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Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s most beautiful harbours. It’s an absolute stunner.

It’s got the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, and some of the most sensational beaches, houses and suburbs this side of the moon. It’s numerous sandstone headlands, cliffs, islands and bays are surrounded by crystal clear, sparkling water, topped off by the city’s spectacular skyline. Breathtaking.

It’s easy to get distracted by these beautiful landmarks. But let’s not forget that the Harbour also supports some incredible plants and wildlife, both on the land and under the waves.

On the land you will find over 150 species of birds in and around our Harbour, as well as plenty of marsupials, bats and reptiles and amphibians.

Underwater, our Harbour is home to more than 580 different species of fish alone. Why so many? Well, there are heaps of types of underwater habitats in the Harbour that can support a wide range of marine life.

There are rocky shorelines, kelp covered reefs, rock platforms, sponge gardens, mangrove forests, and underwater fields of seagrass. Many of the fish use the rocky areas and kelp beds for food and shelter, and head to the more sheltered mangrove and seagrass sites for breeding.

Looking at that sparking water, it’s hard to image the busy world beneath. It’s also easy to forget that our actions above the surface can affect this underwater life in devastating ways.

Pollution running from the streets of Sydney often heads straight into our Harbour. Seen those signs up on the beaches telling you not to swim in the water after a big storm? Well, those signs are there to protect you from swimming in all the muck that has washed off our streets with the stormwater. We’re lucky: we can choose not to get in this mucky water. The sea life can’t.

Accumulated pollution in the waters of our Harbour doesn’t just make the water mucky. It also makes it toxic. It becomes hard for sea life to eat, find healthy habitats and breed.

The good news is that over the last few years we’ve been getting better at keeping our Harbour clean. Now we’re seeing the return of fish, dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles, shellfish and even fairy penguins to our increasingly clean and healthy Harbour.

This is a ripper result, and it’s wonderful to know that Sydney Harbour is again healthy enough to support such a wide range of wildlife.

We don’t want to crash the good news party, but there is always some ordinary environmental news. Climate change could spell a bit of bad news for our Harbour. By 2050 sea levels are predicted to rise by up to 40cm from 1990 levels, and by 90cm by 2100. According to a recent report by the NSW Department of Climate Change, one centimetre of sea level rise could potentially result in one metre of erosion.

Rising sea levels will eat away at habitats, particularly in low-lying areas like mangroves or marshes. Combine the rising sea levels with an increase of climate-related storm surges and marine habitats take a belting.

Rising temperatures all across New South Wales will also have an affect on marine life as plants and animals are forced to adapt to these changes. Some plants and animals may flourish; others may suffer. The same can be said for those on the land.

Don’t be alarmed: it’s not all doom and gloom.

There are things you can do.

How you can help Sydney Harbour Keep our Harbour clean!

* Put your rubbish in the bin and make sure it is secure. Loose litter is often blown into the streets and, eventually, our waterways, including our Harbour.
* Never rinse paint into a gutter or drain.
* Clean brushes on rags, then rinse water-based paint into the garden.
* Dissolve oil-based pint in turps and dispose of via your council waste and recycling service.
* Try to go chemical free.
* Check that your car isn’t leaking oil or petrol.
* Never pour oil into the gutter or drain: just one litre of oil can contaminate millions of litres of water. Your local council can direct you to an oil disposal centre.
* Clean up after your dog. It’s only yuck if you forget the plastic bag!

The state government is in charge of making the decisions about what happens to the Harbour and its plants and animals, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have your say and can’t get involved. Find out how the Premier and his gang are managing your Harbour: what are they doing about pollution, protection and conservation. Let them know what you think they should do.

Spend some time with Sydney Harbour.

Next time you’re looking at having a day out in the sunshine, take a trip to the Harbour. Hop on a boat, take a walk or bike ride on one of the many trails, or grab a picnic and head to the upper reaches of the Harbour and soak up some nature.