Narooma is renowned for its pristine waters and scenic beauty, but some people fear its reef is in danger of being loved to death.
Constant boat traffic and fishing are contributing to damage at Wagonga Inlet reef, and divers who have seen the damage firsthand say while the reef’s condition is not yet critical, it is under pressure.
Francois Van Zyl, owner of Narooma-based diving company Underwater Safaris, said Narooma is known for its warm waters, with many holidaymakers who dive through his company saying it feels as if they’re at the Great Barrier Reef.
“The beautiful reefs here are something we don’t want to lose,” he said.
Fortunately, the NSW South Coast inlet has been targeted for restoration as part of a new environmental project restoring reefs around Australia.
The Federal Government’s $20 million Reef Builder project aims to revitalise reefs that are close to extinction, and it is already restoring 14 Australian reefs, with 34 potential sites identified.
“I’ve never heard of this before, but it sounds like it is what our reef needs,” said Mr Van Zyl.
While the environmental factors are important, the project has also been economically beneficial, according to Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley.
“The Reef Builder initiative is helping revitalise shellfish reefs across the country, while creating local jobs and supporting economic recovery of communities affected by the bushfires and COVID-19,” she said.
The proposed initiative will not just bring back life to the shellfish reef at Wagonga Inlet, but also add new oyster habitats.
An extra 1700 square metres of Sydney rock oyster habitat will be created, as well as 1000 square metres of reef for native flat oysters.
Mr Van Zyl said this is important as there are many shellfish divers in Narooma.
“Waters are warm in Narooma so it is perfect for shellfish diving,” he said. “Lots of these areas are in need of restoration.”
The new funding is also being welcomed by oyster farmers in the area, with a spokesperson for Narooma Bridge Oysters saying the water quality is degrading at an alarming rate.
“The degradation of the water quality in Narooma, specifically Wagonga Inlet, is something to behold,” said the spokesperson.
“It truly is worrying so this initiative will hopefully start to fix things.”
Nature Conservancy Australia managing director Alison Rowe said the restoration of reefs around Australia is helping to improve water quality, fish production and overall biodiversity of the coastline.
“Restoring these reefs and saltmarshes will enhance local ecosystems, improve foreshore access, and provide local communities with recreation and sustainable tourism opportunities,” she said.
“It’s a win-win for local communities and the environment.”
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Reef restoration is the main factor being proposed, and while that is important, tourism factors are also being considered as part of the project.
Should the proposals pass, the foreshore at Wagonga Inlet will get a facelift with new additions for locals and tourists.
Residents and holidaymakers can look forward to possible new amenities such as a new jetty and fishing platform, new boardwalk and lookout, improved access to the sand flats, and the restoration of the saltmarsh.
Not only will this upgrade be more aesthetically pleasing, but it sticks to the environmental theme, replacing the rock walls with natural elements to help prevent any further erosion.
“The foreshore could use a makeover,” said Mr Van Zyl. “Our diving business is booking out already over Christmas and tourism this year is going to be massive.
“With tourism growing again, it is important for these areas to be upgraded.”
On Friday, 3 December, residents will have the opportunity to meet with the project team onsite to discuss the proposal and give feedback.
An online survey is available until Friday, 17 December, and it can be found here.