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Experts advise caution before you dive in

December 10, 2018 Headline News, Lifestyle No Comments Email Email

Tourism Australia describes the bay as one of Australia’s most popular seaside destinations, with some of the whitest sand beaches in the world – but signs warning of toxic pollution have just gone up and a popular camping spot is located on a weapons range.

The destination is Jervis Bay on the New South Wales south coast. It’s named after a British admiral whose surname is sometimes pronounced Jarvis – but locals pronounce Jervis Bay as it looks, rhyming with nervous.

“It’s hard to resist the powder-fine sand and clear turquoise waters”, visitors to the Tourism Australia website learn.

“The beaches are among the safest and most beautiful in the country. Add amazing scuba diving opportunities, whale and dolphin watching cruises, fantastic bush campsites and quaint coastal villages, and Jervis Bay oozes summer charm.”

It now turns out, however, that chemicals from firefighting foam used at the nearby Jervis Bay Range Facility have been leaching into creeks for decades. The creeks wind through campsites and bushland before emptying onto local beaches and draining into Jervis Bay.

Health warning signs have gone up at creeks near popular holiday spots such as Hyams Beach and Green Patch, the ABC has reported.

The signs warn people not to fish or eat seafood caught in the creeks because of contamination by lingering toxic chemicals used historically in firefighting foam.

Visitor meets local at Honeymoon Bay

Hyams Beach is sometimes said to possess the whitest sand in the world, though the title is disputed. The Defence Department says the signs are just precautionary and there are no consistent links between the chemicals (known by the acronym PFAS) and diseases such as cancer.

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Brisbane-based environmental medicine expert Dr Andrew Jeremijenko warning tourists who regularly holiday at Jervis Bay to take care, because the chemicals take years to leave the human body.

“Every year the more fish you eat, the more it builds up,” he said.

Picture-perfect Jervis Bay beach. Photo by Peter Needham

The Herald cited an investigation which has uncovered serious pollution in Marys Creek, with the chemicals reaching nearly 10 times the safe level for recreational use.

The reading at Captain’s Lagoon, frequented by anglers and swimmers, was more than double the safe limit for a recreational waterway.

The Department of Defence began investigating last year whether soil and groundwater at Jervis Bay Range Facility was contaminated. A human risk assessment released last week characterised the threat to residents as “low and acceptable”.

Local tourist campsite is located on a weapons range . Photo by Peter Needham

Tourism and Defence share Jervis Bay alongside a growing residential community. There’s even a campground on the Beecroft Weapons Range.

The Australian Defence Department advises campers that campgrounds at Beecroft Weapons Range and Honeymoon Bay can be closed to public access and/or camping at short notice to meet Defence Department obligations.

Written by Peter Needham

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