Creek running into Solitary Islands Marine Park

Our catchments are in crisis.

Have you ever heard of sliding baseline syndrome? The idea comes out of biology and relates to a worsening state of an ecosystem that is assessed differently by the current generation than a previous one.

You can imagine that not that long ago, Coffs waterways were pristine and abundant with aquatic life.

Scientific reports repeatedly illustrate creeks and rivers in the Coffs Harbour LGA today fair poorly in comparison to what they once would have been and this week our intensive horticuture industry, the NSW DPI and with SCU researchers are apparently finding a better balance between nitrogen pollution and waterway health. Good news!

But research from SCU has previously identified heavy metal sediments in soil profiles that date back decades and continue to this day so they know the impacts intensive hort. has had and continues to have on our creeks and rivers is not just with ammonia/nitrate fertiliser.

The political issue with the current bioreactor approach is it is still experimental and likely expensive. Several questions come to mind:

– Who pays for this in the long term? Does the tax-payer or private land owners foot the bill?

– Who manages the programs implementation?

– Will these bioreactors be installed at every major run off point on every farm?

– What about land clearing, how does this affect nitrate run off?

– Why are there not more initiatives to stop farm run off such as widening stream buffers, installing contour banks, transitioning soil plants to a hydroponic system and then setting leachate targets for blueberry crops?

It’s clear that this experiment seeks to uphold business-as-usual agriculture while also ‘protecting’ our waterways.

It certainly makes you feel better, but will it really do the job of protecting our waterways?

It is a difficult issue to discuss because it involves livelihoods but we must keep having this discussion and improving farm practices that leave little to no footprint.

It seems farms would do well with more support to reduce run off and acidification of soils but the size of the industry, the rapid expansion of farms and their 10yr turnover suggest this is a band aid on an arterial bleed.

Are our waterways the breeding grounds for the Solitary Islands Marine Park or the breeding ground for algae and eutrophication?

We need Council to be a community ‘watchdog’ for what’s happening in our catchments.

If it wasn’t for the Environmental Levy paid by ratepayers then SCU may not have been able to achieve as much research into the catchment crisis as it has in recent years. It’s highly likely the NSW DPI and LLS would not have measured catchment pollution as effectively if at all.

I believe deep down we all want our community’s catchments to be healthy but can we trust the dominant cultural attitude that puts profits before the planet, externalises costs and accepts ‘tragedy of the commons’ lingo?

We need Council to be there for us as a people so our kids will enjoy this world as much as we do.

Our catchments are in trouble but we can make them healthy and abundant with life by continuing to fund independent research and developing policies that make a difference!!

See ABC news coverage here.

Jonathan Cassell
Jonathan Cassell

2021 Coffs Harbour Mayoral Candidate


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