The Black Death

I’m standing on the cliff overlooking Christies Beach after a brief downpour.  Suddenly a surge of black water bursts from the outlet pipe below me.  It thunders over the rocks, and fans out across the beach.  The white beach becomes black.  The ooze reaches the sea, and forms a dark mass that moves south through the water, across the reef.  The Black Death.  A blob of motor oil, organic matter, topsoil, garden chemicals, and plastic trash.  Killing everything in its path.

The suburbs smell fresh, look clean and new.  The downpour has washed away the dust and debris.  Washed into someone else’s home.

Cleaning the streets is killing the neighbours.

This is happening in my home.  This is where I swim and snorkel the reef.  The reef-dwellers – fish, kelp, shellfish and starfish, rocks and rays – are my friends and neighbours.

I imagine their feelings as the black death arrives.  An inescapable, oily, choking cloud appears with the rain.  Breathing and feeding stops.  Many die quickly.  The poison stays.

The abundance of life on the reef has visibly diminished the last few years.  I see nowhere near as many fish this year as I did last year.  Bright green algae (or seaweed, I’m not sure of its name) is more prominent than it has ever been.

When I was ten years old, I wrote a story very similar to this.  It was about returning to visit Jervis Bay, where I had lived as a younger child, and enjoyed swimming in a pristine lagoon.  On my return, the beach had changed.  The lagoon was smaller, and darker, and sported a warning sign – polluted water, no swimming.  I remember my feelings of anger and sadness at seeing the impact of the industrial world on a place that I was attached to, that was so far away from the cities and factories.  An untouched beach, neighbouring bushland.  Now too toxic to touch.

And now, 25 years later, it’s the same story all over again.  But a whole lot worse this time.

It’s not just this outlet that’s spewing black death into ocean communities.  It’s every creek and stormwater drain along the Adelaide coast.  Maybe the whole gulf will soon be a dead zone.

And the same must be happening in every city in the world, after every rain.  Coastal cities are massacring their marine communities.  Inland cities murder their rivers, with the black death going all the way to the sea, harming all human and natural communities who live downstream.

No-one left alive.  This is biological warfare.

This is my breaking point.

This is real.  This is my home.

I considered blocking the outlet, but realised that the result would be that the black water would just flow over the street and the cliff and then onto the beach and into the sea.  So I scrapped that idea, as I’d just be polluting the land above the beach.  Mycoremediation or a wetland could filter the water.

A more practical response would be to prevent chemicals from entering the catchment [watershed], and every catchment, which would require preventing chemicals from being manufactured in the first place, and also directing water into the ground rather than sending it out to sea.  And that takes acknowledging and challenging global power structures.

I can’t do that by myself.  Will you help me?

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