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The Bay or the Harbour?

Port Phillip Bay compared

Tim Flannery enters the Sydney/Melbourne fray from a different angle in a piece in The Monthly by comparing the health of Port Phillip Bay unfavourably with Sydney Harbour.

Australian of the year in 2007 and currently Chief of the Climate Council, Professor Flannery is perhaps better known nationally and internationally than for his association with his home town, Melbourne. Flannery grew up exploring Port Phillip Bay. After a 33 year gap he returned to dive in the Bay near Beaumaris only to find the bay wonderland of his childhood gone, replaced with a dispiriting green algae covered waste’bay’.

All drains lead to the Bay. Heavy rain rushing over the spreading impervious surfaces of the suburbs drives all litter, oil and dog waste before it into creeks and the Bay.  ‘We are strangling the Bay’, he says, through intensifying a certain kind of urban development in the catchments.

After rain, I watched the Yarra River at Yarra’s Edge flowing steadily towards the Bay, bearing before it the load of our careless consumption and disposal.  A plastic garbage bin like a strange beast reared its yellow head as it moved past.

Smart Yarra’s Edge looked more like the Pacific garbage patch.  Autumn leaves, polystyrene chunks and beads, and plastic bottles of every brand made a dense carpet across the marina.


Professor Flannery says we need a better model for managing Port Phillip Bay to restore it to health. We first have to recognise that we have a problem to want to change the way the Bay is managed. The channel deepening project prompted an outpouring of love for the Bay but our attention needs to turn to the catchment of every street and shopping strip.

New approaches to managing stormwater are increasingly being used. Raingardens slow the passage of stormwater, provide cooling on hot days, and bring plants into the landscape. Instead of hard, impervious surfaces, soil can act like a reservoir, holding water for plants.

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raingardens slow, cleanses and filters stormwater before it heads to the Bay

Where to go to find out about the state of the Bay?

The Cleaner Yarra Cleaner Bay initiative is a good start to build on. It brings the Yarra River and the Bay together in a monitoring and reporting framework. It is a ‘one stop’ access point for information in the current dispersed, some would say, fragmented system of governance for the Bay.

While every gram of common sense suggests that dealing with the litter problem at the source is the way to go, cleaning up has to be a priority until such time as that is done.

So – Port Places gives a big shout-out to all those who care for the Bay – the Beach Patrol movement now covering 14 beaches and 30 km of Port Phillip Bay, the Port Phillip Baykeeper , the coast care groups, and all other advocates and champions of the River and the Bay.

With rain ahead, a good place to start is the kerb and channel outside your place. Think of it as a creek to the Bay and look after it that way. Don’t wait for the next time the Council comes round. The Bay is too important.

What to do?

Join 3207 Beach Patrol on the first Saturday of each month at 9 am to clean Port’s beaches

Follow the Plastic Pollution Coalition‘s suggestion by refusing single use plastic – straws and bottled water for example

Take 3 – pick up 3 items whenever you’re out and about


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