WATCHING the sun rise over Stockton beach was like dawn breaking over a rubbish tip on Tuesday.
Thats the way residents, who spent hours fighting a losing battle to collect the plastic washing ashore, described the scene they found at day break.
More than a kilometre of the coastal strip, including the patrolled section of the beach, was littered with a wave of plastic and metal from an exposed garbage tip leaching rubbish into the sea near Corroba Oval, at north Stockton.
Out to sea plastic bags and bottles could be seen drifting south towards the breakwater.
Starting at daybreak on Tuesday, angry residents began walking the beach collecting the rubbish. Others cut their early morning swim and surf short to lend a hand.
Stockton Landcare coordinator Paul Johnson described the scene at 6.30am as filthy.
I walked down to the beach and it was just a sea of plastic everywhere, he said.
A guy came in on a board and said it was just as bad out in the water. As fast as we were cleaning it up, and there were three of us working in one small section, it was washing up.
The trio spent 45 minutes cleaning up a 50-metre section of beach and collected seven supermarket bags full of plastic.
Among the debris was a frozen peas bag with 3LBS stamped on the front, dating the plastic before 1974 when the metric system was introduced in Australia.
There are fears erosion could cause an even bigger pollution problem for Stockton beach with Hunter Water confirming on Tuesday it was investigating the risk to three sewage ponds just north of the old tip site.
There are three maturation ponds. We are assessing the risk of exposure to these ponds and will take that into account as part of our broader strategy to rectify the site, Hunter Waters spokesman said.
Further north of the sewage ponds along the coastline is also a hospital garbage dump on state government land attached to the Stockton Centre, which used to be a hospital.
Surfer Matt Power, who moved to Stockton from Merewether five years ago and helped with Tuesdays cleanup, said hed never seen anything like it.
If this was happening in Merewether it would be a completely different story, he said. There would be an absolute outrage and so there should be.
The amount of rubbish still floating in the water is alarming, I dont even want to think about what its doing to the marine life. If we get a strong westerly there is no doubt this will all start washing up on Newcastle beaches in the coming days.
Its absolutely appalling.
Several residents who contacted the Herald questioned if it was safe to go in the water.
Jayne Smolen asked how she should explain the state of the beach to her children.
What do I say to my kids?, she said. Hey kids, we cant swim in our local beaches because its not healthy.
Paul Crockett questioned why bunding wasnt put in place in the water around the tip site to catch some of the rubbish before it made its way further south to the patrolled area.
The exposed tip is on Hunter Water and Crown land at the northern end of Corroba Oval, off Fullerton Street. Locals recall the site being used as a tip from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Former Newcastle deputy lord mayor Frank Rigby said the land formed a natural depression before it was filled with everything and anything people wanted to get rid of.
It was just the place to put your garbage, he said. There was a track that ran through it and people would walk in and throw all manner of things in there, it would not be pleasant whats in there.
Hunter Waters spokesman said investigations were continuing into the best way to deal with the exposed tip and workers began building an access road on Tuesday.
He said the organisation first became aware of the problem on Friday when it was contacted by Newcastle City Council.
We have Hunter Water staff picking up any loose litter in the landfill to prevent it escaping into the environment and Newcastle City Council continues to conduct daily beach sweeps.
Meanwhile, Mission Australia Early Learning Stockton will reopen on Wednesday following a safety assessment. A council spokesman said it was working with the child-care provider to find a longer term solution for the centre that is under threat from erosion.
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