“Our oceans know no borders.” John Gemmill, from the Clean Ocean Foundation, stands on a beach next to the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt. Together they are outlining a Wonthaggi-based project that aims to reduce the amount of effluent pumped into coastal waters right around Australia.
At the start of this century, beachcombers, swimmers, fishers, surfers and other lovers of the sea formed the Clean Ocean Foundation, an environmental charity focused on issues related to ocean pollution. A consistent theme has been campaigning to clean up and reduce the amount of plastic washed up on our beaches and improve the quality of the water discharged into our oceans. An avid follower of the foundation, Wonthaggi’s John Gemmill is now CEO.
A major achievement of the organisation was an upgrade to the Eastern Treatment Plant that discharges through a sewage outfall at Gunnamatta, near the southern tip of Mornington Peninsula. Originally built in 1975, the plant handled about half of Melbourne’s sewage, dumping more than 110 billion litres of treated water into the sea each year.
The upgrade transformed the plant into one of the most sophisticated large-scale sewage treatment facilities in the world. It added an advanced tertiary stage to the sewage treatment process with a visible impact on the marine environment and popular Gunnamatta surf beach, with less colour, foam, and clearer water.
John says that since achieving the crucial upgrade of the Eastern Treatment Plant, the foundation has focused on a national approach to addressing sewage outfalls into oceans. Under his leadership, the Federal Government has allocated funding to create a cohort of citizen scientists to monitor the impact of sewage on Australia’s marine ecosystems.
John is thrilled that the Government has recognised the value of a national outfall database as a very important step in cleaning up Australia’s coastline, and honoured that the foundation will deliver it.
In these parsimonious times, the Federal Government is providing $400,000 for the National Outfall Database project.
There are an estimated 144 marine outfalls across the country. They will be identified and then monitored by local groups and individuals. Consolidating the information will provide a clear understanding of the impacts for governments and coastal communities. The database will provide a single access point to link decision makers, water authorities and the community.
Mapping will enable regional assessments of pollution loads per capita (accounting for industrial loads), regional comparisons, and the risk of impacts on sensitive marine life, protected areas, and areas subject to multiple pressures. Recommendations can then be made and funding sought for upgrades or closures.
This project will be delivered over four years. From early 2016 the foundation will begin work with interested parties and community groups to develop and refine suitable low-cost citizen science techniques to monitor outfalls. Collection of data, analysis, standardisation and peer-review should allow a full set of results to be published for use by policy makers, managers and interested communities in 2017.
For more information or if you’re interested in collecting samples for analysis, visit Clean Ocean Foundation.