A large and passionate crowd gathered at Wollongong's Flagstaff Hill on Sunday to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed development of a wind farm zone off the Illawarra coast, urging the government to "keep the sea free".
Several speakers took to the microphone to voice their concerns about the plan, which if approved would cover 1461 square kilometres of ocean between 10 and 30 kilometres offshore, from Wombarra to Kiama.
The federal government wants to establish the zone to provide renewable energy and contribute to Australia's target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
How wind farms might affect migrating whales was a key concern.
Grant Drinkwater, a member of organising group Coalition Against Offshore Wind (CAOW), said his biggest concern stemmed from the construction period of the potential wind farms, due to the increase in marine traffic and its impact on the whale migration route.
"[T]heir own government paper will tell you there are no baseline studies for the environmental impacts of offshore wind farms in the southern hemisphere," Mr Drinkwater said.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward said this part of the Pacific Ocean was a highway for "whales and birds, endangered flora and fauna, things that are incredibly important to our country".
Climate change was an "imminent danger" and a switch to renewable energy was needed quickly, community member Chiara Nakashian said, but this could not result in decisions leading to "potentially destroying this beautiful fragile ecosystem".
"Australia's tourism industry is this pristine coastline," Ms Nakashian said.
Catherine McMillan, president of the NSW Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, said the sport was "in jeopardy" because wind turbines offshore would affect the "smooth, steady, stable" laminar air along the coast.
She said tourists went to Bald Hill to watch people fly and enjoy the ocean outlook, but that was at risk.
Lobster farmer Mark Horne referred to research from the UK which found that lobsters exposed to electromagnetic fields like those from underwater power cables associated with offshore wind farms were more likely to be deformed and poorer swimmers.
Mark Banasiak, Illawarra-based Shooters Fishers and Farmers MP, questioned the number of jobs the wind farm zone would create, and said there was "no guarantee" they would be filled by locals.
CAOW member and key rally organiser, Amanda De Lore, expressed dismay with the level of information provided by the government.
Some speakers also raised the visual impact of offshore wind farms and potential effects on shipping movements.
Speakers and the crowd voiced anger towards the Labor government and Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen, with longtime Labor voter Paul McLeod saying the party had "never disappointed me like they have with this project" and One Nation MP Tania Mihailuk leading a chant of "Bugger off Bowen".
Organisers estimated 1500 to 2000 people were in attendance at the rally, which was followed by a sizeable paddle-out from Wollongong City Beach.
Among those in attendance was Coledale resident Johanna Pheils, who said she had an open mind about the proposal but felt there was "very little reliable information".
"[I am] concerned about the environment, concerned about the whales, concerned about the lack of consultation, very concerned about any microclimate changes," Ms Pheils said.
Corrimal resident Gene Symons also said he was worried about the marine life, as well as the impact on shipping lanes.
"It's just a shame, Wollongong is one of the most scenic, beautiful cities in the world, and they've got to come and put this out there," fellow Corrimal resident Michael McGowan said.
Shellharbour's Lorraine Nicol was moved to attend her first rally.
"My deepest concern is that we haven't been given all the information we need to know, and they're not telling us the truth, in the sense they're telling us everything is going to be OK but they haven't had the time to do a survey over years on how everything's going to be affected," she said.
A Thirroul resident, who did not want to be named, was mostly concerned about what she said was a lack of information.
"Today is wonderful, to see the turnout... People are passionate about our area," she said.
At the same time there were smaller counter rallies by the Wollongong Undergraduate Students Association and the South Coast Labour Union, both of whom support the proposed offshore wind farm zone.
Submissions on the proposal are open until November 15.
If the zone goes ahead, developers will require to seek further approvals to build offshore wind farms in the area.
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