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Byron Shire
April 1, 2023

Massive fish kill at Byron ‘deliberate and criminal’

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This Flathead (still alive) hauled itself out of the water in an attempt to get oxygen.
This Flathead (still alive) hauled itself out of the water in an attempt to get oxygen.Luis Feliu

The actions of a group of people who brazenly dug a trench to open the estuary at Tallows Creek, Byron Bay,  have been blamed for the resulting massive fish kill there this week.

The death of thousands of fish, prawns and worms as the estuary waters flowed out to sea through the artificial opening they dug is expected to rival the massive kill there of December 2012.

Authorities are being urged to punish the culprits, one of whom is alleged to have assaulted a local environmentalist who confronted them as they dug the trench by pushing and shoving him as he tried to fill it back in.

Tallows Creek_2_3_16_017_resizeDailan Pugh, a respected longtime campaigner for conservation, told Echonetdaily that when on the afternoon of Saturday, 20 February, he saw two youths aged around 16 to 18 digging a trench using hoes in an attempt to open the estuary.

‘They initially claimed to be doing it in order to surf the wave that would be created by the outflowing water, though I remarked they had no surfboards,’ Mr Pugh said.

‘Later they said they were doing it on behalf of a Suffolk Park land-holder whose property was being flooded, though reverted to their surfing claim when two older men and two women joined them.

‘I tried to tell them how important ICOLLs (Intermittently Closed and Open Lakes and Lagoons) are for fish breeding and the danger of a major fish-kill occurring if they were successful in opening the estuary.

Tallows Creek_2_3_16_027_resize
These two mullet were photographed gasping for oxygen before they died.

‘They refused my request to stop and objected as I began filling it in.

‘One of the men began to physically assault me, pushing and shoving me repeatedly.

‘Eventually they stopped. I informed the Marine Parks Authority who later completed filling in the trench.’

Mr Pugh said that on Tuesday this week, an older person was seen digging an opening, and later in the evening five-to-six youths were seen digging a deep trench.

‘On Wednesday [yesterday] the estuary opened, resulting in the immediate death of hundreds of fish, prawns and worms.

‘When I visited it on Wednesday afternoon it was evident that thousands of fish (mostly flathead, bream, sand whiting), including a multitude of fingerlings, were in serious trouble, with fish gasping for breath and even wriggling onto the bank in a desperate attempt to get oxygen.’

Mr Pugh said Tallow Creek is an ICOLL, which naturally open infrequently.

‘There are few now left that are allowed to open naturally. Tallow Creek had not opened for a while and so was quite full,’ he said.

Tallows Creek_2_3_16_011_resize‘The problem is apparently due to stratification of the waterbody over long periods, with deeper waters becoming de-oxygenated.

‘If opened inappropriately, without the appropriate inflows and tides, the oxygenated surface waters can be lost causing the fish to suffocate.

‘Because of the massive numbers of fish in trouble, the lack of significant inflows of oxygenated water and the currently low tides, I expect a massive kill by tomorrow.

‘Those responsible for opening the estuary caused this fish-kill and must be brought to account for this environmental crime.

‘They are directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of fish.  The Marine Parks Authority must investigate and prosecute these criminals,’ Mr Pugh said.

Tallows Creek_2_3_16_010_resize

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  1. This is not the first time something of this magnitude has occurred between Broken Head and Cosy Corner. Several other deliberate opening of the creeks in this area have taken place in the last ten years. The damage that this creates on the local marine ecology is not something that rights itself overnight.

    The creeks between Broken Head and Cosy Corner all periodically close, and then release after a while. There is no danger to residents from “sensational flooding”. Sadly this is beginning of the problems for this area of beach, as the area also has to deal with excessive pollution left behind by ignorant “beach goers”, numerous campfires with the accompanying bottles of freedom, damaged vegetation from the search for firewood, flotsam left on the beach, squatters in the dunes, more dogs than sand flies in areas they shouldn’t be,and the list goes on.

