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Environment Centre NT - protecting nature, living sustainably, creating climate for a change

Living Harbour

Darwin Harbour is the jewel of the Darwin region, and also its heart beat. We aim to keep it a Living Harbour.

Thankfully, much of the Harbour is still in a largely natural state, but there are many proposals and plans that could see this change.

The health of the harbour is tied to how we use, or abuse, its catchment and what gets dumped or pumped into its waters.

At eight times the area of Sydney Harbour, it is the largest and healthiest harbour of any capital city in Australia.

The Environment Centre NT has worked hard for many years with other community organisations, Larrakia Traditional Owners, the Amateur Fishermens Association of the NT and many concerned locals to save Darwin Harbour from being damaged by urban sprawl, canal estates, pollution, underwater blasting and dredging, and reclamation.

The Environment Centre NT seeks legal protection for the harbour and its catchment through a regional plan established under the Planning Act, stronger environment and pollution laws, a ban on canal estates and major mangrove clearing, a network of protected areas around the harbour foreshore from Lee Point to Wagait Beach, and a major green infrastructure program to upgrade or replace third world standard sewage treatment and port facilities.

For more details, read a report prepared by the Environment Centre NT,  Our Living Harbour: Priority Actions For Protecting, Valuing and Celebrating the Darwin Harbour Region.

The major threats to the harbour are:

  • Heavy industry causing habitat loss and pollution in the southeast section of the harbour, including the existing and expanded Port Darwin (identified by the EPA as the single biggest risk to the harbour), the INPEX gas plant and associated dredging and potentially underwater blasting, the marine supply base and other industry proposed for Middle and East Arms.
  • urban sprawl spreading around the harbour, including new suburbs being developed in Palmerston and Darwin (Zuccoli, Bellamack, Johnson, Lyons, Muirhead), proposed new cities (Weddell, and potentially Erendale on the southern edge of the harbour), and on the top third of the Cox Peninsula.
  • clearing of mangroves (such as for the INPEX gas plant on Middle Arm, Wishart Business Village, and along Tiger Brennan Drive in Stuart Park), riparian corridors (along Mitchell Creek in Palmerston), and harbour-side vegetation (the Kulaluk lease in Ludmilla).
  • dumping 11 billion litres of part-treated sewage into the harbour each year by the NT Government owned Power and Water Corporation.
  • underwater noise from shipping and blasting that makes it harder for coastal dolphins to hunt.
  • ghost nets, buoy ropes and other marine debris that entangle, drown and choke marine wildlife such as dugong, turtles, dolphins and fish.
  • over fishing by anglers, and commercial fishers in the past, in some areas that has greatly reduced fish stocks of some key target species and undermined fishing experiences for Territorians and tourists.

The Harbour is biologically rich, supporting a rich diversity and abundance of species and habitats. This includes an amazing 340 species of fish, 50 species of water birds, rich coral reefs and sandbars continually reworked by the 8m tides . The Harbour is home to 36 of Australia’s 48 mangroves. Two hundred and twenty species of sponges live on reefs around East Point alone. Families of dugongs graze extensive seagrass beds. A dozen species of whales and dolphins visit the Harbour and nearby Beagle Gulf, including blue whales and sperm whales.

The Harbour is a playground, a magnificent backdrop for our tropical lifestyle, and a constant reminder that we live surrounded by nature.

For the Larrakia and Kungarakan Indigenous traditional owners of the greater Darwin region, the land and sea are the basis of their law and culture, a place to hunt mud crab and fish, collect bush tucker, and gather bush medicines. They maintain strong connections to the harbour and its catchment. Men and women Rangers work to repair and protect Country and teach their young people.

Territorians and visitors alike value the harbour and its foreshore. They jog, picnic or swim at East Point. Go fishing up Woods Inlet or the Elizabeth River. Walk at dawn along a beach or stroll with their family along the Nightcliff foreshore after work. Perhaps even spot dolphins, turtles or dugong while sailing or taking the Mandorah ferry.

Quietly boating or fishing in a mangrove-lined creek or secluded bay can be a magically rewarding experience. Majestic sea eagles and chestnut-coloured Brahminy kites soar over dense mangrove forests as they fish for mullet. All-white great egrets wade knee-deep amongst the mangrove stilt-roots. Flocks of shorebirds settle on sandbars and mudflats on their migration from the northern hemisphere to Australia’s south. Schools of baitfish skit below the surface to evade electric-blue azure kingfishers fishing for them from above, and dodging big barramundi lurking below. Saltwater crocodiles can occasionally be seen too.