Sydney Pools Face New Threat

Our love affair with these iconic pools stretches back almost 200 years. But they face a new threat.

Every morning before the surfers arrive, pilgrims clutching towels and goggles cut through the spray of crashing waves to patches of tamed ocean where they swim, float or sit. They’re joined by photographers and children. It’s a ritual that has lasted almost as long as the baths themselves.

Australia has no other city with such a big collection of ocean pools. Built to protect swimmers from the full force of a wild coastline, they’re dotted all the way from Ballina to Eden, and more than 100 of them can be found in NSW alone. Each pool has its own character. From the triangular Fairy Bower in Manly to historic Wylie’s at Coogee and Olympic-sized South Cronulla, they’re cherished for their beauty and sense of community.

But they weren’t always so well protected. The early-20th-century willingness to dynamite rocks, destroy habitats and build clean concrete walls would not pass environmental tests now. At some, scientists are working to mitigate the damage. At the Cabbage Tree Bay aquatic reserve in Manly, for example, Sydney Institute of Marine scientists are recreating homes for the tiny creatures displaced by the pool’s construction.

While our love of ocean pools continues to grow, we are also becoming increasingly aware of the challenges they face. A new generation is taking a fresh look at the pools. Some are pushing for a return to the natural state of the beaches, while others have pushed back against what they see as over-development. But a few, like the Bronte Baths in Sydney’s east and Bilgola Sea Pool in Sydney’s north, are being threatened by a different kind of development – one that could threaten their very existence.

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