Paddle 2018 – Experiencing the Yarrahapinni Wetlands

Braving cool showery squalls, about 20 intrepid paddlers formed a small flotilla of kayaks and canoes to enjoy the SOMR ‘Paddle on the Macleay’, to see the results of the restoration of Yarrahapinni Wetlands.

Save Our Macleay River Inc. (SOMR) were delighted to host and organise interesting stories from stakeholders about the return of the Yarrahapinni Wetlands to its natural state as a salt-water fish-nursery with regenerating mangroves. Almost 50 years of blockage of salt water and drainage, which released frequent and extreme pollution events, resulted in frequent oyster damage and fish-kill events. The return of the Wetlands being “alive again”, was found interesting and much appreciated by these hardy paddlers.

Congregating in light rain at the Golden Hole, Elder Uncle Neville Donovan welcomed the paddlers to this significant Aboriginal area.

Oyster grower Todd Graham greeted the paddlers and described the positive effects of the natural salt water flow in the Wetlands on the health of the river. Besides using improved breeding stock in recent times, the clean water has greatly contributed to oysters maturing very quickly. Unfortunately, black water events from the adjacent Clybucca Wetlands are still occurring with lethal effects on the oysters. The restoration of the Clybucca Wetlands is eagerly awaited.

Launching the boats at the Golden Hole

When entering the wetlands, with the almost high tide carrying them, the paddlers saw salt water pouring in, two to three-metre high mangroves establishing, an abundance of pelicans, cormorants, herons and other birds feeding on fish and even the regeneration of ‘sea-grass’ on the margins of Middle Island.

Paddeling into the Wetlands

Going up into The Broadwater, the real expanse of now established fish nursery habitat unfolded. The edges and low islands are strongly tinged with the light green of regenerating mangroves. To the east with a steeper bank is the coastal rainforest, believed to be on top of a part of one the largest recorded ‘Middens’ in Australia.

Going further up, young mangroves were seen in what used to be fresh-water reed ‘side-swamps’, now covered in salt water. After about 1.5 to 2km up, the mangrove regeneration became patchy, but there was one mature mangrove that had surprisingly survived the 45 years of fresh-water!

At a distance of 2-3 km from tidal salt water in flow, the paddlers could see that significant rehabilitation in this area will take time. Small areas of ‘Salt-Marsh’ regeneration are develop ing on the edges of the old and dug ‘channel’, but the dead fresh-water vegetation looked like a bomb zone!

The intrepid paddlers stopped for a ‘lunch-break’ at the site of ‘The Scalds’, some 3.5km up the Wetlands before returning. As the name suggests, this was a large area of Acid Sulphate surface soil scalds, releasing sulphuric acid and pollutants into the Macleay River Estuary every time it dried out and rained again – destroying fish, oysters and tourism.

Relaxing at the lunch break, listening to Matt Wills from NPWNSW

During the lunch break, paddlers were interested to hear from National Parks and Wildlife Service’s Matt Wills, of the next steps in the Yarrahapinni Wetlands rehabilitation. It is planned to remove further parts of the ‘levee’, fill-in the remnant ‘flood gates’ and undertake revegetation and bank stabilisation activities; thus restoring the wetlands close to its prior culturally significant and natural state.

Returning to the Golden Hole, most participants just let their boats drift, a most peaceful experience.

It was generally agreed by the paddlers, that this was one of the few ‘success stories’ for rehabilitation of a significant wetland and a boost to the reduction in damage to the environment, economy and tourism from past practices.

Paddle on the Macleay 2018

On October 13th, Save Our Macleay River (SOMR) will hold an event to promote awareness of developments and progress of the restoration of Yarrahapinni Wetlands and reduced Acid Sulphate and low dissolved oxygen pollution, as well as create an awareness of Antimony/Arsenic hot spots on the Lower Macleay

Bring your canoe, food and water for an informative, enjoyable day on Saturday October 13th to the Golden Hole 10km south of Stuarts Point by 11.30am.

Paddeling the little known Yarrahapinni Wetlands, participants can witness the restoration from artificial freshwater wetland to its natural salt water one and see the change in vegetation from Swamp-Oak to Mangrove. The re-introduction of tidal salt water has resulted in a massive reduction in Acid Sulphate and low Dissolved Oxygen pollution from the wetlands area and resulted in restoration to a significant fish nursery habitat.

The paddlers will also hear about the proposed Clybucca Wetlands restoration with similar issues, as well as Antimony/Arsenic impacts on the river and ‘hot spots’ in the estuary flood-plain.

