With water levels at Smiths Lake at record lows, local residents are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of four-wheel drives (4WDs) driving on the lake bed.
“We’re very concerned because it does a lot of damage,” Wallis and Smiths Lake Coast and Estuary Management Committee acting chair, George McKay, said.
Large numbers of 4WDs have been seen driving on the sand channel that has formed between Symes Bay and the main body of the lake, with reports that vehicles have even been camping on the prohibited area overnight.
With nippers, cockles, periwinkles and oysters having already died due to the dry conditions, Mr McKay said the 4WDs have the potential to cause further damage to the lake’s fauna.
“Some of these creatures live in burrows in the sand,” he said.
“When 4WDs drive across these areas they compress the sand down and the creatures can’t survive.”
Mr McKay believes there has also been a reduction in birdlife due to the presence of the vehicles.
Asked whether people have been driving on the lake because of a lack of enforcement in the area, MidCoast Council’s community spaces, recreation and trades director, Dan Aldridge, said he did not believe so.
But he did admit that the lake is not being patrolled on a daily basis.
“Rangers have many competing priorities they have to attend to,” he said.
Local resident Graeme Macey believes the appropriate resources have never been allocated to deal with this issue.
He said vehicles driving on prohibited parts of Smiths Lake was not just a recent concern, but rather an ongoing problem that council had failed to address.
“Given the time this matter has been on the agenda, council and marine parks have fundamentally failed in their stewardship of Smiths Lake.”
Mr Macey also claimed council rangers rarely came when alerted to the presence of vehicles driving on the lake, and that when they did, it was never in a timely manner.
For five years I've been campaigning for them (council) to address people driving on the lake.Graeme Macey
However, Mr McKay believes the weight of blame shouldn’t rest solely on council.
“They (the rangers) have been doing as much as they can,” he said.
“There’s not many of them and they can’t be out there all the time.”
He suggested the low water levels were a big reason why so many vehicles are driving on the lake.
“There are so many areas where people can access the lake illegally,” he said.
“It’s not a problem when the lake levels are up.”
Asked whether he thinks people are driving on the lake because they’re unaware of the rules or simply choosing to ignore them, he said it’s most likely a case of both
Mr Aldridge agreed.
“I would like to think it’s a lack of knowledge,” he said.
“But if you give people an inch, they run a mile.”