Warrnambool man hospitalised with ruptured bowel after surfing near 'brown sludge'

Daniel Miles
Swellnet Dispatch

Tim Dryden could never have imagined an Easter weekend surf would land him in hospital fighting for his life. 

The Warrnambool father of three surfed The Passage in Port Fairy on Good Friday.

Between sets he noticed a brown sludge moving across the water's surface but continued paddling, presuming it was stirred-up seaweed or kelp — a common occurrence at south-west beaches. 

A lack of appetite the next day quickly turned to debilitating stomach pains.

Come Monday, Mr Dryden was on the surgeon's table at the Warrnambool Base Hospital fighting for his life. 

Investigation underway 

The state environment department has launched an investigation into reports of a "brown sludge-like substance" in Port Fairy over the Easter break. 

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) sent an officer to the Port Fairy break on Thursday to inspect the area. 

Mr Dryden is recovering at home following emergency surgery to fix a ruptured bowel wall, which doctors said was caused by an infection he picked up prior to becoming unwell.

"I've actually had a life-changing and also life-threatening experience," Mr Dryden said. 

"Initially I was just shocked and then, I mean, I'm not an emotional person but I started thinking my life's really changed. I nearly died."

The surgery revealed that, unbeknown to him, Mr Dryden had diverticulitis, an inflammation of the bowel which he said made him predisposed to bowel infection.

He has had a colostomy bag inserted and cannot work, drive or lift objects for the next three months. 

"I'm tired. I can't do anything. My life's basically stopped. 

"It's a scary thing when the things you take for granted, like going to the toilet, are taken away from you."

A "brown sludge-like substance" was spotted at two Port Fairy beaches.

Another surfer, Mark Archbold, was also hospitalised after surfing the same spot just hours after Mr Dryden had left the water.

In a twist of fate, the pair ended up in adjoining rooms in Warrnambool hospital. 

"I just thought it was bad luck initially, but if it turns out something that's in the water, then that's a whole other ballgame," Mr Dryden said.

A "brown sludge-like substance" was spotted at two Port Fairy beaches.

The local water authority, Wannon Water, is denying any fault on its end. 

"Wannon Water has not experienced any issues with our Port Fairy Sewage Treatment Plant or the outfall," managing director Andrew Jeffers said. 

The EPA said Wannon Water was required to notify it of any issues with the treatment plant, and there were both natural and incident-related reasons why water could be discoloured. 

The state government's environment department is investigating and has taken water samples from "multiple locations" at Port Fairy.

A spokesperson said the test results were not yet available, but "initial evidence of suspected algal blooms has been observed in the surf at two Port Fairy beaches".

They said the suspected algal blooms were seen at South Beach, which is near The Passage, and Golfies Beach, about five kilometres away.

Alert system needed 

The incident has raised concerns over beachgoers' ability to monitor conditions and stay safe in the water. 

Clean Ocean Foundation chief executive John Gimmell said a national water-monitoring system could have stopped Mr Dryden entering the water.

"We need a real-time transparent warning system, whether it's for a potential issue with water treatment plants, stormwater outfalls, heavy rainfall, all things beyond the water authorities," Mr Gimmell said. 

He said the foundation was concerned by reports that multiple people were hospitalised and that such incidents should be avoidable. 

"People need to feel that they're being kept safe.

"It's just incredible to think that in a modern-day age, where you can tap on your phone and find out what's going on all around the world, that when there's potentially an issue somewhere in a locality that there's no decent messaging system to alert people there might be a risk there."


© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola Monday, 19 Apr 2021 at 2:00pm

hope u guys get better soon

Gowest's picture
Gowest's picture
Gowest Monday, 19 Apr 2021 at 3:12pm

I was also there and noticed the brown sludge a East Beach coming from the shoreline, very suss?!

Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror Monday, 19 Apr 2021 at 5:31pm

Just got back from Port Fairy on Saturday, noticed the brown sludge at East Beach, only on the high tide and big swells, looked the same colour as the brown algae looking stuff on the rock walls, that's what I told the kids it was from and to get out there and stop complaining. Also, the Yambuk river had blue-green algae. So we didn't have a swim or fish just went down the Giant slide.

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Monday, 19 Apr 2021 at 6:59pm

Nutrients = algae = humans
Port Fairy looks like a tree cleared catchment; suburbia with marina & golfcourse surrounded by grazing farmlands. Just add a westerly wind from Portland containing a blend of 300 cargo ships, 150,000 trucks /PA , mix with woodchips & fertilizer residues.

Dilution was the solution in Sydney; $Millions spent using an environmental levy (bbbig cleanup before the Sydney Olympics) with a deepwater outfall & upgraded treatment plants.... instead of Bondi cigars, etc.

