D’Entrecasteaux Channel: North West Bay: Barretta – Who knew?

Fishy Business

Dru Point to Snug-1
Heading towards the Margate Jetty

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

Margate and David Burrows Reserve-2.jpg
View of the Margate Jetty from the Dave Burrows Reserve

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 Company back 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.

On 3rd May 2016 an ABC News headline read:

‘Tasmania’s abalone industry overfished and heading for collapse, veteran divers warn’

Yet on 7 Jan 2017 The Examiner reported:

Tasmanian abalone exports to China double in 2016′

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:

‘Cool pristine waters, wild seclusion and an environment untouched by development allow us to hand harvest only the purest sea produce for you.’

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.

A fourth company drew my attention.  It’s  Hai Loong Seafood Export Pty. Ltd. and it arranges freight transportation for abalone and lobster.   It claims an annual sales volume of $1.6 million, has a tiny staff of four (the director is also the secretary) and its revenue per employee is $400,032 or ‘86% more revenue per employee than the average company in Australia …’.

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%.

Margate and David Burrows Reserve.jpg
Industrial pipes crossing Tramway Creek

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.

Margate and David Burrows Reserve-3
Coastal erosion and cobble beach detail*

 I crossed a tiny rivulet and then noticed houses behind a  sandy beach, with the Margate marina visible in the distance.

Margate and David Burrows Reserve-2.jpg
Barretta Bay dinghies
Margate and David Burrows Reserve-4
Rivulet enters the next bay along.  Margate Marina to the south.

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.

Margate and David Burrows Reserve-5
Funghi & Eucalypt

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.

Margate and David Burrows Reserve-4.jpg
The Baretta beach north of the Margate Marina (a facility on the southern end of Barretta).

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.

Marina beach.jpg
Beach on the northern side of Margate Marina

** 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.

D’Entrecasteaux Channel: North West Bay by kayak

What my kayak and I discovered in Ranggoeradde [North West Bay]

The Tortoise and the Elephant

NW BAY SECTION 1-1-2.jpg
Cliffs passed as I entered  Ranggoeradde

And so I left vibrant Tinderbox Marine Reserve behind me and turned into Ranggoeradde,  better known as North West Bay. Calling it by a name so redolent in history restores something of its original character, despite the fact that it has been stripped of its myths and stories and the people who told them aren’t really recognised anymore.

NW BAY SECTION 1-1-3.jpg
Fallen giant

A lot may have been lost in  translation.  It’s easy to withhold, mislead, confuse or misunderstand when it comes to words and their meanings, particularly when the relationship between the teller and the person with the quill is untrusting, or uncertain at best.  Ranggoeradde may not have been properly translated at all.

It’s a low energy embayment of about 2,000 ha. and it now  lay spread out before me.  It’s eastern shore is also the western shore of the Tinderbox Peninsula and it’s easy to forget this as you wander about this area.  There’s a long winding road that feels its way down that particular edge of the bay, past a number of Howden houses set in big blocks of land, a couple of small bays (somewhat muddy) and a bus shelter that doubles as a local book exchange or perhaps a community library.  It’s a good road to cycle but it’s still on my ‘to do’ list.  It’s a good area to walk too, and on this eastern side there are three spots of interest:  Wingara, Stinkpot Bay and the Peter Murrell Reserve, and I was heading to Wingara to catch up with the patient geo.

NW BAY SECTION 1-1

The further I went into the bay, the more I noticed that diversity beneath my kayak  was diminishing, and I realised that this bay is like a tortoise trying to support an elephant on its stoic little back.  It carries the suburb of Howden, the country towns of Margate, Electrona and Snug, as well as Conningham, where shacks along a short series of sandy beaches now make up something of a commuter suburb.

The North West River plummets down the southern slope of kunanyi (Mt Wellington) and when it happens to be dry its bed gleams with large, pale boulders and when it’s in flood it’s strength is so awesome your breath catches.  It enters Ranggoerrade, and so does the lovely Snug Rivulet, hugging its secrets to itself in a dreamy sort of way, a perfectly beautiful miniature estuary.  They, along with various rivulets entering the bay, carry local litter, grey water, toxins and the like.  That’s more than enough,  but there’s a fish farm here that ups the nutrient load, a bit of light industry (pre-cast concrete and glazing), a seafood factory and a marina, moorings and a boat yard as well as a sewage works. (Jordan et al. 2002) as cited here.

It wouldn’t take me long to reach Wingara, I figured, but then I saw the sandstone cliffs and my speed slackened off again.  They were stunning and I got snap happy.  Never high, they sloped downwards, eucalypts and grasslands above, and gave way to a cobbled shoreline.

NW BAY SECTION 1-2
Weathering artistically – when geology morphs into art form

Andrew Short (2006) doesn’t mention beaches on this side of the bay in his inventory of Tasmanian beaches, and I had flipped my strategy for exploring beaches.  Instead of high tide, for the D’Entrecasteaux and kayaking I wanted high tides, expecting mostly muddy shores.  That’s why, on this trip, I sometimes floated above beaches drowned by the tide and gazed at ancient ones laid down in the sandstone’s stratigraphy.  I came to a cove with  a private beach and tried that lifestyles on for size.

NW BAY SECTION 1-5
The quietude of private beaches
NW BAY SECTION 1-4
Only rec fishers! For a moment I thought they were  fish farm workers out to bust me for straying into fish farm waters
NW BAY SECTION 1-7
The bay spread before me but below the water it wasn’t so uplifting anymore

It was as I paddled along the shoreline beside the fish farm that I really noticed the decline in seagrasses and seaweed. From the fish farm and that first house on the shore, it became less interesting beneath the water but the cliffs were awesome. Sometimes I had to go out a little wider to avoid the ‘bommies’. Occasional the kayak scratched as I went over them in too shallow water. I was constantly lifting my rudder.

I negotiated the fish farm and the Wingara jetty, passing cormorants holding their wings out to dry.  The geo was standing on the rocky platform staring at the cliffs.  So far, it had been an absorbing paddle, but I thought how westerners accuse some of the cultures amongst whom they’ve settled their flagpoles of not planning for tomorrow. We haven’t necessarily recognised that actually, we are the ones that haven’t planned for tomorrow in the most significant of ways.  We’ve used up ecosystems like their isn’t going to be one.  We’re the destruction and destruction doesn’t give a damn.  That’s why all around us there are tortoises balancing elephants.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A little more about this tortoise and that elephant:

The State of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the lower Huon Estuary report (Parsons, 2012) states the following about North WestBay:

  • At risk from nutrient loading due to high terrestrial inputs of nutrients and reduced flushing times
  • Experiences turbidity values far in excess of the upper national guideline value during high flows of the North WestBayRiver
  • Dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in North WestBay are variable and have dipped as low as 58% saturation in bottom waters during summer, reflecting poor environmental health
  • Occasional elevated values of contamination highlight the vulnerability of some beaches and other recreational sites to short‐term spikes in bacterial loads. Primary areas of concern in recent years include Margate and Snug
  • Evidence of environmental legacy issues at the former heavy industrial site at Electrona, although measures have been implemented to mitigate impacts on the Channel
  • Heavy metals are also elevated in sediments in deep, silty areas of North WestBay

Source:  Kingborough Council. North West Bay