The solution to the Tamar mudflat mess

Aerial View of the Tamar River mud flats
Aerial View of the Tamar River mud flats
Aerial View of the Tamar River Estuary, showing the vast mud flats that plague the river. (PHOTO: Zac Lockhart/Hyperlocal Media)

For many, the river Tamar (also referred to as kanamaluka) offers a place to connect and many great memories. From walking along the Seaport boardwalk in Launceston, or going on the river to row or sail, our local waterways holds a special place in the hearts of many Northern Tasmanians. However, as no secret, the issues plaguing the river are long standing and serious. From the expansive mudflats that choke the river to the invasive rice grass species that flank the riverbeds, the concerns surrounding the river are never far from the public consciousness.

The valley surrounding the river Tamar has been important for the people living in the area for generations. Beginning with the Pangerninghe and Leterremairrener people and through the European discovery and colonization of the area, beginning in 1804 with a settlement at Outer Cove until the city of Launceston was founded in 1806. After George Town’s construction in 1811, settlements around the valley remained few and far between until the discovery of gold in Beaconsfield in 1877 boosted the population and industry on and around the river.

In the modern day and age, despite shipping to Port Launceston drying up in the 1960s, the river and its surrounding areas remain a vital part of the area. Whether it’s the aluminium smelter at Bell Bay that was opened in 1955 or the recreational fishing, rowing and sailing that continues to this day, the river Tamar has an important place within our culture and is the very heart of the Tamar Valley.

The issues with the river have been discussed for decades now, and many millions of dollars have been used to try and solve the issues of the invasive Rice Grass (Spartina Anglica) species, vast mudflats and the risk of extreme flooding such as the floods seen in 1929 and 2016. Despite years of discussion, broken political promises and failures, one group of invested locals have a plan for the Tamar, which would see these issues finally resolved.

The Tamar Action Group has been active since 2010, advocating for action on the river, and suggesting the installation of a barrage to control the tides. The CEO of this group, Andrew Lovitt, said that it would create a solution to all the previous problems in the Tamar, that incidentally, are the same problems we face today. The idea of a barrage is to deal with the ‘tidal trap’, the process were sediment and other material that would usually be washed out into the open ocean are instead trapped in the river by the incoming tide.

The barrage is also valuable in preventing the dangerous floods of past years. Speaking on this issue, Mr Lovitt said It would create a huge cushion with a freshwater lake so that if a major flood was coming, you would always get between 24- and 48-hours’ notice.

“You can’t build higher Levi banks because they’re actually built on the former mudflats and if they’re built any heavier, they would sink.”

Chances are that you have seen the vast swathes of Rice Grass (Spartina Anglica) along the sides of the river. These were introduced in the 1920s and have quickly become an invasive species along the river Tamar. A barrage along the river would also solve this issue according to Mr Lovitt.

“Rice Grass occupies 30 km of the river,” said Mr Lovitt. “The grass around Gravelly Beach is so thick that birds can’t even nest in it. Less Rice Grass would then allow for more native flora and fauna to propagate the area.”

Opponents to the barrage will often call out issues such as turning what is a flowing river into a freshwater lake or the environmental impact of such a construction. Luckily, an example of a barrage as proposed by the Tamar Action Group already exists in the United Kingdom city of Cardiff. Cardiff isn’t the only place to have such a project, however it is the most similar to the conditions that we have here in Tasmania. Completed in November 1999, the Cardiff Bay barrage helped to revitalise the Cardiff Bay area. While the plan was being discussed, many were opposed to the project due to the costs and environmental impacts. However, since it was constructed, the barrage has been key to the revitalisation of Cardiff. The only significant issue reported were issues with the water quality, however this was quickly fixed by oxygenation systems.

The best way to assist with this proposal is to sign up online at Tamaractiongroup.com where you can keep up to date with the latest updates and calls for action.

Any help is greatly appreciated by the Tamar Action Group. “We are just a group of citizens who see a good idea and would like to see it get a fair go.” Mr Lovitt said.

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