Black summer ash blankets ocean floor

It might look like an underwater paradise, but on closer inspection the bottom of this southern sea has a thick coating of ash, courtesy of last year's Black Summer bushfires.

More than a year since the fires scorched large parts of the NSW south coast, ash and debris continues to contaminate the ocean and wash ashore, turning local beaches grey.

And it could be years until the physical reminder of the blazes disappears.

Aussie Sevens player Cassie Staples underwater at her hometown Batemans Bay. Picture: Joshua Burkinshaw
Aussie Sevens player Cassie Staples underwater at her hometown Batemans Bay. Picture: Joshua Burkinshaw

Water expert Dr Stuart Khan says it is "not surprising" that the ash is still washing ashore a year later given the recent rainfall.

"The fires were immense and a lot of forest burnt and turned into ash. A lot of the ash will sit on the forest floor until the right rain event washes it into the water," he said.

"When you have a big fire, the catchment becomes less stable and you lose the undergrowth, so you get a lot more erosion and as you get more, the ash will wash into the water."

Dr Khan says we are likely to continue to see more ash and debris washing into waterways over the next few years as the land continues to heal.

"For some catchments to fully recover it will take years - until they get significant regrowth."

Local photographer Josh Burkinshaw said he can still see signs of the fires in the water.

"There's a lot of ash in the water still. Even out in the bush you see the trees are still burnt," he said.

Cassie surveys some of the underwater soot while snorkelling. Picture: Joshua Burkinshaw
Cassie surveys some of the underwater soot while snorkelling. Picture: Joshua Burkinshaw

And while it's hard to see the brutality of Mother Nature, Aussie Sevens player and Olympic silver medallist Cassie Staples says the emerald waters of her hometown Batemans Bay are still a place of refuge.

"Like everyone I battle my inner demons but my escape is getting in the water. It's a place I like to wind down and switch off, bring myself back to earth. It's my little escape," she said.

"To see there is still so much ash, it's a reminder of the pain and loss the community endured. For the landscape, it's a scar moving forward, but the oceans are still just as beautiful."

 

Originally published as Black summer ash blankets ocean floor

Cassie Staples next to a cloud of underwater ash at her hometown of Batemans Bay. Picture: Joshua Burkinshaw
Cassie Staples next to a cloud of underwater ash at her hometown of Batemans Bay. Picture: Joshua Burkinshaw

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