Smart solutions for waterway waste

A photograph of Melbourne skyline and the Yarra River.

As you stroll, cycle or boat along the Yarra River this summer, take time to consider how you can help us keep it clean and healthy.

Three billion pieces of litter wash into Melbourne’s waterways through stormwater drains every year, and we’ve removed 6750 tonnes of it over the past decade.

Councillor Cathy Oke, Chair of the Environment portfolio, said the city is using smart technologies to manage waste in our waterways more efficiently and sustainably, but we also need to cut waste at its source.

‘Our approach to keeping waterways clean and healthy includes litter traps, people power, water sensitive urban design, stormwater capture, and our recently-installed Seabins,’ Cr Oke said.

‘We’re always improving our processes, but no one method provides a silver bullet. And what happens upstream always makes its way downstream.’

What is a Seabin?
A floating rubbish bin that moves up and down with the tide to trap litter and debris.

Research shows most of the litter in stormwater comes from shopping precincts, on-street collections, tips and recycling depots.

With this in mind, we are working with charity Tangaroa Blue, that crusades against marine debris, to inform our litter source reduction plan.

‘Tangaroa Blue is analysing the litter we collect in our Docklands waterways, which will help us better understand how we can make a difference,’ Cr Oke said.

‘To help stop waste at its source, I encourage Melburnians to recycle as much as possible, reduce the amount of packaged food you buy, say no to single-use plastic, and always dispose of rubbish mindfully.

‘If everyone works together, we can protect our beautiful waterways and ecosystems for future generations.’

Andrew Kelly is one of our city’s most passionate advocates for our waterways. As Yarra Riverkeeper, he patrols the river, educates the community, and lobbies for improved regulations for pollution and river care.

‘Spend time along the river – you will instantly notice the benefits,’ Andrew said.

Andrew’s fervent vision for the future of the river includes clean water, the return of wildlife, art that enshrines traditional stories, and green spaces that nurture native species and connect city dwellers to the river.

The Yarra Riverkeeper Association recently received funding from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation to enable extensive community engagement towards the Yarra River Protection Act 2017.

Under the new Act, the Yarra River is now recognised as a single, integrated living entity, to be managed as a single landscape under a 50-year community vision.

‘You can also join a local community group that cleans or revegetates the banks of the river,’ Andrew said.

‘The Yarra Riverkeeper Association offers plenty of opportunities for volunteers to help care for the river.’

To find out more, visit Waterways.

A person by the river

Rocky Tregonning beside the Birrarung

Memories of the Birrarung
The Yarra River is known by Melbourne’s First Peoples as the Birrarung, which means ‘river of mists’.

It was once teeming with wildlife and the main food source for the local Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) people, before the arrival of Europeans.

Stephen (Rocky) Tregonning, a Senior Cultural Guide for the Koorie Heritage Trust, leads cultural walks along the river explaining its history, environmental changes and cultural significance.

‘It’s nice to tell people about the Yarra, how it was blue running, that it was an eel breeding ground, that it had dolphins and sharks and stingrays. This place was a winter Kakadu,’ Rocky said.

‘When [the first Europeans] came up the Yarra, it was green, very verdant, but then sheep and cattle decimated our traditional bush tucker sources.

‘When the waterfall was removed and the salt water inundated the fresh running river, the eel breeding stopped, the dolphins and sharks stopped coming. My ancestors would have started starving.

‘But we have to get on with it. Let’s move on to the future – we can’t dwell on what’s happened in the past. The best way for us to move forward is through consultation, discussions, and talking with the community.’

To learn more about the Birrarung, book a tour through the Koorie Heritage Trust.

Story and image courtesy of Environment Victoria.

A damselfly

Waterbugs like damselflies are great indicators of waterway health

Waterbug wisdom
Did you know that dragonflies are older than dinosaurs, can fly up to 70km per hour and their nymphs, or larvae, breathe through their bums?

Amazingly, tiny creatures like dragonflies, mayflies and water beetles can also hold the answers to our biggest questions about the health of our waterways.

Our recent Melbourne Waterbug BioBlitz studied these tiny animals, which live in fresh water for all or part of their life cycle, to help us understand more about biodiversity and pollution in our urban ecosystems.

With help from more than 70 citizen scientists, we collected and identified 21 groups of waterbugs at six sites around the city. The most waterbugs were found at Westgate Park and Royal Park wetlands.

The study supports our Nature in the City Strategy, and the results will help inform how we protect and enhance habitats for a variety of wildlife across the city.

Here are some more dragonfly facts:

  • they hover like helicopters
  • they can fly backwards
  • they can see in all directions
  • they propel themselves through the water by shooting water out their bums
  • they are predators and eat mosquito larvae
  • they have long, folded jaws they spring open to catch prey

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