AERIAL VIEW: Hearne's Lake, where the The Southern Cross University found highly elevated levels of nutrients.
AERIAL VIEW: Hearne's Lake, where the The Southern Cross University found highly elevated levels of nutrients. Trevor Veale

Alarming results prompt calls to reform blueberry industry

ALARMING research results have prompted calls for urgent reform of the Coffs Harbour blueberry industry.

The recent study by Southern Cross University has found highly elevated levels of nutrients flowing into Hearne's Lake and the results have prompted one councillor to renew her calls for reform.

"Our community and our environment are paying the price for this unregulated industry which is making a chemical dumping ground of our public waterways. Without clean water, we have nothing. It's unacceptable that our waterways are experiencing this level of pollution for the profits of this industry," Councillor Sally Townley said

Coffs Harbour City Council engaged Southern Cross University to conduct the research due to concern over the rapid expansion of the the blueberry horticultural industry and potential implications to waterways and the Solitary Islands Marine Park (SIMP).

The blueberry industry is the fastest growing horticultural sector in the Coffs Harbour Local Government Area, however, the influence of this intensive industry on water quality remains unknown.

Alarmingly, the study found that levels of phosphorous, a component of fertiliser, has increased dramatically over recent years and the deposition of this element into sediments is around 40 times higher since the expansion of the blueberry industry in the catchment since 2002.

The study also found that large volumes of nitrogen are being carried from farms to waterways. Water samples showed levels of nitrogen oxides being over one hundred times the national guideline levels and over half the samples were fifty times higher.

The levels found were some of the highest ever recorded on the east coast of Australia and are similar to results from heavily polluted estuaries overseas.

Nitrogen is also converted to a gas and leaches into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas.

Emissions recorded in the study are some of the highest ever recorded globally.


Council meeting discussion on intensive agriculture with blueberries in Coffs Regional.Cr Sally Townley. 23 march 2017
TOUGHER STANCE: Councillor Sally Townley would like to see reforms to what she says is an unregulated industry. Trevor Veale

Councillor Sally Townley, an environmental scientist, says these results are extremely alarming.

"We now are seeing hard scientific evidence of the huge and rapid impact of industrial horticulture on our waterways and on the Solitary Islands Marine Park.

"Levels of fertiliser pollution as high as any in the world have just been recorded from one creek system. Multiply this across all coastal catchments where blueberries are a dominant land use and we start to see the scale of the problem."

Dr Townley has been campaigning for some time to see improved regulation of the blueberry industry and says these results must be the trigger for urgent reform.

She says council must be congratulated on funding these independent scientific studies and now State government and the industry must urgently fund similar studies and implement reform.