The Manning River is returning to its former glory after many years of being unable to sustain its health and has begun to recover.
Once the centerpiece of a thriving fishing and oyster industry, the river’s demise was due to the entrance at Old Bar being closed for several years – leaving the marine life and everything in the lower estuary to die.
Being one of the few delta river systems in the world with one entrance closed and the other (Harrington) struggling to keep the river alive, measures were needed urgently to arrest the problem.
In January 2008 a public meeting was held to begin the long process of taking measures towards the river’s recovery, led by Taree businessman Bill Nelson.
Taree born and educated, Bill grew up on the river and decided to head a campaign to save the Manning. “Being a local, the Manning is my river. I am very passionate about it,” Bill Nelson said.
A recreational user of the Manning River, Bill had never seen the river in such poor condition. “It was frustrating to see no one doing anything. It played a big part in the Manning Valley’s economy.” The community meeting saw unprecedented support, with the commencement of a fundraising process to inject funds to open the Old Bar entrance.
“The financial support was fantastic. Initially we raised $30,000 in the first months. Since then we’ve raised $100,000 from the community.” The Farquhar Inlet Management Group was formed with the support of the Manning Valley Chambers of Commerce sub committee, Manning River Development Board, Delta Group, Oyster Farmers Association and numerous fisherman organisations.
The group, under Bill Nelson’s chairmanship, has been at the forefront of the campaign to instigate a plan to save the river. They have overcome many hurdles and are recognised as the group who are leading the river’s recovery. FARQUHAR INLET
Countless hours were spent to formulate a plan of action, and lobby the relevant bodies to have the second entrance to the Manning River opened in April this year. “We were persistent. The Minister for Lands accepted an invitation to visit the area and he recognised that the entrance needed to be open all time. He has been very supportive of the group.”
Local surveyor, Greg Crisp, is another who has a passion for the river. He joined the Farquhar Inlet Management Group and with his expertise and academic knowledge of river flows, has been another to spearhead the many presentations and managements. The long process saw many protracted negotiations between the management groups – Greater Taree City Council and the Department of Lands, until it was agreed to spend funds for excavation within the inlet’s channels.
“Greg instigated the opening of the Farquhar inlet,” Bill Nelson added. “He has done all the hard work to where we are now.” In February 2009 two excavators were used to open the entrance, but were marred with problems and the entrance remained open.
The persistence of the group and many interim works eventually saw success – with the river being able to breathe again.
The group, after exhaustive studies, found the location at Soft Rocks to be where dredging should be focused. A report reviewing environment factors was compiled by Greg Crisp, which covered all aspects and the new direction of energies.
“A lot more channels need to be dredged within the inlet.” With the inlet now open and flushing water after every fresh rain that comes down the river, the Farquhar Group’s efforts did not go unrecognised. The 2008 NSW Oyster Industry Environmental Awards saw the group receive a commendation for its fundraising and lobbying to have the inlet opened in April 2008.
“The award was for restoring the aquatic habitat and recognition of an outstanding environmental achievement.”
In a milestone, this year the group purchased a dredge for $90,000 to continue the external work necessary in the coming years to keep the river healthy.
The community-owned dredge was purchased from Queensland, and with the assistance of Greater Taree City Council (who covered the costs of its re location) will be ready to take its place on the river in a couple of months. “It is a first for a community to own a dredge. It has been sand blasted and painted, with pre-assembly almost finished.
Once this is all completed, the wheelhouse will be re-fitted with equipment. We are thankful for the support of Minister, Tony Kelly, and the Greater Taree Estuary Management Committee, who are all working together with a long term strategy for the river.
“The river is long and wide and there are many other areas the dredge will be working in the long term. “Also long term, we should be in a position to hire the dredge to other locations and this will generate income.”
The quality of the Manning River has improved significantly since the opening, with oyster growers and fishermen reporting their industries are beginning to recover.
The group will also head to the Harrington area in the future with the possibility of dredging the Harrington swimming lagoon. The Farquhar Inlet Management Group and Council recently met with Minister Kelly, with all future plans gaining support and funding being shared by all three parties.
The Manning River is one of New South Wales’ unique rivers and recognised by the community as its biggest asset. Thanks to the passion and drive of Bill Nelson and his colleagues, the Manning River’s future is bright. “We have a long way to go but the results of our work in the first two years are proving fruitful.
It is a win-win situation for everyone – the Manning, community, industry and the environment”.
Story by Peter Lyne.