A group of teenagers languishing along Long Reef Beach on Sunday, 24 September, were surprised to stumble across a large heavy plant or industrial tyre fixed firmly in the sand on the shoreline. Even more curious was the discovery of young rays and Port Jackson sharks inside, all dead.
But surprise turned to horror as they pulled out more upon more of the marine creatures, totalling about 80 when the last were dug free.
After calls to Council, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and even Police went, at least initially, unanswered, the group contacted Manly Observer to ask locals to help them remove the tyre from the sand.
“On Sunday afternoon there were three of us and we saw a fin flapping as the water would recede,” local teen Amy Selge explained.
“Two guys who were snorkelling came over and joined us as we came across this large tyre, about two metres in diameter.
Amy said the “clubbies said they saw it floating around earlier in the day but once it hit land it wasn’t going anywhere.”
“It just wouldn’t move. We spent two and a half hours digging dead marine life totalling over 80 including fish, sting rays and small sharks. It was absolutely heart breaking.
“Then it got dark and the tide was going up and were so worried more marine life were going to get stuck and die inside.”
Another teen on the scene, Liberty Eady, said it was very upsetting to see so many dead animals. “ Usually it’s very rare to find these guys when snorkelling around, but seeing so many dead was just tragic, I just wish I could’ve saved them all, but we prevented more from getting in. I just couldn’t believe how many were in the tyre,” she said.
“And coming back the next day and still seeing the tyre laying in the same position was quite frustrating.”
It was hard to understand how such a large tyre ended up in the ocean – but harder still to understand how so many creatures had so recently died inside of it – the number that had become trapped in that one spot in one day was statistically improbable.
After making queries with the EPA and then Northern Beaches Council, who in turn liaised with the Fisheries department, it was discovered that the tyre was initially picked up by a fishing trawler making its way down the coast.
“A local fishing trawler collected the tyre over the weekend off Barrenjoey Headland and as it was too heavy to pull onboard, the boat was forced to release it,” a council spokesperson explained.
“It appears some of the fish trawl catch remained in the tyre during its journey and did not survive when washed up on the beach.”
A statement that perhaps begs more questions – about bycatch – than it answers.
When Amy and her friends returned on the Monday to the tyre still in place and with more fish caught inside after the tide brought them in, they made a plan to meet again at 7am Tuesday morning with renewed determination.
After a public call out for help, about 17 people, a dozen of them teenagers, took to the tyre after sunrise.
A carpenter from local business thewoodlab_au tried at it with his Recipro, with no success. There was a call out ofr a chainsaw until it was deemed too dangerous.
But then, after two hours of digging out sand to try to break the intense suction to the ground, and with the use of some drift wood as a lever, they did it.
Relieved and exhausted, the group stopped the death-trap high on the sand away from swimming critters. Just as they celebrated their success, someone from Council pulled up with an excavator and took it away for good.
Manly Observer spoke with the EPA over the incident, who confirmed they were across the matter. A spokesperson said the NSW Environment Protection Authority was notified on Sunday 24 September of a large tyre that washed up at Long Reef Beach and they liaised with Council and DPI – Fisheries, and Council had given an undertaking to remove the tyre, which it did two days later. Council said it had waited until the tide was out to make the extraction.
The EPA added, “To prevent environmental impacts, it is vital that tyres that are used, rejected or unwanted are managed responsibly and transported to a licensed waste facility for safe disposal.”