Working to protect the environment for 45 years - The Albany harbours story

The EPA has used its influence to protect the environment for 45 years. An example of the effectiveness of the EPA’s advice is the restoration of the health of the Albany harbours - the Princess Royal Harbour and Oyster Harbour. Both harbours, which connect to King George Sound via narrow openings, are used for professional fishing and recreational activities, with Princess Royal Harbour also used as a port.

A pristine system in the early 1960s, the health of both harbours had degraded significantly by the 1980s, with almost two thirds of its seagrass cover lost in a 20 year period. The seagrass - vital to healthy marine ecosystems - was smothered due to highly productive algae in the nutrient-enriched environment.  While the sources of nutrient pollution differed in the two harbours, the results were the same – widespread loss of seagrass cover.

Princess Royal Harbour was also so contaminated with lead and mercury that shellfish were deemed not safe for human consumption and the then Minister for Fisheries closed the area.

Coinciding with a new Environmental Protection Act in 1986, the EPA investigated the state of the Harbours, examining the problems affecting the area and potential management measures, concluding in a 1987 report that the then environmental state of the Albany harbours were serious and required urgent attention.

The EPA’s statement prompted a further two-year study on the area (EPA Bulletin 412) and a final report (Bulletin 442) which found most of the remaining seagrass would be lost within a decade if industrial and agricultural pollutant loads continued. The EPA provided the Government with 12 recommendations to redress existing environmental problems and restore the long-term health of both harbours. Specifically, the EPA’s recommendations included strategies to reduce the rate of seagrass decline, improve the area’s general environmental quality as well as measures to manage waterways and reduce nutrients in the water.

The EPA’s 12 recommendations were broadly adopted by Government and led to a range of improvement measures including:

  • The construction of the Water Corporation’s Albany Tree Farm to treat and dispose of wastewater, enabling direct discharge to King George Sound to cease;
  • Improved management of the then industries directly discharging wastewater to Princess Royal Harbour;
  • Algae harvesting being undertaken in Princess Royal Harbour to remove macro algae that was smothering seagrasses; and
  • A concerted effort by community groups within the Oyster Harbour Catchment to protect waterways and minimise the discharge of nutrients.

Today, Albany’s harbours have recovered dramatically. Water quality has improved, seagrass is re-establishing, both naturally and through seagrass transplanting, seafood is no longer contaminated, and macro algae no longer needs to be harvested.  

This success story is but one illustration of the impact the EPA has made through its reports and recommendations over its 45 years of operation.