On Monday 16th of March, Year 11 Geography students accompanied by Ms Smith and Mr Johnson departed on the school bus for their peak hour crawl across Sydney to the container port at Botany Bay. Access to a short stretch of bus lane on the M2 gave us some extra time and everyone enjoyed passing all the cars stopped on the M2. We viewed the Orica site and discussed the environmental damage that has arisen from the breaching of the plastic cell that holds highly contaminated waste beneath the site. The container terminal is currently an extensive construction site as it expands to accommodate the demand for trade in and out of Sydney. We were able to gain access to part of the site to observe all the impacts on the local environment including the dredging operations. The high level of security in the area provided some interesting moments.
After recording information for our field notes and taking many photos we moved on to Rockdale to take field measurements of the beach and examine human impacts on the coastal system. Our next two stops allowed us to observe the impact of sand mining on the Kurnell peninsula. Mining has been so extensive that the peninsula is now at risk of becoming an island again. Large lakes up to 8 metres deep can now be found where the enormous sand dunes once stood. We explored a new suburb that is being built on a section of the mined dunes. Awareness of the fragility of the peninsula raised interesting questions about the sustainability of such a development.
We continued on our way to stop at the Caltex Oil Refinery and the desalination plant. There was much discussion regarding the impact on the local environment and the sheer size of the desalination project. The recent experience of La Nina events across eastern Australia emphasises how variable our climate remains and that we have little control over the forces of nature. Providing clean water for Sydney is a significant challenge and we pondered the various alternatives that could secure fresh water through dry periods.
Mr Johnson drove us through the back entrance of Botany Bay National Park over nine speed humps until we reached the fantastic sandstone cliffs. The group followed the usual tradition and climbed down towards the rock pools and high tide platform. Ms Smith took a class photo as evidence! It had been raining heavily and there was a significant plume of dark brown waste from the sewage outfall. Not a pleasant sight. Our final stop was at Silver Beach to examine the rock groynes along the beach, the Caltex pipeline that extends into the bay and the intake pipes for the desalination plant.
We completed seven stops around the bay only to finish off with lunch at McDonalds. Everyone in the group made a fantastic contribution to the day, taking measurements, getting wet feet, recording observations, taking photos and asking insightful questions. The weather was mostly cloudy with a little drizzle which was a nice change because we usually only go out on days experiencing a weather anomaly! What an amazing part of Sydney and we learned so much about a coastal region and how people can change it and often not for the best. We are looking forward to our next fieldwork trip!