15 huge rusty anchors still missing off Lennox beach
SHARP, pointy, big, heavy hazards are in the ocean along the NSW far north coast and they're not about to be tagged and released any time soon.
Fifteen rusty anchors, each one about the size of a five-year-old child and left over from the failed north coast shark mitigation eco barriers, are still missing at Lennox Head, and workers tasked with removing them from the water have no idea when they'll show up.
While staff from the NSW Department of Primary Industries were busy overseeing north coast commercial fishers hired to install shark nets at Lennox Head, Evans Head, Lighthouse, Shelly and Sharpes beaches in time for summer school holidays, excavators and divers were still on site pulling out the last bits of rope, concrete and steel from the old eco barriers.
"We've been at this for weeks," said Holmes Extractive Resources Site Supervisor Graham Somerville on Friday.
"We couldn't get out there these last two weeks, the sea was too rough."
Mr Somerville said he and his colleagues were responsible for retrieving the eco barrier at Lennox Head while different contractors worked at the other four beaches included in the government's six-month shark net trial.
A large section of beach slightly north of Lennox Head Surf Life Saving Club was barricaded as Mr Somerville and his crew worked with an excavator, anchor points on shore and a system of ropes to pull what he described as "space junk" from the ocean.
"It's like a helicopter just came and dropped it all out there," he said.
"It looks like some of these anchors were never attached to the barrier - they're pretty big and heavy and hard to handle, especially if you're in a small boat in rough seas or a swell trying to get the eco barrier set up."
Mr Somerville said the eco barrier had 26 concrete blocks (24 in the water), each one weighing 2.4 tonnes and 83 anchors that he guessed weighed 50 or 60kg each but had never tried to lift without the excavator.
"Fifteen of them are missing, they're still out there somewhere and we have no idea where," he said.
"We'll have to get a metal detector, start sweeping up and down."
Four divers from Brisbane had been hired to search for the anchors and any other debris and on Thursday volunteers from the SLSC took their boat out to help.
"I'll take any help I can get," said Mr Somerville.
"Yesterday I got the guy with the drone to have a look too."
Some of the anchors appear to have been partially buried in the sea bed, Mr Somerville said and pointed out sections of steel covered in barnacles compared to cleaner sections that he said showed the anchors had been exposed to sand, water and the open air.
"It looks like they've been tossed around a fair bit in rough weather," he said.
"Some of them have landed with the points down but some have landed with their points sticking up."
When asked if the anchors were likely to be far enough out to sea to pose little risk to children swimming, Mr Somerville pointed to an area less than ten metres from the shore and said the anchors could be there.
He was confident the anchors hadn't made it past a certain point in the ocean where the geography changed significantly as the water was clearer there and there had been no sign of debris.
Divers searched for eight to 10 hours in low visibility Friday morning: weather conditions, visibility and the presence of sharks have all hampered efforts.
"Yesterday we had two hours out of the water, there was a shark about 600m out," he said.
He called off Friday's search around lunch time and said a metal detector from Western Australia would arrive next week.
"Not sure how it will go," he said.
It is understood the DPI will sell the concrete blocks further south while the original eco barrier company will take back anchors and chains.