate change hot spot.
It’s beyond disappointing that the companies said they were heading offshore then chose to plonk themselves down in this significant coastal bay – to plonk themselves down in the magnificent entrance to the Derwent. And rather than deep ocean – just take a lead from this, guys – they’re heading for the coastal zones of our offshore islands, those last bastions of the birds. There, amongst sparsely habited islands they can get away with environmental savagery. But on King Island some are beginning to cry foul.
In the future, Petuna’s leases just south of Betsey Island are going to marr the Goats Bluff view. Tassal’s will probably be visible too. You’ll see pens from Bruny and that’s why the locals are concerned there too. Friends of North Bruny, the Bruny Island Community Association and the Bruny Island Environment Network have joined forces to call for a moratorium on this alarming expansion of fish farms into Storm Bay.
Almost everyone wants these companies to really be clean and green and to excel at that, as opposed to dirtying the waterways they’ve encroached into. But that means upping their standards and appreciating the limits to growth, respecting the public and their customers. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t seem to be something they’re in any rush to do.
We only have one planet. Let’s stop hampering its efforts to nourish us.
Guarnieri, G et al. 2016. The Challenge of Planning Conservation Strategies in Threatened Seascapes: Understanding the Role of Fine Scale Assessments of Community Response to Cumulative Human Pressures. PLOS. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149253
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.’
I was back on the little Margate beach just south of Dru Point ready to start on my second expedition in North West Bay. The beach was kayak friendly on the high tide, and I put in there while the ducks looked on and the cormorants held out their wings, enjoying the sun.
The water was clear and shallow. Sunlight made silver waves along the bay’s floor. I paddled over seagrass and a variety of red seaweeds, then through the moorings below the Esplanade (a narrow waterside road backed by a few houses) and within minutes I was at the Margate jetty.
There are two large jetties on this point and they both had fishing boats alongside. I slipped by them and found myself in a small, sombre bay where the aquatic flora looked unhappy. They were competing with a hazy looking algae that seemed to be a stranger amongst them and in the middle of the bay there was an accidental fountain around which a number of bemused seagulls were bobbing. It seemed to be caused by a pipe linked to one of the aquaculture businesses here.
Where there are boats there is diesel and bilge water, the possibility of sewage and waste water and other contaminants from anti-fouling and the like and I figured this might be the reason for the bay’s poor appearance. However this little bay was about to give me a far bigger education about pollution, profits and so-called pristine environments.
Behind the Jetty: Where Fortunes Are Quietly Made
From my kayak I’d never have noticed that in this modest, rather bushy area there’s a place called North West Bay Maritime Park where fortunes are being amassed, but I came here one day in a light drizzle to look around on foot and discovered that behind the jetties there are a couple of thought provoking buildings.
One belongs to Tassal. They own that fish farm off Wingara and the northern jetty seemed to be linked to their operation. Their neighbour is a business linked to one of Tasmania’s wealthiest men, Allen G Hansen. He started the Tasmanian Seafood Companyback in 1969, arriving from Wisconsin with a colourful history and $16,000 in his pocket. Those dollars had expanded into a fortune of $211 million by 2008 thanks to his abalone, sea cucumber and whiting business, and for a while he was amongst Australia’s richest two hundred individuals. That southern jetty looked to be the one his company would use.
OH&S, Environmental Destruction and Overfishing
Tassal receives community flack for habitat destruction and, as this ABC News article (2015) indicates, abalone divers also point to salmon farming as a significant cause of environmental destruction impacting on their livelihoods.
The Tasmanian Seafood Co keeps its head down and on its website it gives little away about how it operates, but the death of a diver in 2007 brought the company’s poor OH&S practices at sea to the attention of the coroner (SMH 16 Jan, 2010) and according to this article the company did not believe it held any responsibility because of the sub-contracting arrangement it had with divers. The Code of Practice on the Worksafe Tasmania website is dated 2002 and does not directly address the issue of overloading boats.
Locally, the Dept of Primary Industries, Water and the Environment regulates the abalone fishery. and they provide access to the IMAS Abalone Stock Assessments reports.. The agency is clearly concerned about the decline in stocks because they have closed some areas. But is it enough? Tasmania’s economy relies on abalone export and salmon farming creating a conflict of interest for the government, who is also the regulator, and there’s a history here of overfishing and its associated environmental consequences. The monitoring is improving, but it’s got to be dire if abalone divers are alarmed.
Giving and Taking
Alan Hansen contributes to sports clubs around his rural home town of Smithton in the North West of the state, and he’s received a citizenship award for this, but I wondered how much this company does to demonstrate gratitude to the marine environment that has extended generosity to the point of exhaustion in enabling him to amass his personal fortune? The website doesn’t mention any reciprocity extending back in this direction. There’s no mention about sustainability either.
Collapsing Fisheries in Pristine Environments
This bay, where these seafood companies have a home, is certainly not pristine although the waters where Tasmanian Seafood gets its abalone from apparently are. Their website states:
But that’s not true. Plastics, often attributed to fish farms (including Tassal), wash up on the shores off which abalone are taken and nanoplastics are part of the food cycle now. The latest 2017 Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies report on the fishery as at 2015 provides a history of the industry, indicates an overall decline of abalone in Tasmanian waters and comments on the impact of climate change.
I explored up a dirt road close by. Behind a high wire fence an alsatian guard dog went crazy and I backed off. It was intent on protecting what looked to be Tony Garth’s Seafood Company. It specialises in rock lobster and scallops and they come from the ‘pristine waters of Tasmania’ too. They’re another company with the briefest of websites, but they have a more open presence on Facebook and they sell both locally and internationally, whereas, until recently, Tasmania’s commercial abalone landed up on foreign plates.
