Sydney Harbour environmental services

Roads and Maritime cleans the waters and foreshores of Sydney Harbour and navigable waters of the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers.

A clean Sydney Harbour is of benefit to the tourist industry, harbour-side local government, the recreational boating public, operators of commercial vessels, waterfront property holders and the public who use the beaches and foreshores of Sydney Harbour.


Roads and Maritime Services has a number of statutory responsibilities with respect to improving safety and protecting the environment on the navigable waterways in NSW, including the removal of rubbish from Sydney Harbour.

We clean the waters and foreshores of Sydney Harbour and navigable waters of the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers. This area consists of 5,020 hectares and a combined foreshore length of 270km. This service is currently the only effective means of removing floating litter and waste from Sydney Harbour including storm water pollution, other visible debris and floating hazards to navigation.

On average more than 3,500 cubic meters of rubbish is collected per year, ranging from large objects such as trees and tyres to the debris washed into the harbour from harbour side suburbs and small items left behind on beaches and other foreshore locations by members of the public.

Water pollution and sewage

Roads and Maritime manage the free sewage pumpout stations at Blackwattle Bay and King Street wharf. Staff also monitor the use of other free public fixed pumpout facilities available in Sydney Harbour to recreational and commercial vessels operators. Usage data from all monitored pumpouts in the Harbour and the mobile pumpout in Myall Lakes is electronically collected.

View pumpout facility locations across NSW.

Vessels and equipment

Our equipment represents the NSW Government's initiative to action for removal of floating litter and waste from the entire Sydney Harbour area with tributaries including public beaches and foreshores.

Fast response vessels

"ES1" is 7.8 meters long (built 1989) and has a single 150hp outboard engine, and carries a 3 cubic meter rubbish bin. This vessel provides rapid response to rubbish problems throughout the Harbour and can reach beaches and shallow waters inaccessible to the "Gadarra".

"ES5" and "ES6" commenced service in late 1998. These purpose built vessels combine (for their size) the best features of the "Gadarra", and the small fast response vessels. These vessels are 10.5 meters in length and powered by twin 150hp outboard engines. The power operated ramp will allow direct access to beaches and enable transport of beach cleaning equipment to and from appropriate locations. The on-board crane and addition of surface skimming equipment will allow these vessels to provide fast response for almost any cleaning requirement, and are listed as support vessels in the Oil Spill Response Plan for Sydney Harbour.

"ES7"  joined the fleet in 2007.  This vessel combines the best features of "ES5" and " ES6" and also incorporates the best feature of "Gadarra". A water-jet supported litter capture "basket" onboard the "ES7" enables rubbish to be intercepted, directed and manually collected while floating in the Harbour and thus preventing it from reaching foreshores and beaches.


Acquired in 2008 to replace a similar crane in terms of size and capacity. This equipment is used to unload waste collected daily from Harbour waters and public foreshores for further disposal via approved waste transfer disposal facility. The Grove crane is also used in conjunction with vessel maintenance activities for the entire Maritime Rozelle based fleet.

Beach cleaning

2 x Power Barrows (Muck trucks), which are essentially powered wheel-barrows, that serve to reduce the manual labour content of the foreshore and beach cleaning work, and significantly, use of this equipment has allowed ES to stop using plastic bags for collection and movement of waste materials before transportation to waste disposal facility.

Other equipment

A forklift and other motorized equipment, e.g. chainsaws, Starwagon Van, Hiab cranes and winches on ES5, ES5, ES7, used daily, and all serve to improve work practices, occupational health and safety, and productivity.

Historical background

In the early 1900s the Maritime Environmental Services team’s predecessors were known as the “rat catchers” of Sydney, formed to combat the spread of the Bubonic Plague. The trapping of infected rats was a vital service to the health of Sydneysiders.

In the 1930s, the “rat catchers” became the Harbour Cleaning Service. In timber boats a crew of hardy souls who didn’t mind the salt, spray or the smell, would collect debris and floating rubbish. The retrieval of dead animals and other unsavoury objects from Sydney Harbour was a common task.

In the 1950’s the wooden boats gained the luxury of engines but it was the greater environmental awareness stemming from the “Clean Up Australia” campaign that instigated the purchase of the present harbour cleaning equipment in June 1989.

In 1990, the Maritime Authority took on the responsibility for cleaning Sydney Harbour as a major environmental initiative.

The role of the Harbour Cleaning Branch changed to Environmental Services in 2002. It has grown in conjunction with the Maritime's enhanced responsibilities as an Appropriate Regulatory Authority under the State's environment protection laws. It demonstrates an increased environmental engagement and provides a stronger focus on environmental performance within commercial and recreational vessel fleets on Sydney Harbour. An additional duty, for example, involves monitoring compliance by contracting and building companies regarding deployment of anti-pollution booms and skirts around foreshore construction sites.

Today, the Maritime Environmental Services team operate seven days per week and equipment is also used to provide operational support to the major events on and around Sydney Harbour. Events include the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race Start on Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and Australia Day, for which marker buoys are laid to indicate safety exclusion zones on the harbour.

For several years, the team has also been conducting a Joint Foreshore Cleaning Project. Local Council areas nominate foreshore areas to be cleaned in a land based operation, labour is provided through the Department of Corrective Services Community Service Order and Periodic Detainee Rehabilitation Program, Clean Up Australia’s bus is loaned to the project with all planning, transport and supervision provided by the Harbour Cleaning Service. Councils bear the cost of transport and disposal of rubbish collected.

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