Hungry Point Cronulla; Feb 25th 2015

For those of you scratching your heads wondering what or where in the world is “Hungry Point”, then if I say it is the location of what used to be called the NSW Fisheries Research Institute at Cronulla in Port Hacking, then all of the following should make sense. First opened in the early 1900’s it was I have been told the first such institution in the Southern Hemisphere, a centre for research until the then O’Farrell Government announced in 2011 (after the election!) that it was to be closed. They decided, according to Wikipedia, that by closing it and relocating its staff and functions to Coffs Harbour, Port Stephens and Nowra, they could save $4.4 million over 20 years. That is $220K per year… or 73 or so bottles of three thousand dollar Grange Hermitage Mr O’Farrell! If that fact makes you as angry as I feel writing this, then when I went down to Cronulla in January with George Cotis and Professor Alberto Albani to look at the site, and make arrangements for access, the CEO of the Marine Rescue operation Stacey Tannos showed us a photo of a skip, full of discarded literature, research work etc which was to be re-cycled or simply dumped. I think it is safe to say that amongst that lot was the URG’s data from the Port Hacking Project we did between 2000 and 2002.

Growth above water level

Growth on the pylon above water level

The closure occurred in 2013, and the site is now being managed by “The Hungry Point Reserve Trust” while the facilities are now used by Marine Rescue, Water police and Roads and Maritime Services. I wonder if the developers had hoped to get their hands on some of the site? Grange Hermitage?

Why you may now ask were John Turnbull, Rianti Bieler and Colin Piper in the water there on Wednesday Feb 25th taking photographs of the underwater life to be found on the 5 outer pylons of the still in use wharf.


Left to right: John Turnbull, Rianti Bieler and Colin Piper getting ready for the dive

We, that is, the URG were approached by George and Alberto to undertake this project late last year but it took till now for all the stars to be in alignment. They wanted a base-line record of the growth on these pylons and from the photos taken, will build up a 2 mosaics of each, one showing the exposed (sunny) side, and the other, the sheltered/shaded side.

Read the full project overview here

Unfortunately, the latter was impossible to achieve because of the way the structure is constructed, and we had to compromise somewhat, but hopefully the results will be useful. George, who has long associations with Sutherland Shire Council’s Port Hacking Management process said that what we were doing is the only research in the waterway currently being undertaken. I let his words speak for themselves;

“I have been associated with Sutherland Shire Councils’ Port Hacking’s management process since the mid-1980’s. Through its various identities, this has been collaboratively with relevant State agencies, Council staff, environmental groups and other community interest groups.

Over the years, I have actively participated in the preparation of management plans for Port Hacking, and worked with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the then Maritime/Waterways authorities on their management plans. I am also an honorary member of the Sydney Coastal Councils Group.

One of the major shortcomings in Port Hacking is the absence of base-line data against which to measure change. Research has always been difficult to bring about. This has been seriously exacerbated by the closure of the Fisheries Research Establishment at Cronulla. One of the on-going elements of my work, in particular with Prof. Alberto Albani and UNSW staff and students is to describe habitats in Port Hacking, and to carry out particular studies in the marine delta.

It occurred to me that one of the unique habitats in the estuary is the man-made structures which occur throughout the estuary. These structures offer the opportunity to determine the fauna and flora which is unique to this element, but provide an opportunity to measure seasonal variations, and location variations within the estuary. This sort of project is obviously only achievable by science-oriented divers.

The wharf piles at the Fisheries Research establishment provided an ideal opportunity for a first dive-location, access for vehicle and to the water being good. Such a project requires skilled photography to allow accurate taxonomy of the fauna and flora, and a scientific approach to the photo sequencing. The Underwater Research Group is the ideal body to produce a scientifically useful result.”

The conditions on the day were ‘not good’ to say the least, the viz was marginal and the frequent rain showers all added to the generally grey atmosphere as we gathered at 10AM for the dive. I should add at this point that the day coincided with an infamous 6 car pile up on the Harbour Bridge at 6:30AM, throwing the morning traffic into chaos all over the city and suburbs. I have driven to Goulburn in the time it took me to get from Lane Cove to Cronulla that morning!

Easy entry and exit point

Easy entry and exit point

The process involved George, who remained dry (though with the frequent rain squalls this is a moot point) and Colin in-water setting up measuring tapes on each of the 5 pylons; the tapes being attached at the top, (quite a crude but effective process with a hammer and nail!) and the weighted reels pressed against the bases of the pylons in between 3 to 4 metres of water. On a few, I had to tie some strings to keep the tapes close to the wood so they would be visible in all the photographs. John and Rianti took a series of photos from top to bottom, both cameras recording each pylon so that 2 sets of images were/are available for the research process at UNSW.

pylon-01 pylon-02

From what I have seen, in spite of the conditions, the images are amazing and hopefully will be exactly what the researchers require. They want the process repeated in the winter months as well; I am up for it… who knows, we might have better conditions in winter, and hopefully no peak hour chaos!

As a post script, I think there will be a lot of support in “The Shire” should next year, the URG undertake a 50th anniversary repeat of the November 6th 1966 12 hour Shiprock Survey; watch this space as they say.