New Year and the health of the Bay
Taking the plunge – diving right in to 2023.
I joined the Port Melbourne Icebergers at 8.00 am on Saturday for my baptism into 2023. Their numbers have swelled since the group was founded in 2016 by local resident David Sinclair as a way of stimulating community wellbeing. The companionship and goodwill in the group more than fulfills any aspirations David had.
The Bay was a mild 22 degrees – not icebergy at all. P & O’s Pacific Explorer was easing in to its berth at Station Pier assisted by two tugs.
The Bay has been hammered since the floods in the catchment in October. It was nearly Christmas before swimming was once again declared safe by the EPA. The water was murky and thick looking.
The EPA’s Beach Report for 13 November revealed the dire situation at a glance. Water quality at each of the 36 monitored sites around the Bay and the few on the Yarra was rated ‘poor’.
The health of the Bay and the Yarra River and its catchment are absolutely interdependent. People were robbed of their swimming joy. But as Ramona Headifen reminded me: ‘what about the fish, the creatures … ?’
Barely had swimming been declared safe again than the EPA issued a new alert as there had been an oil spill. The spill was later identified as palm oil, neither harmful to people or dogs, and swimming resumed.
From 1 December to Labour Day in March, the EPA Beach Report, issues advice about the water quality of 36 Port Phillip Bay beaches. The standing advice is not to swim near drain outlets for 24 to 48 hours after rain.
The annual report on the Beach Report programme for the period 1 December 2021 to March 2022, released in June 2022, found that water quality was generally good and that forecasts generally matched actual conditions. The good results can largely be attributed to the dryer conditions prevailing over that period.
It will only be when the Annual Report for the season 1 December 2022 to March 2023 is published later this year that we see the actual effect of the October rain on water quality in the Bay.
The ongoing challenge is how to de-couple rain from the harmful pollution it picks up in stormwater and carries to creeks, drains and into the rivers. We’ve got to work towards ensuring that only clean, or cleansed water, flows enter the Bay. That means tackling each of the diffuse sources of pollution: plastic pollution, dog faeces, tyre and other fragments from motor vehicles, septic tank overflows and more.
In a farewell message when he left Port, David Sinclair said: “I encourage everyone to say hi to a stranger in the street, to pick up rubbish, to advocate for the things that you know will make your neighbourhood a brighter, safer, friendlier place”.
And so they do.
Many of the Port Melbourne Icebergers are also committed members of 3207 Beach Patrol and 3207 Love our Street which pick up litter from beach and street so that it doesn’t end up in the Bay.
Caring for the Bay.
Australia Day in its complexity of meaning and association can be a prompt to an imaginative remembering of a time when heavy rain in the catchment of the Birrarung would bring life giving sediments down the River to spread out across the estuary, where birds and fish would breed and thrive and breed – just as in some of the flooded areas in northern Victoria right now – and provide abundant food too.
The weather in early January has borne out Melbourne’s reputation for four seasons in one day. On Tuesday evening, 17th January, when the heat and stuffiness of the day felt unbearable – it reached over 37 degrees – the cool change came. Wind gusts of 87.1 kph (WSW) were recorded at Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron at 18.45 pm.
Barry Vincent caught the moment the change came.
People fled the beach as the wind gusts whipped the sharp sand off the beach. The beach cleared in minutes. The sand found any opening in the sea wall to blow off the beach on to the foreshore path. Crested terns, which seem to emerge in these very windy, turbulent conditions, hovered above Lagoon Pier. The spinifex seed heads joined together and sped along the path.
Within 5 minutes, the storm had passed.
Sign up to receive water quality alerts to your phone from the EPA’s website.
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Read the full Annual report of Beach Report 2021 – 2022 to find out more about the forecasting approach and the Environmental Reference Standard which guides the forecast.