Tallow Creek – to open or not to open

Published on 24 November 2021

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Byron Shire Council, alongside the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Arakwal Corporation and the Department of Primary Industries Fisheries are continuously monitoring Tallow Creek at Suffolk Park.

Since May this year the water levels in the creek have been very high because the sandbar at the mouth of the creek is closed.

The sand berm is acting as a dam, not allowing water to escape and this is causing odour and nuisance flooding at some properties, businesses and public areas that back onto the creek.

Council staff are very aware of, and understand, there is some community concern about the impact of the water levels on properties and they have been in regular contact with them.

“We totally understand why people are frustrated but we cannot simply open the creek mouth – it is much more complicated as we have been explaining,” Chloe Dowsett, Coast, Biodiversity and Sustainability Coordinator, said.

“Tallow Creek is an ICOLL, an intermittently closed and open lagoon system that is an extremely sensitive ecosystem,” Ms Dowsett said.

“This system has been opening and closing naturally to the ocean long before Suffolk Park was built and it’s a place that has exceptional cultural significance to the Arakwal people,” she said.

“While Council has a responsibility to reduce the risk of flooding in the catchment, we also have a responsibility to ensure that any actions we take do not end up harming the marine ecosystem or the cultural heritage values of the creek.

“One of the big problems is that when a sand berm is opened there is often a very fast release of water from the creek and this can cause a fish kill which is what happened in 2019,” she said.

“No one wants to see a repeat of that fish kill and so any decision to intervene with nature to try to get the creek mouth to open is not taken lightly and must have the support of the NPWS, DPI Fisheries and Arakwal,” Ms Dowsett said.

“The fish kill in 2019 was terrible and absolutely distressing and anyone who witnessed that would understand that no one wants to see something like that happen again.

“But the reality is that whenever an ICOLL opens to the ocean, naturally or manually, there is risk of a fish kill because of the fast release of water that strips away the oxygen needed by fish and marine life. 

“We have noticed that some members of the public have recently made several attempts to dig a channel to force the creek mouth to open and the fact there is a fine of $220,000 is indication of how serious and fragile this environment is,” Ms Dowsett said.

“There is no easy answer and this is why we work with NPWS, DPI Fisheries and the Arakwal Corporation on the management of Tallow Creek,” she said.

Information about Tallow Creek is on Council’s website.

For media enquiries contact Annie Lewis, Media and Communications Coordinator, on 6626 7320.

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