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



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.


  1. ABS (2011). Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011. MapStats. [Online] Available: Cited December 2013.
  2. ABS (2013). Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013. History of roads in Australia, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra, Available: [Accessed 23 Sept 2013].
  3. Birch, G. F. (2003). A test of normalisation methods for marine sediments, including a new post-extraction normalisation (PEN) technique. Hydrobiologia, 492, 5–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Birch, G. F. (2011). Contaminated soil and sediments in a highly-developed catchment-estuary system (Sydney estuary, Australia) – an innovative stormwater remediation strategy. Journal of Soils and Sediments, 11(1), 194–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Birch, G. F., & Hutson, P. (2009). Use of sediment risk and ecological/conservation value for strategic management of estuarine environments: Sydney estuary, Australia. Environmental Management, 44, 836–850.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Birch, G. F., & McCready, S. (2009). Catchment condition as a major control on the quality of receiving basin sediments (Sydney Harbour, Australia). Science of the Total Environment, 407, 2820–2835.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Birch, G. F., & Olmos, M. A. (2008). Sediment-bound heavy metals as indicators of human influence and biological risk in coastal water bodies. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 65, 1407–1413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Birch, G. F., & Scollen, A. (2003). Heavy metals in road dust, gully pots and parklands in a highly urbanised sub-catchment of Port Jackson, Australia. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 41, 1329–1342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Birch, G. F., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). Source of heavy metals in sediments of Port Jackson estuary, Australia. The Science of the Total Environment, 227, 123–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Birch, G. F., & Taylor, S. E. (2000). Distribution and possible sources of organochlorine residues in sediments of a large urban estuary, Port Jackson, Sydney. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 47(4), 749–756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Birch, G. F., & Taylor, S. E. (2002). Application of sediment quality guidelines in the assessment of contaminated surficial sediments in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour), Australia. Environmental Management, 29(6), 860–870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Birch, G. F., Murray, O., Johnson, I., & Wilson, A. (2009). Reclamation in Sydney Estuary, 1788-2002. Australian Geographer, 40(3), 347–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Birch, G. F., Chang, C.-H., Lee, J.-H., & Churchill, L. J. (2013). The use of vintage surficial sediment data and sedimentary cores to determine past and future trends in estuarine metal contamination (Sydney estuary, Australia). Science of the Total Environment, 454–455, 542–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Birminham, J., Jack, I., & Jeans, D. (1979). Australian pioneer technology. Richmond: Heinemann Educational.Google Scholar
  15. Blaxell, G. (2010). Mortlake. Sydney Journal, [Online], Available at [Accessed 29 Sept 2013].
  16. Chang, C.-H. (2011). Use of sedimentary metals as an indicator of estuarine health in four embayments of Sydney estuary, Australia. Unpubl. MSc thesis, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Australia.Google Scholar
  17. Clark, M. W., Davis-McConchie, F., McConchie, D., & Birch, G. F. (2000). Selective chemical extraction and grain size normalisation for environmental assessment of anoxic sediments: validation of an integrated procedure. Science of the Total Environment, 258, 14–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Coupe, S. (1983). Concord a centenary history. Concord: The Council of the Municipality of Concord.Google Scholar
  19. Deely, J. M., & Fergusson, J. E. (1994). Heavy metal and organic matter concentrations and distributions in dated sediments of a small estuary adjacent to a small urban area. Science of the Total Environment, 153(1–2), 97–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. European Commission. (1996). Technical and economic study on the reduction (based on the best technology available) of industrial emissions (water, air and solid wastes) from tanneries. Final Report. Luxembourg: Office for the official publications of the European Communities.Google Scholar
  21. Forstner, U., & Wittman, G. T. W. (1979). Metal pollution in the aquatic environment (pp. 119–131). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hatje, V., Rae, K., & Birch, G. F. (2001). Trace metal and total suspended solids concentrations in freshwater: the importance of small-scale temporal variations. Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 3, 251–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Irvine, I. A. (1980). Sydney harbour: Sediments and heavy metal pollution, Thesis (Ph.D.), University of Sydney, Sydney.Google Scholar
  24. Jacobs, D. E., Clickner, R. P., Zhou, J. Y., Viet, S. M., Marker, D. A., Rogers, J. W., Zeldin, D. C., Broene, P., & Friedman, W. (2002). The prevalence of lead-based paint hazards in U.S. housing. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(10), A599–A606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. King, C. (2004). Determining pre-anthropogenic heavy metal concentrations in estuarine sediments. Unpubl. BSc Hons thesis, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney, Australia.Google Scholar
  26. Lean, J. (2013). An assessment of catchment land use and estuarine condition: Sydney estuary, Australia. Unpubl. BSc Hons thesis, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney, Australia.Google Scholar
  27. Lee, J.-H. (2011). Use of sedimentary metal indicators to assess temporal change in the contaminant status of Lane Cove Sub-estuary. Unpubl. MApplSci thesis., School of Geosciences, Sydney University, Australia; 2011.Google Scholar
