Environmentalists say “big picture” overlooked

Near Threatened in Victoria, ‘Pied Cormorant’ spotted spreading its wings at Southbank Yarra. Photo Ross Gelera
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Evironmental and educational groups accuse property developers and local politicians of ignoring the interests of the Yarra. Natasa Balac reports.

Plans to protect the Yarra River are being undermined by powerful vested interests, according to the environmental community and educational bodies.

Some say they fear property developers and local politicians have seized the debate for their own purposes.

“No-one is looking at the river as a whole,” said Alex Walker, manager of Collingwood Children’s Farm. “The council and developers do not take in the big picture.”

The State Government’s blueprint, The Yarra River Action Plan, details rules and obligations to protect the future of the river. It addresses concerns particularly focusing on pollution and litter.

Organisations involved say they strongly value the principles outlined in the proposal, but disagree with how it should be run.

Mr Walker outlined concerns about the water quality of the Yarra. While the children’s farm on the Yarra at inner suburban Abbotsford looks after the river frontage attentively, they’re still “not confident in the water because it is often polluted”, he said.

Frank Giorlando, a member of The Yarra Link Project, a non-profit group dedicated to renewal of indigenous vegetation in riverside land near Heyington Station, said: “The government needs to develop a more centralised approach. Ideally, we would like to see the Yarra have its own legal power.”

The Yarra Link Project aims to educate the community about the indigenous history while focusing also on the native fauna and flora conservation.

The project team believes the governing entities must oversee improving re-vegetation to help increase biodiversity and encourage the spread of fauna to inhabit the urban environment.

Mr Giorlando raised concerns that the housing developments surrounding the lower Yarra would have a direct impact on the natural environment and their own indigenous garden.

The lower Yarra River, Southbank. Dark, gloomy day as pedestrian’s walk the bridge with infrastructure developments as the surrounding background. Photo Ross Gelera

The Yarra Link Project calls for representatives who will monitor developments and protect the Yarra’s flow for a sustainable environment to flourish. In the near future, the organisation expects the garden to eventually inhabit frogs, insects and the indigenous quoll.

Libby Hillman, executive officer of Geography Teacher’s Association of Victoria (GTAV), said: “The Melbourne sewage and treatment systems are ageing. More needs to be done to protect the waterways.”

Ms Hillman acknowledges the “extensive research” that went into The Yarra River Action Plan but fears the “vagaries of future changing political landscape” will undermine the well-intentioned strategy as had been the case with past attempts.

To guarantee the plan follows through successfully, the GTAV stresses that funding from the state government is fundamental for secondary students to learn about environment management and ways to ensure the Yarra is nurtured.