The Paddle will go from The Golden Hole launch area, 9km south of Stuarts Point, to the top of the tidal extent of the Yarrahapinni Wetlands National Park and return the same way. The Paddle starts through the ‘Broadwater’, winds up the narrowing Borigalla / Barraganyatti Creek, past the old ‘Scalds’ area and up the old cut drain to the Whalan’s Bridge Area.

  • Paddle is about 5.5km each way, with incoming and outgoing tide, estimate about 1.5 to 2.0 hours each way.
  • Registration Form: Available below (scroll down to end of this post) and on facebook for pre-filling or completion on the day.
  • Registration Fee is $5.00 per person – to cover insurances – payable at registration before launch
  • Paddlers to bring safety equipment of life jacket, hats, sunscreen, insect repellent etc.

Due to inaccessibility

  • Paddlers to also bring: All food, water/drinks, etc as the area is too inaccessible for SOMR to provide same
  • No toilet ‘facilities’ will be available, paddlers need to follow appropriate bush/camping protocols.

Directions to The Golden Hole launch area for the 2018 Paddle

For pdf print version scroll to end of this post

  • Coming north or south on the Pacific Highway (A1) exit at the Stuarts Point Interchange and from the eastern roundabout take the Stuart’s Point exit.
  • Follow the signs to Stuarts Point and at the end of the road though the village, just past the shops, turn right toward Fishermans Reach for approximately 6km on bitumen road to the Boat Ramp area – where the bitumen ends!
  • At this point, there will be SOMR representatives to provide detailed directions. If 4WD drivers’ can; please offer to assist with transfer of those with 2 WDs.

For those with 2WDs or those wishing transport to the Golden Hole – Arrive at Fishermans Reach by 10.30am:

  • Stop here and find a safe parking area, that will not obstruct others or residents.
  • Approach a SOMR representative and ask for transfer to the Golden Hole launch-site.
  • Please ensure you have gathered ALL your ‘necessaries’ for easy loading, as asked by a SOMR representative. (This to include: hat, sunscreen, life jacket, water, food, car keys, $ for registration fee, etc. – And of-course your canoe and paddle!)

For those with 4WDs, directions will include:

  • Continue past some houses on the right and keep going take one of the sand tracks under the powerline for about 3.5km.
  • At the fence-line, take the right-hand track into the Yarrahapinni Wetlands National Park westwards. (Please do not leave this track. – To protect the highly significant ‘middens’ in this area.)
  • Continue along this track until you reach ‘The Golden Hole’ and please park as directed, for assembly prior to launch.

Click for print version of indemnity/registration form with info summary Paddle 2018 Registration/Indemnity and DirectionsMap2018

Revisiting Hillgrove Mine – 30th July 2018

From 620m underground to the Tailings dams on the escarpment, SOMR representatives explored what a mine in Care & Maintenance looks like.
Guided by Peter Hosking, Care & Maintenance manager and metallurgist, with Senior Geologist Mitch Tarrant, SOMR representatives were given an overview of the current operations at Hillgrove, and a tour of Metz Mine Centre, water management facilities and Brackin’s Spur Mine.
Hillgrove Mine ceased production of Antimony in 2016, entering a phase of exploration for gold resources and Care and Maintenance.
There are four main areas of focus in Care and Maintenance; environmental management, maintaining the asset, maintaining licenses and consents for mining and exploration, and promoting future investment.
Hillgrove mine currently employs six staff, Peter, Mitch, a Fitter, an electrician, and two machinery operators. These staff must fulfil multiple roles in the management of the mine.
At various stages of the life of the mine, it has produced both gold and antimony. To be responsive to market forces, they need to be able to balance extraction, and processing of both elements.
Water management is a key process in mining, and the major cause for potential environmental concern. Hillgrove invested significant funding to provide infrastructure to allow improved water management, ventilation of the mine and exploratory drilling. 
Current dam levels are low, and the mine could manage two one in a hundred-year rain events according to the manager Peter Hosking. The investment in new membranes for the Reverse Osmosis water treatment plant, at a cost of around $75,000 is a further step in ensuring contaminated water does not enter the catchment.
Monitoring of the Tailings dams continues to follow the robust procedures in place when the mine was in production – daily visual and detailed weekly inspections, monthly water sampling, monthly piezometer recordings and three-monthly surveying to check for dam wall movement are still implemented.
SOMR would like to see Tailing Storage Facility 1, a dam commissioned in 1982, removed, the contents reprocessed, and the remaining contaminated material stored well away from the escarpment in a modern, well-engineered containment facility, with the current site revegetated. 
Maintaining the mine in care and maintenance is an ongoing expense, with no income, Hillgrove are keen to find investors to allow them to recommence operations.
If investors are not forthcoming, the company is still obliged to care for the site and to protect the river.