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Byron Shire
March 5, 2021

Let’s record the nature/human mash-up in Byron Bay

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Photo courtesy Environment Team from 2014 HotSpot Survey
Photo courtesy Environment Team from 2014 HotSpot Survey

Mary Gardner

This location is one around Byron Bay, hidden but in plain view. The jumble of plants discourages that hurried walking that gets a person from here to there. But it does invite a person to explore.

At first, big features grab my attention: blossoms, leaf changes, bird nests. But as I slowly pick my way in, I notice the structure of the land is often shaped by water. Perhaps the slope leads down to a patch of bog or a puddle, a trickle or signs of a water flow now soft mud or completely dried up. On a sunny day, all seems quiet. With any weather change, this becomes a hotspot for stormwater, pollution and flooding. 

In Byron Bay, 20 such public HotSpots are the focus of surveys to be undertaken by community volunteers on Saturday December 3. A few people, with camera in hand, will explore each site. Their photos will highlight what has become a tangle of natural and built infrastructure for water. The original wetlands, bogs and streams mix with the constructed roads, roofs and carparks, the pipes for tap water, storm runoff and wastewater plus about 50 kilometres of excavated drains.

Resilience is how this mash-up works together across all these locations. The rainwater naturally fills places, forms ponds and then slowly flows through or percolates into these sites. Stormwater pipes flow into the cut drains. These often lead into these sites or into the Belongil or directly into sea. The sea itself, with high tide and storm surge, also comes into these same waterways, against the other flows.


Strong resilience is the result of infrastructure that handles extremes of both flooding and drought. How this is accomplished is also how pollution created by people is made better or worse.

Smart water design is also linked to the future prospects for wild animals on land and in water. It’s a large part of how we people, at our most fundamental level, will prosper.

At HotSpots in town and the industrial estate, drains and small reserves need protectors. People who encourage the trees that koalas like, the shrubs that small birds require, the ponds that hold water in place.

Given time, wetland plants and their microbes and fungi can cleanse polluted runoff. Urban waters offer animals respite. The capacity of drains and ponds absorbs the potential toward flooding and takes the edge off drought.

At HotSpots in Byron Bay’s rural places, the drains need people who can see ghosts. These drained places once had verdant connections to the Cumbebin Wetland and the coastal heaths and forests of the Arakwal Park and Tyagarah. By planting the banks of drains and fencing off livestock, riparian zones would come back to life. Wild animals, both terrestrial and aquatic, would stabilise and increase. Brolga could dance again.


In parts of NSW, a drain trust is a legal entity for landowners that can set standards for resilient, ecologically sensitive management of drainage networks. This December, in West Byron and the industrial estate, owners are now invited to revitalise the Union Drain Trust. Their renewed participation could mean action about pollution issues with the industrial estate and Union drains.

One problem is that the water quality of these drains affects the Belongil. Corrosive water from acid sulphate soils eats at the concrete bridge pilings. Replacement works this year cost just under half a million dollars.

Byron Bay has a bonus supply of fresh water that few people see as a major resource. It’s in the form of high-quality effluent from the West Byron sewage treatment plant (STP). Some is recycled in the treatment plant wetlands, sports fields or golf courses. More simply flows through the drains to the Belongil and out to sea. People in town and rural places could find better ways to use this water.

Hurrah for the people involved with the HotSpots Survey. Their compiled photographs and notes will become knowledge and spark action helping community, council and a revitalised Union Drain Trust. Maybe some artists will decorate Byron’s clock, the lowest place in town, with a mosaic about water. These motifs could be repeated at all the HotSpots.

A community acting on such science and art, wise with its water, prospers in both body and soul.

Volunteers can still sign up for the HotSpots Survey by sending email address and phone  number to the Environment Team: [email protected]

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  1. Its a case of not seeing the wetland for the grass.
    Byron was once a beautiful swamp, now human activities have reduced much of that to drains and channels that are overwhelmed with exotic weeds, a very 2nd rate environment.
    The Waterways project is underway now with the purpose of returning these waterways to health, not jsut so humans can enjoy, but so the ‘chain of life’ has a home again. Aquatic life has no chance in the stagnant pools, heated by the direct sun and surrounded by weeds.
    There are 50km of these waterways, so its a big job, but bit by bit, with a team effort and community support things will improve and the value of these waterways to natural systems, including us, will be enhanced.
    There are many very beautiful places to be found among the trees, by the water!


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