If Ian Kiernan, yachtsman, builder, every-day Aussie bloke and founder of Clean up Australia Day has taught us one thing, it is that a single individual can make a big difference. Ian resolved to do something about cleaning up our planet whilst competing in a solo around-the-world yacht race in 1986/87. Ian looked forward to experiencing the many natural oceanic wonders including the rafts of Sargassum algae which gave the Sargasso Sea its name, however his anticipation turned to horror and frustration when he arrived there, and observed all of the floating debris and rubbish. And this experience would repeat itself again, and again throughout his journey. So on his return he organised a community event – Clean Up Sydney Harbour on Sunday 8 January 1989. The event struck a chord with the Australian public, with over 40,000 volunteers turned up to get involved. This was the genesis of the Clean up Australia Day.
The first clean up Australia day in 1990 attracted 300,000 volunteers, and participation has progressively swelled over the last 21 years. The concept became so big that Ian and his team decided it was time to take on the next challenge: the world. Clean Up the World was launched in 1993 with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and an estimated 35 million people over 130 countries now participate annually.
It is easy to understand how Ian’s experience of looking out over a much-anticipated remote, pristine seascape hundreds of miles from land back in 1987, only to see rafts of take-away food containers and shopping bags bobbing would have spurred him into action. Equally, it is also easy to understand how many angling clubs throughout Australia have also mobilised in large numbers to become involved in cleaning up our waterways. For an angler the impulse to escape as far from civilisation as possible is strong. The increased distance from civilisation helps to escape the burdon of everyday stresses, but also increases your chances of enjoying uninterrupted tranquillity in near-virgin habitat (or at least interrupted only by the odd monster fish!). So to an angler, stumbling upon a burnt out car body, or some other carelessly discarded pile of garbage is an instant reminder that the problems of everyday life, and civilisation, really aren’t that far away. And so for many it invokes exactly the same jarring frustration that Ian must have experienced all those years ago.
There were a number of fishing clubs around Australia who get involved in Clean up Australia Day events and similar initiatives to look after our waterways. However one group which has been particularly active in keeping favourite fishing spots clean is the Australian Land-Based Anglers Association (ALBAA). The enthusiasm shown by ALBAA members in caring for rock ledges around Australia might come as no surprise to those who know a thing or two about land-based game fishing and the people who do it. Land-based game (or LBG) fishing really is the Mount Everest of angling. The need to get up well before any sane person would, drive long distances to remote locations, scrabble in the dark over difficult terrain (carrying cumbersome fishing rods, reels and an amazing array of other equipment all the while), to set up on a cold, exposed, cramped ledge and sit…for, well days, sometimes weeks on end in the hope of attracting a single bite is enough to discourage anyone but the keenest of angler.
But the level of stewardship displayed by ALBAA and its members can be attributed to more than just their ‘go hard or go home’ mentality. Kurt Edwards, long-time ALBAA member, explains that the scarcity of suitable land-based locations around Australia to target gamefish also has a role to play in engendering the high level of respect shown by their members for their favourite fishing haunts. There simply aren’t too many places around Australia with the prerequisite ingredients of deep water right in tight to land, at latitudes suitable for big pelagic species, and with suitable platforms from which to fish. And so those few locations that exist have become hallowed stones to the LBG fraternity; elevated to legend status by stories of the enormous fish tamed from them. And so these rare locations (which are becoming ever-rarer thanks to lockouts from the declaration of MPAs) are important to these people, and their desire to care for them, makes sense.
ALBAA itself was formed when land-based anglers from around Australia started to interact, and realise there were others out there as mad as they were. The birth of ALBAA provided a forum for Australia’s land-based anglers to share stories and learn from each other, but it also provided a vehicle to enable them to start to deal with issues that they collectively cared about. And the amount of garbage that was relentlessly turning up on their favourite rock platforms after every storm surge was an issue for many. The persistence of a few unthinking anglers who would continue to thoughtlessly discard their waste whilst fishing was also a key concern, and the Ledgecare Program also provides value as an educative initiative, to teach others to fish in a way that is compatible with ALBAAs objectives, particularly the need to “foster and demonstrate an environmental conscience throughout Australia by adhering to a self-imposed code of conduct as well as the laws and regulations in each Australian state”. And so in 2008 the ALBAAs Ledgecare Program was formed to allow anglers to actively share in the stewardship of their local areas, promoting a shared responsibility and encouraging co-management principles.
ALBAA regularly hold clean-up events through their Ledge Care program throughout the year in various locations up and down the east coast of Australia and the Northern Territory. To date ALBAA have been involved in a total of 14 events during 2008, 2009 and 2010 with members and volunteers attending selected locations a total of 24 times, removing an approximated 3.96 tonnes of garbage from Rocky foreshore environments in NSW and the Northern Territory. Participants invest significantly in these events, both through contribution of their time and effort, and their own money. Chris Gough, organiser of the Ledgecare Program was staggered to calculate that the combined distance travelled by all participants to attend Ledgecare events is equivalent to driving a car around the world 2.3 times!
One of the more recent and successful events held under the Ledgecare banner was the clean-up day in 2009 held at a favourite world famous land-based game fishing location – the Outer Torpedo Tubes at Jervis Bay. “The Tubes” as it is known by many in the angling community, is renowned for its impressive landscape of soaring cliffs dropping into an impossibly deep pacific ocean. Its deep, protected waters are also a key factor contributing to the amazing fishing opportunities on offer, with huge kingfish, Black marlin in excess of 300lb and Tuna of a an assortment of species landed off its ledges throughout the years.
ALBAA members worked in partnership with the Defence Force’s environment team and cadets in 2009 to restore the area to its natural, garbage-free condition. These events tend to become highly organised operations, with some participants charged with garbage collection duties, whilst others are put to work carrying sacks of garbage out of these often e remote locations. It is nothing for these guys to remove over a tonne of garbage in one day, as was the case at this event in 2009.
The appeal of these events is that they are equal parts hard work, and an opportunity to catch up with friends, and share a rewarding experience with family members. There are a number of families who regularly get involved, enabling them to share time together, have a laugh, and contribute to something positive. It also provides an opportunity for the younger club members to learn from the ‘old sea dogs’, who regale them with stories of live baits being buzzed by tunas the size of motorbikes as they carefully move around the ledges, picking up rubbish.
Unfortunately these events are also expensive to hold. By itself, the cost of insurance required to help assure the safety of participants is steep. Add to that the bill for ensuring participants are adequately fed and watered, garbage disposal costs and expenses associated with planning the events, and it can be almost too much for a small voluntary organisation such as ALBAA. If you would like to provide financial support to enable Ledgecare to continue the great work they are accomplishing, or if you would like to become involved in a future event, or even start one of your own – please call Christian Gough on 0437492090, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Figure 1 ALBAA members participating in clean up days (courtesy of ALBAA)