Albany

Albany The story of Albany is really about its harbour, the reason why it was settled in the first place. It’s a natural wonderland of dazzling white sand, quiet bays and channels set among amazing granite landscapes. But it is also a major industrial port, with all the problems and benefits that are associated with heavy industry. per amazingalbany.com.au History The local Menang Noongar people called this area Kinjarling, which means “The place of rain”. They occupied the land for many thousands of years. Their fish traps can still be seen in Oyster Harbour and their descendants still live in the area. The first sign of change came when the Dutch ship, “Gulden Zeepaert”, or Golden Seahorse sailed by Captain Francois Thijssen charted the area in 1626, before exploring as far east as the Nuyts Archipelago in South Australia. No log survives. The principal evidence consists of contemporary maps, a brief references to the voyage. The area was so remote and mysterious that Jonathon Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” placed Lilliput on the southern Australian coast. George Vancover explored the South coast in 1791, naming Michaelmas Island, Breaksea Island, King George the Third Sound, Princes Royal Charlotte Harbour and Oyster Harbour. Captain Dennis of the whaler Kingston, and Captain Dickson aboard the Elligood, caught three whales there in August 1800. Matthew Flinders arrived in King George Sound in 1801, closely followed by Nicholas Baudin in 1803. Albany was the first white settlement in West Australia, it was founded in 1826 when Major Edmond Lockyer arrived in the Brig Amity. He wasn’t the first European to land in the area. As he arrived in the harbour he noticed a fire on Michaelmas Island. It turned out later that four Aboriginal men had been abandoned there by American whalers and had to be rescued. Soon after official settlement, some of the settlers set up bay whaling stations at a few sheltered beaches, mainly to the east of the town. Albany itself prospered from trade with these early whalers. Old whaling reached a peak around 1845 when these were approximately 300 whale ships (mostly American) and numerous shore stations operating along the South Coast of Australia. The numbers declined rapidly after 1859 when petroleum oil was discovered in Pennsylvania. Whaling resumed in 1912 when a Norwegian company obtained a license from the Western Australian Government and operated from both Frenchman Bay near the current Historic Whaling Station site. They used steam whalechasers fitted with harpoon guns, but after a poor season in 1916 they left. There are a few older whaling shipwrecks in the area. A wooden barque, the Fanny Nicholson was being used as a whaling vessel when it ran ashore during a gale in 1872. The remains can still be seen in shallow water in Frenchman Bay. Another whaling barque, the Runnymede, met a similar fate when it ran aground during a storm in 1881. Until the construction of Fremantle Harbour in 1897, King George Sound contained the only deepwater port in Western Australia, and so was the favoured location for delivery of mail and supplies from abroad to Western Australia. Two later wrecks within the sound are the wooden barque Athena that sank in 1908, and the wooden boat Elvie that sank in 1923. Albany has a number of historical sites including the Museum, Albany Convict Gaol, The Princess Royal Fortress (commonly known as The Forts) and Patrick Taylor Cottage, one of the oldest dwellings in Western Australia, c1832. Natural environment Albany sits on a large sound fringed with sandy beaches that are protected from the prevailing westerly winds. It provides the best anchorage on this often exposed South Coast. As well as the sound there are also a number of large enclosed bays that were, and in some places till are, packed with birdlife, seagrass and shellfish beds. Near the town, Oyster Harbour is a shallow basin. About half of the harbour has water less than 1 m deep. Shallows are found along the entire eastern side of the harbour. There are similar areas in the southwestern and north-western corners, making up about 40% of the harbour’s total area. Princess Royal Harbour is a deep basin bordered by shallow sandflats. About half of the harbour is less than 2 m deep. The shallow sandflats are most extensive off the western and southern shores and along the Vancouver Peninsula. Princes Royal Harbour has been dredged and has now become a major port, while Oyster Harbour is often filled with canoes and sailboats enjoying a day out on the water. On my visits to Albany it has reminded me a little of Tasmania’s granite areas. Scorching hot when the sun is out (although cooler than Perth), giving it a Mediterranean look. Moments later, grey and brooding rainsodden clouds are brought in by strong westerly winds from the Indian Ocean. Jacket on, jacket off, jacket on, jacket off. It is a calm oasis in the relentless westerly storms that often batter the south coast in winter, and the easterly gales that tend to dominate in summer. These winds drive strong circulation of water in the sound, and even in