Friday, March 13, 2009

Oil Spill: Yaroomba Beach, Queensland, Australia

News of this oil spill at Yaroomba saddens me. We purchased land when the area was first offered for sale. We built a beach house on the ocean front and I spent many happy hours on the beach. I don’t think the beach had a name in those days. The name Yaroomba came much later; we just called it 'The Beach.'

The only access to Yaroomba at that time was by a sandy road – at times little more than two ruts through the bush – that winded around from the Yandina-Coolum Road. There was no direct connecting road between Yaroomba and Coolum. There was no running water; we collected rain water in a couple of 1,000-gallon tanks. There was no power either. We kept perishable foods on ice. It was a quite a trek to get into Coolum and back; we didn’t make that trip every day if we could avoid it. It was big deal when that section of the David Low Highway was built.

The beach between Yaroomba and the Maroochy River was pristine for many years. There was no development along this stretch of beach. Ma
rcoola did not exist. The only access to the beach was by sandy tracks through the bush. Connecting tracks – if you knew where to find them - would start off from the beach parking areas as brave little tracks only, depending on how frequently they were used, to become ruts and then less and less detectable until they become totally overgrown. Only the locals knew where they went and could navigate them when they appeared overgrown. Once, I walked one of these tracks with a local who was familiar with them. I would never have tried to follow one alone if I was not prepared to cross-country to the beach and go back home along the beach.

I walked the beach between Yaroomba and Mudjimba Island many times; Mudjimba was my trigger to turn around and walk back. Only once did I walk all the way down to the spit on the north shore of the Maroochy River. I clearly remember arriving at the spit, frustrated that I couldn’t cross the very narrow but deep channel to the south spit. So near and yet so far. And I had a long trek back home.

I would often meet surf fishermen at a few spots along the beach but, otherwise, the beach was empty. If I wanted to fish, I would just go down to the edge of the surf and dig pipis (eugarie; Plebidonax deltoides) for bait.

A photo gallery shows graphic pictures of the spill on Moreton Island. BBC
video footage of the recovery efforts shows front loaders scooping contaminated sand from a contaminated beach and removing it by truck. Additional video footage of the cleanup is available at the BBC. If the contaminated material can be removed from the beaches before the oil soaks down into the sand, the long-term damage to the beaches may be limited. But 60 kilometers is a long distance; it seems inevitable that oil will soak in before recovery teams arrive. Some beaches may not be as lucky as others.

While the beaches are relatively open, uncomplicated areas to clean, it will be much more challenging and, perhaps, impossible to clean the oil from the tidal pools on rocky shores around Caloundra and between Point Arkwright and Coolum, the inter-tidal mangrove swamps, and the rivers where the oil will penetrate vegetation and may have a much more damaging effect on wildlife.

We can only hope.

Photos: House: Google Maps; Map: BBC
Photo galleries:
- ABC news

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