We are working to improve the health of Sydney Harbour, one of the finest in the world and a major asset to Australia.

Admiring Sydney Harbour and its surrounding estuaries from a ferry, your balcony or the city’s iconic shoreline is commonplace for most Sydney-siders. But the ability to acquaint the public with the physical properties of the estuary has never been easily attainable, until now. 

Our Vision

Our vision is to construct a computer based observatory that collects and makes available information about the health of Sydney Harbour. This will require a network of sensors in strategically chosen locations within the harbour, capable of measuring selected variables such as salinity, water temperature, turbidity and currents at different depths, and integrating these data with outputs from a hydrodynamic model of the waterway. The information is to be displayed in a near real-time visualisation, allowing data on variables such as currents, storm surge, water temperature and pollution levels to be made available to researchers, industry and the public via the internet. This data can then be used to provide additional information; such as the prevalence of microbial pathogens, location of algal blooms and dispersion of pollutants after a heavy rain event.

We would like to see Sydney Harbour clean enough for safe swimming day in and day out. We cannot achieve this today as we do not know the pathways that move the pollutants that an urban environment create into the Harbour and eventually out to sea. Where do the currents take the dioxin deposited in the sediments in Homebush Bay? How long does it take the tidal flows to flush Blackwattle Bay? The rivers and drains bring nutrients to the Harbour which are needed to nourish the phytoplankton and sea grasses. Does most of the nutrient supply come during storms or in the long periods between major rain events? Will there be more nutrients in the future or less? The Sydney Harbour Observatory aims to tackle and answer questions such as these.

Coastal estuaries like Sydney Harbour, play important roles as a marine nursery, a commercial hub and as a location for recreation. Changes in the strength and location of the East Australian Current due to climate change will result in a change in the supply of land and ocean-derived nutrients needed to support the biological population of Sydney Harbour. Detailed research is also taking place to understand how Sydney estuary responds to discharge of nutrients from the catchment and other contaminants across a variety of meteorological conditions and how climate change will impact on these relationships. These studies, along with our data, will enable researchers to start to address the question of how recreation, commercial activities, primary productivity and the ecology of Sydney Harbour will be affected by changes in the environment.