    This stretch of beach and associated coastal heathland used to be magnificent. There much work that is needed to be done to remedy this, and if ever a stretch of beach needed patrolling, this one does. There is too much vital habitat for it to go by unprotected. Acts of vandalism are punishable everywhere else in society, this is no different. The same goes for assaulting another human being, totally unacceptable.

    • Sorry to ruin a sensationalist story, but as some-one who crosses the creek every day, and who has studied coastal geomorphology at Uni and has learnt from daily observations over many years, the fish kill was occurring in the days before the creek opened. I saw large schools of mullet heading upstream with the tips of their heads out of the water for days before the “massive fish kill”.
      The creek had been sitting at 2m (by the post in the water) for at least 2 -3 weeks. The creek often opens before this level is reached. In the days before it opened, we got substantial rain that raised the creek level to 2.1m, which meant it was over the path at the rear of Midgen Park. This is also about the level when homes at the end of Alcorn Street start to get flooded.
      The level the creek can reach is determined by rainfall periods and dry windy periods; the wind pushing the sand barrier ever higher, the sporadic rain not being able to keep up with the sand accumulation. The higher the water level climbs, the less salty the water becomes (as only fresh water flows in at these times. I seem to remember that flathead, bream, and mullet need salt water to survive in their adult lives?
      Anyway, the creek would have opened naturally after the next substantial rainfall event, and the same amount of fish would have died, as is natures way.
      Anyway, the creek will close again a few days after the next full moon, back to being about 50% salt : fresh water and the cycle will begin again.
      If you don’t want fish kills, open the creek manually every 3 months or so – but I’d prefer to see nature do its thing.
      P.S. Fine the thug for assault by all means, but the fish kill would just have got bigger the longer the creek remained closed.

  2. Absolutely shocking that anyone would do this…. Those land owners and the people who opened the estuary should definately be held accountable. Quite clearly their lack of concern for the fish & Dailan who was able to share the grave consquenses with them, yet still refused to stop… May be a hard financial hit & exposing who they are might! I totally agree with you Luke.

  3. This article would represent a steep learning curve for the majority.

    It appears a prominent educative sign with one of these photos, may be needed to alert would be criminals of their potential environmental and punitive consequences.

    Kids aggressively confronting the peaceful and prominent stature of Dailan Pugh, is an alarming sign of the times indeed …

  4. May the perpetrators be brought to justice immediately and given that a fine will do little to change or alleviate their complete belligerence and ignorance, let them please be cast off to sea and left to gasp their final breaths too.

  5. You used to hear of the Bay being “loved to death”. This would appear to be more a case of the Bay being “hated to death”.

  6. Those responsible for opening the estuary caused this fish-kill and must be brought to account for this environmental crime. Fine them asap!

  7. What murderous fools!! It is very difficult to experience so many senseless deaths. Such ignorant behaviour cannot be tolerated, charge them, fine them each a lot of money & impose community service hours on the lot of these very stupid people, please. How dare they think they can take nature into their own hands & play God!

    Well they’re 15 minutes of fame & who they are is about to be revealed!!!! Public shaming please!
    I am shocked that in this day & age people can be so dumb & ignorant! I am equally shocked that in this region they dared to be so selfish, refused to be educated or listen to facts & then act aggressively like they know better!!! Shame!! Shame!!! Shame!!!

  8. That a group of youths have undertaken a task of this size, with tools out of fun beggars belief.

    The question is who has the motivation to do this ?

    When trees are poisoned, I have heard authorities simply fine the owner of the property that had their view “improved” by the poisoning of the trees.

    It seems to me there are some landowners on or nearby the inlet that were unhappy with the water level or some resulting effect of the levels due to the storm surge.

    Clearly heavy punitive fines need to be applied to send a message.

  9. Thank you Dailan Pugh.
    The environmental vandals leave their mark on Tallow Beach every day. and all over the Shire. Interfering with the estuary is at the extreme end of the scale and the criminals responsible must be brought to justice.
    We constantly talk about how lucky we are living in Paradise. If vandals can destroy the environment with impunity then soon we’ll be living in “Paradise Lost”. through indifference and neglect. It’s up to all of us.. We are all responsible.


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