Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee – Return of the Mermaids

Project Profile

Name of Project Return of the Mermaids
Name of group(s) involved Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee
Location Warringah
State New South Wales
NRM Region Sydney Metro
What industry does the group belong to? Land management


The home of Manly’s mermaids is getting a makeover.
Through its “Return of the Mermaids” restoration project, commenced in 2002, the Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee is restoring Mermaid Pool to its former pristine condition.
Located in the heart of Manly and just three kilometres from Manly Beach, the pool has a rich history. Indigenous Australians believed creator spirits lived in the waterhole – a far cry from the local women who bathed there in the 1930s for whom the pond was named. However, decades of urban development degraded the site to a shadow of its former self: polluted, overgrown with weeds, and full of rubbish.
Through its regeneration plans the Return of the Mermaids project has been reversing the effects of dumping and the invasion of foreign weeds, as well as educating the Manly community of the value of the pool to the local environment.
Starting with the four tonnes of rubbish they removed in the very first day of the project, the group has collected truckloads of rubbish from the site – including parts of a Volkswagen Combi, a washing machine, and a stove. Their efforts in weed removal have greatly affected the local population of the noxious weed water primrose (Ludwigia peruviana) and improved the water quality of both the pool and Manly Creek, and had a big impact on the condition of the remnant bushland surrounding the pool.
Their work has made an impact on local wildlife as well: swamp wallabies have been spotted nearby, dwarf green tree frogs survive in the reed beds, and bandicoots have been spotted in the area for the first time in forty years.
Through their work in engaging the local community, the group has not only enlisted volunteers but gained material help and built working relationships with local businesses and groups. Their regeneration projects run alongside regular barbeques and celebrations, and they run their own awards at the end of every year. They even have their own bumper sticker – and their slogan, “I Weed at Mermaid Pool”, raises smiles around the community.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the broader environmental community. Clean Up Australia has adopted the site as a Fix Up Project, the National Heritage Trust has awarded the group two grants amounting to approximately $50,000, and the project won the 2011 Sydney Metro Catchment Management Authority Regional “Community Group Environment Award”.

Project Detail

Background to Project Mermaid Pool is a freshwater waterfall pond located on Manly Creek, 300m south of the Manly Dam. The pool was once a pristine freshwater swimming area – while indigenous Australians believed creator spirits resided in the water hole and so would not enter it, the pond’s name was given to it in the 1930s, a reference to the local girls who would swim in the pool. The area is surrounded by remnant bushlands and is a short distance from Manly’s beaches.Over time, the pond became polluted and overgrown. Most of the damage is due to poor catchment management, urban development, and industrial dumping. The pool became a dumping ground and was overrun with invasive weeds, with its depth and width halving, along with a vast decline in water quality. High levels of faecal coliform have been registered in water tests, and adjoining bushland has been overrun with foreign weeds.
Key Objectives The “Return of the Mermaids” project aims to return the site to environmental health and raise community members’ awareness of both Mermaid Pool and the broader environment in which they live. By removing decades of built-up rubbish and weeds and undertaking bush regeneration projects, Save Manly Dam aim to restore Mermaid Pool to its former condition. Their community education initiatives aim to raise community awareness not only of the need to restore the pool, but to protect the unique Australian environment.
Description of Project The project commenced on Clean Up Australia Day 2002, when four tonnes of rubbish were removed by 71 volunteers. Since then, it has incorporated a number of initiatives to regenerate the environmental condition of the creek and engage the local community in the ecological work being undertaken. 

The project’s primary activities are rubbish and weed removal. Urban development has resulted in the pool being used as a dumping ground, necessitating the removal of many truckloads of rubbish. Additionally, poor environmental management has resulted in exotic weeds overtaking the site, including the noxious weed Ludwigia peruviana (water primrose). Weed removal is performed with care not to disturb other environmental factors – herbicide use is kept to a minimum, removal of weeds by hand is prioritised, and the removal of particular weeds is monitored to ensure habitat is not disturbed too greatly in too short a period of time.
Community awareness of the project and its goals is raised by a number of methods. The street drains in the area have been stencilled to remind community members where rubbish and leaves end up. The group holds community information stalls and talks, as well as producing information brochures and leaflets on the importance of wildlife and plant management – topics include the importance of keeping pets inside at night, the effects of littering the bush with green waste, the value of growing native plants.
Local businesses have contributed volunteer work and material help to the project. Roche has sent staff to volunteer at the site, while companies such as IGA, Fish Outta Water (a local fishing equipment store), Eso Surveyers, and Bill Buckle Toyota have contributed goods to the group.
The project has involved community volunteers over the nine years since its foundation, including periodic detainees from Parramatta Correctional Centre, as well as enlisting the help of Warringah Council, members of Parliament, and local companies. Studies and research have been undertaken by students and experts on native plants and animals, with plans for the project being provided by the local council and bush regeneration contractors.
Project Outcomes – Qualitative The project has achieved a number of outcomes, not only in its work regenerating the site, but in engaging the local and wider community in its goals. The overall depth and width of the pool has been greatly increased through the removal of large qualities of noxious waterweed. While there is still a problem with weed  invasion downstream, Mermaid Pool has seen significant positive improvement over the term of the project. The ongoing rubbish removal effort continues to increase the water quality of the creek and local habitat, as well as provide opportunities for community members to get together over barbeques and celebrations. 

The project’s level of engagement with the general community is noteworthy. In particular, Clean Up Australia has included the project in its national Fix Up Program, and the project has received two National Heritage Trust grants amounting to approximately $50,000. Additionally, the project has strengthened the group’s relationships with local businesses, community groups, and government organisations, and increased awareness of these groups’ involvement in the local community and in environmental work.
Transferable Outcomes As a result of their ongoing work regenerating Mermaid Pool, the Save Manly Dam Catchment committee have strengthened relationships with a variety of groups in their local community. They have also created the foundation for further regeneration efforts, not only at Mermaid Pool but at other environmental sites in the region, through their community awareness and education programs.