  28. Lee, S. B., & Birch, G. F. (2012). Utilising monitoring and modelling of estuarine environments to investigate catchment conditions responsible for stratification events in a typically well-mixed urbanised estuary. Journal of Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science, 111, 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lee, S. B., Birch, G. F., & Lemckert, C. (2011). Field and modelling investigations of fresh-water plume behaviour in response to infrequent high-precipitation events, Sydney Estuary, Australia. Journal of Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science, 92, 380–402.Google Scholar
  30. Legislative Council (2002). Redevelopment and remediation of the Rhodes Peninsula Report 25, June 2002. Standing Committee on State Development, Parliamentary Paper Number 135; 2002.Google Scholar
  31. Leichhardt Council. (1990). Report on the proposed rezoning of the Ampol, Unilever, Balmain Power Station, Monsanto and Caltex sites. Leichhardt: Leichhardt Municipal Council, Town Planning Department.Google Scholar
  32. Leite, N., Myers, T., Remond, L. (1995). Analysis of the contaminated sediments of Homebush Bay. Unpubl. Graduate Diploma in Environmental Science thesis, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.Google Scholar
  33. Linge, G. J. R. (1968). Secondary industry in Australia. In G. H. Dury & M. I. Logan (Eds.), Studies in Australian geography. Melbourne: Heinemann Educational Australia.Google Scholar
  34. Links, F. (1998). Historical trends in land use and the chronology of contaminants in sediments of Sydney Harbour. B.Sc. thesis (unpublished), School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Sydney.Google Scholar
  35. McCready, S., Birch, G. F., & Long, E. R. (2006). Metallic and organic contaminants in sediments of Sydney Harbour and vicinity: a chemical dataset for evaluating sediment quality guidelines. Environment International, 32, 455–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McLoughlin, L. C. (2000). Shaping Sydney harbour: sedimentation, dredging and reclamation 1788-1990s. Australian Geographer, 31(2), 183–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mielke, H. W., Powell, E. T., Shah, A., Gonzales, C. R., & Mielke, P. W. (2001). Multiple metal contamination from house paints: consequences of power sanding and paint scraping in New Orleans. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109(9), 973–978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nath, B., Birch, G. F., & Chaudhuri, P., (2013). Trace metal biogeochemistry in mangrove ecosystems: a comparative assessment of acidified (by acid sulfate soils) and non-acidified sites. Science of the Total Environment, 2013, doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.06.024.
  39. Nath, B., Birch, G. F., & Chaudhuri, P. (2014). Assessment of sediment quality in Avicennia marina-dominated embayments of Sydney estuary: the potential use of pneumatophores (i.e., aerial roots) as bio-indicators of estuarine contamination. Science of the Total Environment, 472, 1010–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nikandrow, A. L. (2000). A history of inustry and heavy metal contamination along the southern shoreline and embayments of Port Jackson, New South Whales. MSc, University of Sydney, Sydney (unpublished).Google Scholar
  41. NSW O E & H (2013). New South Wales Government Office of Environment and Heritage, Case Study Rhodes Peninsula Sydney Australia Accessed 2014.
  42. Proudfoot, P. (1996). Seaport Sydney: The making of the city landscape. Sydney: Uni. NSW Press.Google Scholar
  43. Rosner, D., Markowitz, G., & Lanphear, B. (2005). J. Lockhart Gibson and the discovery of the impact of lead pigments on children's health: a review of a century of knowledge. Public Health Reports, 120(3), 296–300.Google Scholar
  44. SIMS (2013). Sydney Institute of Marine Science. December 2012 Living Harbour Dynamic Science, p. 1.
  45. Smith, J. N., Lee, K., Gobeil, C., & Macdonald, R. W. (2009). Natural rates of sediment containment of PAH, PCB and metal inventories in Sydney Harbour, Nova Scotia. Science of the Total Environment, 407, 4858–4869.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Snowden, R., & Birch, G. F. (2004). The nature and distribution of copper, lead and zinc in soils of a highly urbanised sub-catchment (Iron Cove) of Port Jackson, Sydney. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 42, 329–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Solling, M., & Reynolds, P. (1997). On the margins of the city. Australia: Leichhardt Municipal Council.Google Scholar
  48. Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (2013). Cockatoo Island, [Online] available at:, [Accessed 30 Sept 2013].
  49. Tate, A. (2005). Ludowici limited pioneering the past: Forging the future 1858-2004. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  50. Taylor, S. E. (2000). The source and remobilisation of contaminated sediment in Port Jackson, Australia, Thesis (Ph.D.), Division of Geology and Geophysics, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Sydney.Google Scholar
  51. Taylor, S. E., Birch, G. F., & Links, F. (2004). Historical catchment changes and temporal impact on sediment of the receiving basin, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 51, 233–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Townsend, J. (2011). Industrial and urban development in Hen and Chicken Bay, Sydney Estuary, NSW, Australia and impact of contamination on the estuary, MSc, University of Sydney, Sydney (unpublished).Google Scholar
  53. Walsh, G. P. (1963). The geography of manufacturing in Sydney 1788-1851. Business Achieves and History, 3(1), 20–52.Google Scholar
  54. Webber, M. J., & Daly, T. D. (1971). Spatial and temporal variation in short term industrial change. Australian Geographical Studies, 9(2), 186–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Willoughby City Council (1995). Flat rock gully and bicentennial reserve, plan of management, part 4. Clouston Rpt. N$215, Water Management, Sydney, Australia.Google Scholar
  56. World Bank Group (1998). Coke Manufacturing. Pollution Prevention and Abatement Handbook, pp. 286-290.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations