JUST beyond the banks of the Hunter River at Hexham, the mangroves of Ash Island have become a disgraceful dump site that authorities appear to have disowned.
It is not easy to see when approaching by boat - that is, until you step out at the Hunter Wetlands National Park and see the mangroves choked with streams of rubbish.
Moving with the ebb and flow of the tide, the high-water mark is strewn with rubbish washed from storm water drains, residential run off and left by illegal dumpers.
The filth extends across five kilometres of foreshore along both sides of the river.
Tens of thousands of bottles, cans, polystyrene boxes, car tyres, two household water heaters, clothing, paper, food wrappings, cigarette lighters, pens, toys, fishing tackle bags, a small sea of plastic and loads of other junk is trapped.
Founder of Clean4Shore Graham Johnston said it was the worst he'd seen in 10 years running clean-up operations in Australia and Indonesia.
The not-for-profit community group and volunteers started working in the wetlands on Saturday and collected 75 bags of rubbish, weighing 650 kilograms, including 1200 plastic bottles.
After surveying the area on Wednesday, Mr Johnston estimated there was "at least" another 1000 bags of rubbish still trapped in the mangroves, including an illegal dumping ground full of car tyres further down the river.
"A lot of it is very old, some of it could have been here for 10 years," he said.
"I've been to Indonesia every July for eight years to do clean-ups and the pollution is horrific. This is worse.
"It's so important for this to be cleaned up, it would be having a horrible impact on the environment."
Clean4Shore, based on the Central Coast, secured federal government funding with assistance from Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon under the Stronger Communities Program to conduct 24 field trips to clean-up the mangroves.
Mr Johnston is seeking expressions of interest from schools interested in getting students involved.
"There are a whole heap of issues to do with entanglement from rope and plastic with the wildlife, that's why it's so important to get areas like this cleaned up," he said.
"If it's in the drains around here it's going into the Hunter River. The tides will push it up and down and it's all just landing here and getting stuck.
"The question has to be asked if this is one of the worst litter deposits in Australia."
IN THE NEWS:
- Man arrested over 2018 death of Ewan Sams, who was hit by 4WD in Coalfields backyard
- Calls for Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen to resign over Black Lives Matter / abortion post
- Baby boy's tragic death set for trial
- Fraud squad police execute search warrant on Sydney-based auditing firm to seize ALS Newcastle lab documents in international fake coal testing investigation
- TAFE students earn high praise for edible works of art
- NSW Environment Minister Matthew Kean demands the EPA take action on the heavily-contaminated Maitland Truegain waste-oil refinery site
- Knights boss Phil Gardner says Kalyn Ponga could have earned more money elsewhere
According to National Parks and Wildlife, more than 200 species of birds either live in or migrate through the Hunter estuaries.
Ash Island is promoted as a wildlife sanctuary that features family-friendly walking, cycling, fishing and bird watching.
Mr Johnston's organisation does 120 field trips a year cleaning up waterways and he described the Hunter River scene as "disgusting".
"This wetland is worse than anything else I've ever seen," he said.
"With the amount of rubbish I've seen we could be cleaning this up for two years depending on the funding we can get. It really cant' be underestimated."
The Newcastle Herald was unable to gain comment from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service on Wednesday.
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here