Monday, 26 October 2009

NSW Maritime Environmental Services

This is how Sydney Harbour is kept clean. Photo taken at Campbell's Cove.

Information from the NSW Maritime website:

The operators remove floating litter and waste, including storm water pollution, other visible debris and floating hazards to navigation.

On average more than 3,500 cubic meters of rubbish is collected per year, ranging from large objects such as trees and tyres to the debris washed into the harbour from harbour side suburbs and small items left behind on beaches and other foreshore locations by people.

The Environmental Services team also manages the free sewage pumpout stations at Blackwattle Bay and King Street wharf. They monitor the use of other free public fixed pumpout facilities available in Sydney Harbour to recreational and commercial vessels operators.

Historical background

In the early 1900s the Environmental Services team’s predecessors were known as the “rat catchers” of Sydney, formed to combat the spread of the Bubonic Plague. The trapping of infected rats was a vital service to the health of Sydneysiders.

In the 1930s, the “rat catchers” became the Harbour Cleaning Service. In timber boats a crew of hardy souls who didn’t mind the salt, spray or the smell, would collect debris and floating rubbish. The retrieval of dead animals and other unsavoury objects from Sydney Harbour was a common task.

In the 1950’s the wooden boats gained the luxury of engines but it was the greater environmental awareness stemming from the “Clean Up Australia” campaign that instigated the purchase of the present harbour cleaning equipment in June 1989.

In 1990, the NSW Maritime Authority took on the responsibility for cleaning Sydney Harbour as a major environmental initiative.

The role of the Harbour Cleaning Branch changed to Environmental Services in 2002. It has grown in conjunction with the NSW Maritime's enhanced responsibilities as an Appropriate Regulatory Authority under the State's environment protection laws. It demonstrates an increased environmental engagement and provides a stronger focus on environmental performance within commercial and recreational vessel fleets on Sydney Harbour. An additional duty, for example, involves monitoring compliance by contracting and building companies regarding deployment of anti-pollution booms and skirts around foreshore construction sites.

Today’s Environmental Services Branch has a team of 15, who work the vessels on a seven day per week schedule.

The team and its equipment is also used to provide operational support to the major events on and around Sydney Harbour. These events include the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race Start on Boxing Day, New Years Eve and Australia Day, for which marker buoys are laid to indicate safety exclusion zones on the harbour.

For several years, Environmental Services has also been conducting a Joint Foreshore Cleaning Project. Local Council areas nominate foreshore areas to be cleaned in a land based operation, labour is provided through the Department of Corrective Services Community Service Order and Periodic Detainee Rehabilitation Program, Clean Up Australia’s bus is loaned to the project with all planning, transport and supervision provided by the Harbour Cleaning Service. Councils bear the cost of transport and disposal of rubbish collected.

The vessel

These purpose built vessels are 10.5 meters in length and powered by twin 150hp outboard engines. The power operated ramp allows direct access to beaches and enable transport of beach cleaning equipment to and from appropriate locations. The on-board crane and addition of surface skimming equipment allows these vessels to provide fast response for almost any cleaning requirement, and are listed as support vessels in the Oil Spill Response Plan for Sydney Harbour.


  1. Good posting sally. It has got a wonderful history behind it .
    Nice pictures too !

  2. I love those warehouses in Campbell's Cove, Sally. We are so blessed with our harbour.

  3. Sydney's seaside Sally spotted some special seawater sanitizing services ship!

  4. What a great service...kudos to the authorities for providing this. Dirty waterways are no boon to any city!