by ALEC SMART
Ocean Crusaders, a specialist water-based rubbish removal service and charity, collected almost 14 tonnes of garbage in 10 days from the Cooks River. They focused on a 23-kilometre stretch of the tidal river encompassing Croydon Park to Muddy Creek in Kyeemagh, where the Cooks River meets Botany Bay.
The garbage extraction began on 13 Feb and culminated on Sunday 23 Feb in the Cooks River Clean Up and Paddle Against Plastic public event, with around 300 participants in kayaks and on foot combing the ancient waterway for crap.
The Sunday volunteers hauled out multiple loads of household rubbish, including plastic packaging and many recyclable items like aluminium cans and glass bottles, while the Ocean Crusaders crew focused on the harder-to-access junk buried in the silt.
Crusaders against crap
Ian Thomson, founder of Ocean Crusaders, revealed that the operation commenced with a team of three in a flat-bottomed dinghy, assisted by three volunteers in waterproof suits. They collected both shoreline rubbish, washed down from suburbia by the recent intense rains, and items submerged in the mud, accessible at low tide, but left the mangroves for a more intensive operation in the future.
“We collected 12.6 tonnes alone from just spot-cleaning,” he said. “The initial stage involved stopping as much waste as we could from flowing into the ocean. Once the flow stopped we focused on getting stuff the helpers couldn’t reach, like shopping trolleys, rental bikes, motorcycle engines… We couldn’t get into the mangroves, that’s heavy work cleaning them.
“On Sunday we had over 300 volunteers working between Illawarra Road Bridge [linking Marrickville and Earlwood] and Wolli Creek. In two hours of paddling they removed 1.2 tonnes of waste, and most of that was collected on kayaks!”
Cooks River begins in Graf Park, Yagoona, flowing several kilometres though Greenacre, Belfield and South Strathfield before it reaches Croydon Park. However, for most of this section it is constrained by a concrete-lined channel, at parts only a metre wide, so it is little more than a stormwater ditch.
Other smaller creeks that once flowed into it, including Cox Creek in Belfield and Cup and Saucer Creek in Canterbury, are now also concrete drainage passages. Stormwater channels facilitate the run-off of rainwater from suburban streets, but they carry all sorts of rubbish, including plastic bottles, packaging, etc., and toxins from car exhaust that accumulate on road surfaces.
Stop it at the Shop
Thomson urges a wholistic, environmental approach to waste management. “Our big message is Stop it at the Shop – say no to single-use items. To me the biggest success of this campaign is engaging with the Cooks River community, the people who will continue to look after their river.”
Simon Walkes, president of the River Canoe Club at Tempe, NSW’s oldest canoe and kayaking club, concurs. “We’re planning to organise monthly clean-ups from here onwards. Last May during a community event we collected 1.2 tonnes in one day, bringing it up to 3 tonnes overall for the 2019 clear-up operation.
“This year we also retrieved 1.2 tonnes of garbage in one day, but the overall was 13.8 tonnes!”
Inner West Councillor Colin Hesse (Greens) was among those picking up the water-borne trash. He said “it’s great to see so many residents come out, showing concern that they want their river to be a better place… Every person who helped is a valuable advocate for Cooks River and its health.
“The basic problem is consumption. We need much more serious engagement concerning the lifecycle of products. Costs should take into account everything, from manufacture to recycling or disposal. But state and federal governments need to take responsibility, local councils don’t have the power.
“When responsibility stops, rubbish ends up in the river.”
The clean-up operation was largely funded by a $20,000 grant from the Federal Government’s Community Environment Program via Linda Burney MP, plus a $3,300 grant from the Inner West Council, with facilities provided by Canterbury Bankstown Council and the State Emergency Services.
Other supporters included Cooks River Alliance, Cooks River Valley Association, The Mudcrabs, and the River Canoe Club at Tempe.
City Hub’s 2018 report on the Cooks River’s health: https://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=cooks+river+clean-up