the sheltered harbours. Up to 30 million m3 of water may enter or leave the main Harbour. The tidal range at Albany is small. West to north?west winds in Winter generate predominantly anti?clockwise circulation patterns in the bay and harbour. East to southeast winds in Summer reverse the circulation patterns. Big Winter storms can create nasty waves and currents for the diver or boater, with 1 knot currents being recorded outside the sound even at depths of 40 metres. While there can be bad easterly winds they tend to be less energetic than the westerly winter storms. The sound becomes a perfect habitat for migratory wading birds during the summer, when an estimated 2,000-3,000 birds flock to the area to feed in the shallow mudflats of the harbours. Southern right whales and humpback whales frequent the area between July and October when they congregate to mate and calve in the protected waters of the sound. Sperm whales were known to visit the sound during the whaling era, but none have been sighted recently. Tourism The most recent Whaling Station, which operated from 1955 to 1978, has been converted to a museum of whaling, and features one of the ‘Cheynes’ whale chasers that were used for whaling in Albany. The station was the last operating whaling station in the southern hemisphere and the English-speaking world at the time of closure. Natural sights are also numerous, especially the rugged coastline, which includes the iconic sites at Natural Bridge and the Gap. The beaches have pristine white sand. Albany caters well for water activities with good boating, fishing and diving infrastructure. The destroyer HMAS Perth was sunk in King George Sound in 2001 as a dive wreck. The former whale chaser Cheynes was sold for scrap in 1961 and subsequently sunk between Michaelmas Island and the northern shoreline of the sound. There are lots of interesting dive sites, sheltered beaches, quiet coves and remote camping spots in the surrounding area. Albany is also close to two low mountain ranges, the Porongurups and Stirling Ranges for nature strolls. Albany is the southern terminus of the long Bibbulmun Track walking trail. Heavy Industry From 1952 to 1978 whaling was a major source of income and employment for the local population. Albany’s main industries now are tourism, fishing, and agriculture (mainly bulk grain exports). In 2001, a new wood chip export terminal also enhanced forestry-related activity in the area. The Western Power Wind Farm is located at Sand Patch, to the west of Albany. The wind farm, originally commissioned in 2001 with 12 turbines, now has 18 turbines, driven by strong southerly winds, and can generate up to 80%[ of the city’s electricity usage. Big ships loading grain serve our economic needs, but they also bring unwanted visitors. The pest seaweed, Codium fragile ssp. tomentosoides arrived in 2008 from the northern hemisphere, with the potential to smother shellfish beds. Mercury pollution If you were deciding to place an outfall on a well-circulated sound, or a poorly circulated embayment, where would you put it? Unfortunately, in the ‘old days’ after the war, easy access to infrastructure was more important than pollution risks. Whilst the main harbour area is well flushed, lack of wave energy and turbulence results in organic detritus hanging about in the western end of the harbour. With heavy industry and houses pumping in nutrients and industrial pollutants to a semi-closed bay, a health scare was only a matter of time. The main source of industrial contamination was a fertilizer (superphosphate) plant that was commissioned in 1955. Initially, it discharged untreated effluent to the harbour via a drain. In 1968 a 1 km 15 cm diameter plastic pipe was installed discharge it directly to sandy mud flats, about the worst spot to put it if you want mercury to accumulate as it binds readily with fine silts and seagrass. In the 1970s concern grew about these industries, mainly because of a visual blight caused by rafts of rotting algae. In fact, this was more likely to have been caused by a 1950s sewerage outfall into the harbour, and stormwater off the roads. It did lead to more monitoring, and in 1982 the industrial outfall pipe was extended another 600 m to the edge of the sand flats after a lead contamination complaint. In 1984 excessive levels of mercury were detected in the western end of Princess Royal Harbour and it was closed to fishing and taking of shellfish. Then the industrial outfall pipe had to be disconnected. Fishing was allowed again in 1992. Monitoring indicates that contamination of seafood in the western end of the harbour may not naturally recede to a background level for many years. It is hurting the humans rather than the marine life. As soon as fishing stopped, the number of fish, shellfish and crustaceans flourished. Seagrass Decline Seagrass beds forms an extensive habitat and nursery ground for juvenile fish and crustaceans apart from providing a food supply. A number of studies carried out in Oyster and Princess Royal harbours have highlighted the decline of seagrass cover and density. Fast-growing, highly