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Second Far South Coast fish kill and uncertain future begs for blue green solutions

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Another lake on the Far South Coast is unable to support aquatic life at the moment. Image courtesy Gilliane Tedder.

A second fish kill on the Far South Coast has left the public, and all stakeholders, from the Greens to the rec fishers looking for answers. 

In another distressing environmental calamity, thousands of fish and aquatic life at Meringo Lagoon, south of Moruya, has been dying this week due, says the Department of Primary Industries, to high water temperature, low dissolved oxygen and algal growth. 

It follows a similar fish kill at Wallagoot Lake a number of weeks ago, south of Tathra. Both lakes are intermittently open and closed to the ocean. Currently both are closed.  All stakeholder groups agree more needs to be done to mitigate climate change, with lack of rain and high temperatures expected to be the new norm.

The Greens are using the fish kill to highlight their concerns with the wind-back of marine park protections to marine sanctuary zones, and say the Rural Lands Strategy, if signed off, will cause further risk to waterways in the Eurobodalla. (Eurobodalla Shire Mayor Liz Innes said this week the NSW Planning Minister, Anthony Roberts, if reelected, would sign off the Rural Lands Strategy as a matter of priority.)  

The EuroFishing Association president Adam Martin says the association is not looking for a wind-back of habitat protection zones in the Batemans Marine Park, but doesn't believe marine conservation has been enhanced with lock-outs in the sanctuaries over the past 12 years. 

He says pollution and run-off is a major issue for the catchments, and all coastal management policy needs an overhaul. Yesterday he called for the common sense and strategies of Aboriginal stakeholders to be listened to in relation to mitigation measures and new policy directions, and for the Marine Estate Management Authority to step up. 

The history of what has often been a bitter dispute regarding the Batemans Marine Park goes back to 2006 and the poor implementation of the park by the Marine Parks Authority, which was then a hybrid of the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Primary Industries, and lack of thorough consultation with local fishers.

The then, relatively new Member for Bega, Andrew Constance became a vocal critic of the marine park and a champion for fishers. It was considered the park had been rushed through in just two years, and this process was often compared to the ten-year process, which saw the creation of the Cape Byron Marine Park, on the north coast, and acceptance across the community.

Then once implemented, the management of the Batemans Marine Park was fraught with internal issues, some of its own making, and some as a result of the structure of the Marine Park Authority and lack of good timing by green groups, which kept pushing for more marine conservation areas, causing more aggravation to fishers, which formed a formidable lobby. Dispute over the effectiveness of sanctuary zones is ongoing, Adam Martin would say there's more evidence to show sanctuary zones working in Commonwealth waters where they are not exposed to human coastal development, while his colleague on the Batemans Marine Park advisory committee  Associate Professor Chris Fulton would strongly disagree. 

At a meeting with rec fishers a few weeks ago, and only weeks out from the NSW election, on the 23rd of March, Mr Constance promised rec fishers to fast-track the winding back of four sanctuary zones in the park, including the conservation and tourism mecca of Montague Island Nature Reserve. 

A recording of the meeting went public and to the media, leading Associate Professor Fulton to say in the media that he'd lost confidence in the advisory committee. He said exchanges between Mr Constance and the fishers made at the meeting were evidence of the lack of independence of the committee. Mr Constance has denied this, pointing to the appointment of well-known Eurobodalla marine conservationist Bill Barker to the committee. Mr Barker, in comments made to the ABC, said opening up the sanctuary zones would act like a "wrecking ball", through the whole park. 

Meanwhile with climate change, environmental degradation and species extinction in the forefront of the minds of voters - according to various surveys done over the past few weeks - it's been noted that Mr Constance has started talking to people and groups which may have not been on his radar previously, and in relation to the fish kills at Wallagoot and Meringo he's called for urgent action, and investigation. 

If Mr Constance is reelected and given the community's trust as the Member for Bega, and nothing is certain, with Labor candidate Leanne Atkinson presenting a viable alternative, the community will be looking to him to unite groups once foes, such as the environment groups and the fishers, for the best outcomes for our much loved Far South Coast environment and society. As the students' climate action rallies are reminding us today, the two are one, and the world is changing and moving on. More than ever we need true leadership, good judgement and a vision to go beyond party politics.  

The community is full of good ideas about how to manage the way forward, full of wisdom, and it will be at the behest of Mr Constance to listen to everybody even at the risk of being seen to be green. This week in the Eurobodalla Council chamber Kathryn Maxwell representing 14 groups across the Eurobodalla opposed to the Rural Lands Strategy, spoke about the need to create a process in which every development, every action taken by council, should look at the impact it will have on the environment, on carbon emissions and climate change. Greens' Councillor and candidate for Eden Monaro in the Federal Election, Pat McGinlay, is hoping to make this a policy of council. 

Within the fishers there is also good sense, environmental concern and innovative thinking. Adam Martin spoke of the need to listen and include Indigenous stakeholders in coastal management. He says some of the stakeholders he's been talking to have suggested opening the lakes to the ocean during winter months, when marine life won't be exposed to extreme heat. He is also talking to Waterwatch an independent citizens science organisation about opening up chapters on the South Coast to monitor water quality in the coastal lakes and estuaries. 

In the Bega Valley the community is becoming increasingly vocal about council plans to pump treated effluent into the ocean at Haycock Point, just south of Pambula. Members of the community are standing up and saying with water an increasingly scarce resource it should have a land reuse, and are providing options for council to look at. 

Individual actions do matter, communities can make a difference, but we need to be united not divided. In the marine park debate there is so much animosity and enmity from years of bad blood some may not see a way forward, but there must be if we are to effectively manage the challenges of climate change, including fish kills and the death of wondrous, vital ecosystems, and continue to have the life we've all loved so much, for so long, in this beautiful part of the world.