Robin Copeland 

Boats to be banned from anchoring in North Harbour

If environmental lobby groups get their way, boats will soon be banned from anchoring off Quarantine and Manly beaches in Sydney Harbour.

Maritime (RMS), Fisheries (DPI), and National Parks appear determined to severely restrict or totally ban anchoring in these areas. We are told this is necessary because boaters are destroying seagrasses and little penguins.

Little penguins and recreational boats have existed harmoniously for centuries on the harbour. As if to prove as much, says fishing expert David Lockwood, there’s a rookery right under Manly Wharf, where, coincidentally, fast ferry services have been ramped up in recent months.

The proposed restrictions are a gross overreaction pandering to fanatical local dive groups. It appears that a handful of radical anti-boating eco-activists and self-serving commercial interests are the ones pushing the agenda.

The Boat Owners Association (BOA) and the Boating Industry Association (BIA) have joined the chorus of opposition to the proposed bans. The BIA is concerned that the proposed lockout from some of the harbour’s best destinations, beach landings and foul-weather havens is based on “private science”.

The lack of freedom to arrange a quiet boating picnic is a serious enough encroachment on the right of the public to access publicly owned facilities.

However, another threat arises from these proposed anchoring restrictions … boats have often sought shelter from dangerous southerlies in Quarantine Bay. A total anchoring ban here could well be the indirect cause of a fatality. While no-one wants to see seagrass damaged this cannot be compared in value to loss of life.

If damage to seagrass is one of the nominal drivers of this action, where is the currently available, correctly documented scientific information that proves the need for such action? Why are these government departments not displaying and explaining the scientific reasoning behind their proposal? If the damage to seagrass caused by boat anchors is so pervasive why, after so many years and so many anchorings, are seagrasses still growing in these areas?

It is difficult to understand why these restrictions are being rushed through, lacking transparency and with such a limited period for public comment.

Legislation making damage to seagrass an offence has existed in NSW since 1994. Surely commonsense would dictate that this legislation be used without a heavy-handed total ban. There is no reason why education and responsibility cannot be employed.

It also sets a dangerous precedent. With seagrass beds found in countless other areas, what is to prevent extending anchoring bans to different bays around the Harbour?

Boaters should not be denied what has been a practice spanning many generations on such specious and tenuous grounds.

Most boaters are respectful of the environment, but we are now being painted as pests (talk about the pot calling the kettle black) and threatened with refusal of access to sheltered bays at times of heightened risk.

Robin Copeland