productive macroalgae and epiphytes smothered the seagrass and reduced their light supply. The over-supply of nutrients to the harbours provided an excellent environment for the growth of slimy algae. From 1962 to 1984, 45% and 66% of seagrass cover in Oyster Harbour and Princess Royal Harbour respectively had been lost. By 1988 almost 90% of seagrasses in Princess Royal Harbour and 80% in Oyster Harbour had been lost. Macroalgae reached densities that exceeded 1000 g dry weight per square metre in shallow areas of both harbours. The original recommendation was to harvest the algae to reduce its harmful effects. That was treating the symptom rather than the disease. All told, the operation removed about 30 000 t of algae over seven years. The algae was deposited at the tip. Residents collected some of it and used it as garden mulch. The operation was costly and seemed to reduce the algae by only a small amount. Work was also done to reduce nutrients getting into the harbour and this provided a better solution. The harvesting operation stopped in April 1998. A survey of both harbours in 1996 showed mild improvement. In Princess Royal Harbour substantial seagrass regrowth was happening in the deeper basin and shallows around South Spit. A dramatic improvement in seagrass distribution was noticed in Oyster Harbour. Furthermore, the spread and amount of macroalgae had declined since 1988 in both harbours. Dredging If you thought that was an end to heavy industry impacts, think again. Following the mining investment boom, new inland mines opened and needed access for ever larger ships. Dredging was proposed for Grange Resources’ Southdown Magnetite Project near Cheyne Bay. However, the mine project is currently on hold as iron ore prices have plummeted, but the Port Authority is persisting and gained a further Federal Government approval in October 2014. Having watched the importance of the port decline for a century, due to poor facilities and competition Seagrasswatch.org from other ports, the port authority is keen to move to reverse the trend as soon as the economic conditions allow. The Albany Port Authority proposes to expand the port by reclaiming approximately 9 ha close to the entrance of the Harbour and dredging up to 13.54 million m3 from both Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound, to allow Cape size vessels to access the port. Dredging isn’t new, the harbour was less than two metres deep until it was dredged in 1901 and its entrance was dredged again in 1952. It gets regular maintenance dredging. The Albany community is concerned that these activities may further impact Albany’s precious marine ecosystems. As an aside, the last round of maintenance dredging uncovered lots of unexploded ordinance that was negligently dropped into the harbour at the end of WWII, while loading for disposal at sea. Dredging is likely to be a slow operation for this reason alone. As part of the mitigation program, divers have been hired to plant seagrass in Princess Royal Harbour. They harvest the seagrass from proposed dredging areas and replant it out in the middle of the sound. It takes about 4 hours to plant 1 hectare with a plant being planted at least every metre apart. So there are the issues, but overall Albany is a very natural place. Unless sunsets painting mountainsides pink, edged with azure seas and white beaches is way too lurid for you, definitely put the South Coast of WA on your bucket list. Award for Seagrass Volunteer A lone volunteer from Albany has been recognised for his efforts in seagrass restoration and community collaboration. Geoff Bastyan was awarded the 2014 Southseas Oceans Hero Award at Oceans Community 2014 for his dedication to the study and restoration of seagrass in Western Australia. He pioneered the successful transplantation of seagrass in badly degraded environments within Oyster Harbour in Albany. Geoff was presented with a cheque for $5000. Working alone over several years, Geoff conclusively demonstrated that seagrass could be returned to degraded habitat. He then contributed his knowledge and passion to the local community, teaching high-school students how to transplant seagrass. This motivated the local community to play an active role in helping to repair Oyster Harbour’s marine environment. Geoff developed a program to monitor seagrass and fish as part of Great Southern Grammar School’s science curriculum, which was adopted by other local schools. He has also proven to be an enthusiastic teacher, supporting the field and laboratory work of a core unit in UWA’s Marine Science Degree (Field Techniques in Marine Science) at Albany over the past 20 years. “This award was completely unexpected,” Geoff said. “How will it be put to use? My head has been full of exciting plans for new innovations in seagrass restoration but I couldn’t see how to put them into action without some support. “Building on my earlier years of experience in seagrass transplanting, the award will make it possible for me to extend restoration into more difficult environments, as well as expanding our knowledge of the unique seagrasses