It was an idea Andy Myers from OceanWatch Australia floated at an oyster industry conference in Forster last August ... getting oyster farmers organised and actively involved in cleaning up their estuaries.
"I had been working with a group of farmers in Port Stephens and suggested it as an industry-wide initiative - 19 estuaries signed up there and then as well as farmers putting their hands up to help organise it!" Andy said.
On Tuesday eight oyster growers from the Nambucca River estuary donned their hats, boots and gloves and headed out in their barges to 'float' what will hopefully become an annual clean-up event.
Some hours later they gathered back at the Gumma boat ramp and unloaded their (close to) half tonne haul, which Andy then tallied:
- 460kg of rubbish collected
- The most numerous item collected was bottles = 115, of which 61 were glass, 54 plastic
- 11 tyres
- 6 thongs (no pairs)
- Most surprising item was a mesh bag containing 4 seat belt buckles
- Also 22 blue drums from oyster rafts which had come loose during recent floods
Oyster farmer Tony Donohoe said he and others were always picking stuff up and would have found a lot more had it not been for the massive tides last week.
"It's so important to keep the river clean ... we are always collecting rubbish when we are out," Tony said.
James Ford said the industry often cops flack (especially on Facebook) and the event was a chance to show oyster farmers are doing their bit.
"This was something visible today, a starting point, which we hope will grow into a bigger event annually," James said.
"If we have more people we can cover a larger area ... I'm thinking different community groups can get involved and clean up different areas. There are the surfers, the fishers, the greenies - everyone can lend a hand."
Delphine Tessier and her husband Nicolas are newly arrived growers from France, who have brought their European knowledge to a climate they prefer.
"We found a lot of bottles and bait bags today ... we are out on the river every day and we are always picking things up. Everyone must be concerned about this," Delphine said.
She suggested a rubbish bin at the Gumma boat ramp would be a good way to encourage more responsibility.
Andy said oyster farmers were always doing their bit but there was always so much more that could be done.
"This event is a way of putting the spotlight on the farmers and the industry and spreading the word about the event."
OceanWatch Australia is a non-government organisation that has been around for about 30 years. The body works with seafood producers to care for the environment (both salt and freshwater) that underpins their industry.