More than 100 countries, including Australia, will celebrate World Rivers Day tomorrow (26 September)– an opportunity for local residents to take stock of the shire’s natural assets to ensure they’re protected for the benefit of oyster farmers, surfers, swimmers and kayakers now and into the future.

Eurobodalla Labor for Council’s councillor candidate Claire McAsh of Moruya manages her family’s oyster business – healthy rivers are her lifeblood. She also has qualifications in environmental science which equip her with strong insights into the rural industries and small businesses that are the backbone of Eurobodalla Shire Council’s (ESC) residents’ lifestyle and economy. 

“Here in the shire, we all recognise whatever our background or our job, that the protection of our waterways ultimately means more local jobs,” Mrs McAsh said “whether that’s in aquaculture, in tourism or in sustainable building developments that people will be want to live in while protecting the natural areas for which they move here.

“Large vegetation that buffers on creeks, wetlands and estuaries separating development from our waterways means good water quality is maintained, in turn meaning we have great water to swim and surf in,” she added.

Australia is one of six continents celebrating what has become one of the planet’s biggest environmental celebrations. While COVID-19 circumstances have changed the format for some events, the small community of Taroom in Queensland will join nearby river-side towns for a celebration on the Dawson River, while a group in Canberra will host an online river-themed trivia quiz, and the 24th annual River Symposium will be staged in Brisbane.

“Protection of our Eurobodalla waterways results in successful aquaculture businesses that employ local people, particularly at both ends of the employment arc: young and older semi-retired employees,” said Mrs McAsh. “The scope for further expansion of aquaculture is exciting – more oyster farms, sea urchin harvesting, mussels, blood cockles, seaweed farms … these could be huge enterprises as state and federal governments begin to work out how to lease ocean areas which allows more opportunities for our farmers.

“But in order for this to be possible, we must respect the fact rivers are the arteries of our planet; they are lifelines in the truest sense. 

“In order to continue promoting our shire as the Nature Coast, we must all work to prevent polluting our waters because poor water quality leads to fewer fish for fishing and beaches being closed due to higher e-coli counts; the health and water quality of the estuaries have a direct impact on our beaches,” she added.

Eurobodalla Labor for Council mayoral candidate David Grace said ESC’s rural lands strategy left residents exposed to the removal of natural vegetation buffers which could destabilise river and estuary banks and cause erosion.

“In turn that would allow storm water and run-off to go directly into the waterways without the filtering and slowing down that vegetative buffers do so well,” Mr Grace said. “We all recognise the 2019-2020 bushfires have had an impact on water quality in Eurobodalla as after the fires scorched everything, the land was left bare: rains washed away topsoil and ash into the rivers and creeks; mangroves were destroyed by the intense heat of the fires such that we’ve lost the last silt catchers before sediment gets into our waters.

“The council has been put on notice in recent years by no less than five state agencies as well as many community members identifying flaws in its rural lands strategy and local environment plan. Currently, ESC policies which would allow cows grazing on environmental reservations have the potential to wipe out the $9 million oyster industry.

“The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, the Department of Primary Industries, the Rural Fire Service and South East Local Services have all raised concerns but the current mayor and some of the councillors simply ignore them.

“Faecal contamination from stock grazing adjacent to and upstream of oyster leases is an ongoing issue and leases operating on the Clyde, Tuross and Wagonga – which can be sold for human consumption directly from the river – are at risk.

“There are around 30 oyster farmers in Eurobodalla – on the Clyde, as well as Moruya, Tuross Heads and Narooma, who want us all to respect the rivers, estuaries and ocean around us because they’re essential to their successful operations, which in turn are successful for all of us in the shire,” Mr Grace added.

Rivers in virtually every country face an array of threats, and only through active community involvement can communities ensure their health in the years ahead, Mrs McAsh said

“If you love our beaches, then love our rivers and creeks because the health and water quality of the estuaries have a direct impact on our beaches,” she added.

Labor’s candidates in the 4 December local government elections are: for mayor, David Grace in Broulee; and as councillors, Maureen Searson in Batehaven, Matthew Findlay in Batemans Bay, Claire McAsh in Moruya, Deirdre Russack in Narooma, and Jack Egan in Rosedale.