My perspective of North West Bay had changed significantly. I now knew a whole lot more about abalone. Out of interest, the take of recreational divers is less than 2%.
The Dave Burrows Reserve
The Dave Burrows track starts just east of Tramway Creek (although there’s a link to Beach Road if you want a longer walk and, in fact, you can begin this track from various spots around Barretta, the area between Margate and Electrona).
The track meanders through remnant bushland following the edge of the water and where that fountain was spurting skywards was in the same bay that Tramway Creek flows into. There’s a little bridge that crosses that damaged creek with its infestation of crack willow.
Companies Despoiling Their Local Environment
That’s where a couple of black pipes are horribly visible in this reserve, sloping down the hillside beside the creek and crossing the creek in an anti-social fashion. It was hard to figure our who owned them. They look like in-take and out-take pipes, but I can only speculate, and as I tried to figure it all out it occurred to me that if water is taken out of this bay, what’s it being used for? Signage would help the public to understand. It’s surely not for use on shellfish or fish taken from ‘pristine’ environments, because that bay is dirty and it would further muddy the concept. All I know for sure is that it was visually unpleasing and if those pipes broke they’d make an even bigger mess of that hillside than it currently is, despite the good efforts of the Derwent Avenue Landcare group that tends the reserve.
These pipes may been the cause of the fountain in the bay. The closest company appeared to me to be Tony Garth’s Seafood, but I wasn’t risking the alsatian to find out for sure.
Boats and Bays
As for the beach, it looks south east. It’s skinny and its sand is dark but it has cliffs and still manages to look quite pretty. There was a low point on the southern edge of this bay where a couple of dinghies had been hauled up on the slope. Then the shore curves around and runs a little further along the base of some cliffs composed of soft tertiary sediments* that are prone to slumping. After that the path ran behind a thin cobbled beach to another point.
I crossed a tiny rivulet and then noticed houses behind a sandy beach, with the Margate marina visible in the distance.
This walk took all of 40 mins but it meandered through pleasant coastal woodlands, with traces of middens. That day four seagulls and a crow represented the avian nations at Baretta Bay, but plovers and magpies inhabit the suburban streets behind it and botanical discoveries made up for the empty skies.
Barretta by Boat
That was the sum of my exploring on foot, but sitting there in my kayak. I left the bemused seagulls to contemplate the fountain and paddled out of that quiet, degraded bay, hoping that beneath the water Spotted handfish might still be quietly living their benthic lives, hunting for crustaceans and worms while walking on their ‘hands’. Locals comment that you could once stand in knee deep water at Barretta and see pipefish and seahorses, but that’s no longer the case.
At the time I did this kayak trip I had no notion of the geography of this area and though I searched for names on maps there were few to help me. From this point to the Margate Marina (which isn’t really in Margate) I’m filling in the blank on the map by simply calling it Barretta Bay – but I’m happy to be corrected.
The water was reasonably calm but a south easterly breeze was producing the odd white cap as I proceeded along the shoreline. I was keeping an eye out for birds, but yet again I wasn’t seeing anything.
A 2011 study (Mount & Otera) showed that seagrass habitat in North West Bay had declined over a period of sixty years, with big changes happening in the mid-1980s. Barretta was singled out for attention.
The State of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the lower Huon Estuary report (Parsons, 2012) considers North West Bay ‘at risk from nutrient loading due to high terrestrial inputs of nutrients and reduced flushing times.’ It also states that it ‘experiences turbidity values far in excess of the upper national guideline value during high flows of the North West Bay River’ and that ‘dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in North West Bay are variable and have dipped as low as 58% saturation in bottom waters during summer, reflecting poor environmental health.’
The report goes on to say that ‘occasional elevated values of contamination highlight the vulnerability of some beaches … due to short‐term spikes in bacterial loads’ and ‘heavy metals are also elevated in sediments in deep, silty areas of North West Bay.’
So probably not the best place to farm fish, I was thinking, as I paddled along a Baretta beach and saw ahead of me another stretch of sand that I figured was possibly accessible on foot. This was good to know because there was a strong current keen to push me ashore and given that the swell seemed to be increasing by the minute, I was keen to nip around the next headland and arrive safely on Snug Beach.
Not Snug Enough
I reached the marina. There’s a tiny north facing beach here where I found a multitude of what I think are New Zealand screw shells. They’re pretty but a pest. This small beach is isolated from the rather lovely beach south of the marina although once they would have been a single beach.
Now, as well as the marina and boatyard, Tassal has a building here too and so does an engineering outfit. I walked south to the boatyard to work out the geography. There were swans off that lovely southern beach, several pairs, with reeds behind them and some large houses on the hillside. Where I was standing in the boatyard the water was clear but awfully stinky and there was a lovely view of the bay from another new perspective.
My geography had let me down. Those houses were the beginning of Electrona, not the country town of Snug at all, and when I rounded the headland I found myself back in the middle of aquaculture activity – two fish farm pens were just off the beach, opposite a stormwater drain, and close to the slipway, so presumably they were empty. There was a large somewhat industrial looking building and a whole lot of parked cars on the hillside. I figured that if it was public access I might be able to walk down to that small beach below the slope some other day – but when I did eventually go looking my way was barred by a locked gate. It was another Tassal site.
** See Sharples, C and Donaldson, P, A first pass coastal hazard assessment for Kingborough Local Government Area, Tasmania, Kingborough Council, Tasmania (2014) [Contract Report] for information about the geology.