Growth and decline of shoreline industry in Sydney estuary (Australia) and influence on adjacent estuarine sediments

  • G. F. Birch
  • J. Lean
  • T. Gunns


Sydney estuary (Australia), like many urbanised waterways, is degraded due to an extended history of anthropogenic activity. Two major sources of contamination to this estuary are discharge by former shoreline industries and historic and contemporary catchment stormwater. The objectives of the present study were to document changes in shoreline land use from European settlement to the present day and determine the influence of this trend on the metal content of adjacent estuarine sediments. Temporal analysis of land use for seven time horizons between 1788 and 2010 showed rapid expansion of industry along much of the Sydney estuary foreshore soon after European settlement due to the benefits of easy and inexpensive access and readily available water for cooling and power. Shoreline industry attained maximum development in 1978 (32-km length) and declined rapidly to the present-day (9-km length) through redevelopment of industrial sites into medium- to high-density, high-value residential housing. Cores taken adjacent to 11 long-term industrial sites showed that past industrial practices contributed significantly to contamination of estuarine sediment. Subsurface metal concentrations were up to 35 times that of present-day surface sediment and over 100 times greater than natural background concentrations. Sedimentation rates for areas adjacent to shoreline industry were between 0.6 and 2.5 cm/year, and relaxation times were estimated at 50 to 100 years. Natural relaxation and non-disturbance of sediments may be the best management practice in most locations.


Stormwater Metals Contamination Land use Shoreline industry Catchment 



Andrew Wilson assisted in collating the land use maps and with GIS mapping; Dr. Matthew Kosnick, Peter Simpson and Diego Barneche collected the cores. Tom Savage managed the laboratories and controlled data quality.

Compliance with ethical standards

There are no conflicts of interest associated with this study, nor has any research involved human participation and/or animals and no individual rights have been infringed.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Geology Group, School of GeosciencesThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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