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter Monday, 19 Apr 2021 at 8:38pm

I'm no doctor but it sounds like it could be 'dinophysis' toxins that pipis and other shellfish get after some algal blooms. Even cooking doesn't destroy it,, nasty stuff. And that's the general reason fisheries prefer you buy professionally harvested stock for human consumption. Most wild pipis will be safe but it's hard to determine were these blooms will/have occurred , commercially harvested product is tested for the toxins .

dr-surf's picture
dr-surf's picture
dr-surf Monday, 19 Apr 2021 at 8:47pm

I admire anyone who even Surfs the Passage. But two Healthy Guy’s at the One Spot?

Blingas's picture
Blingas's picture
Blingas Monday, 19 Apr 2021 at 8:57pm

Man there was some brown slug at Middleton yesterday swell. But that's pretty normal like swimming in a milo

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Monday, 19 Apr 2021 at 9:43pm

This is Horrid News & deserves crews full attention...get well soon guys!
Crew will help out where we can...(tbb only researches / shares resource...Locals will need to call this!)

Sewage was noted & crew can show & Locals know of a rather obvious seasonal link!

Port Fairy Domestic WRP Outfall Pop 1,921 (Tertiary - Ocean release of 3ML daily)
E-Coli (org/100mL) Jan 82,000 - Feb 4,800 -*March 140,000 - April 1,700 / June 21.
Flow Volume ML Jan 105 / Feb 87 -*March 88 - April 93 / May 117 / June 94
Phosphorous was extremely high in March > (Almost Double)
Turbidity was well higher in March >

Locals will instantly know why (Early > March > on readings are the most heavy polluting).
Port Fairy Folk Festival 12-20,000 / day hooks into Wannon Mains Outfall that services 2,000 Pop.
Sewage outfall has a 3mL / day limit so the outfall is constantly bogged, building for longer into April
Flowvac Sewerage Systems also links to Port Fairy Folk Festival. (re: Online link)

Backlog seems to take a while to clear...(see Table) possible it backed up an exaggerated release.
Therefore company says it's normal...maybe after the March Festivals this size backlog is normal.
Must be pointed out Wannon supply drinking Water & sewage for Festival & won't involve Partners.
This is unusual for Festivals as most dump Plastic Bottles about & gross out Port'a'loos...(Crew knows!)
Yep! Reckon this is a State Utility sponsored Event & we don't smell any problem here thanx!

Whichever way...March - April needs info of larger concentrated pooling of ocean releases
Festival has now grown too big for the Surf Coast..can no longer Dance & Surf...(Surf Loses...Sorry!)
Bodysurfer's face up to it, Bodyboarders lay in it or Boardriders sit in it...no avoiding it!
tbb will leave it to locals to call...as this would likely be noticeable each year on back of the Festival.

saltyhooves's picture
saltyhooves's picture
saltyhooves Friday, 23 Apr 2021 at 7:49am

Really informative reply truebluebasher.

My thoughts are with those affected for a speedy recovery.

The following link describes sea temps at port fairy, a factor playing a major role in the boom and bust nature of an algal bloom. Sea temperatures are rising globally, normally colder water areas are experiencing periods of higher than usual temperatures

Harmful algae blooms require the conditions conducive to a bloom to interact perfectly

Warming global sea temperatures/upwelling-nutrients/climatic extremes/human induced environmental pressures we all know are culprits. I agree that a program to monitor water quality is of great benefit but in the case of algae can be difficult. There is a window (often extremely short lived) to obtain/physically collect samples for analysis. The remnants of the bloom are often what we as ocean goers observe (sludge, floating rafts of discoloured organic matter) and although the sample can still be collected, often the critical time for counting and identifying harmful species has passed. Thus the nature of predicting and containing these potentially harmful blooms is extremely difficult.

A holistic approach led by proactive local councils and community members is a management option but in my experience the red tape from the higher government bodies prevents true and sincere engagement.

Lets see some water quality specialists from varied fields of expertise implemented in local programs across regional areas of Australia. Lets see some well overdue changes to the way our government views the future of our water resources.

Extra-Effortz's picture
Extra-Effortz's picture
Extra-Effortz Tuesday, 20 Apr 2021 at 3:18pm

Appears very suspect to me in terms of a Super-bug in amongst a load of raw sewage.

Most likely offloaded by a container ship or possible some unprocessed sewage?

But this also might help explain my view a little further, was incredibly interesting viewing on ABC last night : https://tvblackbox.com.au/page/2021/04/19/final-episode-tonight-of-invis...

I was interested to see how these bacteria are becoming better at surviving in any conditions (Deserts, Volcano's, Ice-Fields, whatever) and with our anti-microbial war on infection, you very may well end up in hospital with a bug that cannot be removed from your system, other than amputation or system clean-out..as it sounds like this guy (with a colostomy bag) probably had.

I avoid (if possibly) surfing in just water that looks like disgusting muck.

But these days, with the influx of metro-regions and population growth spread, the days of clean water are becoming more a rarity.

Maybe head to the wave pool next time?? ;-)

Check link for series : https://iview.abc.net.au/show/invisible-wars


chrisss_91's picture
chrisss_91's picture
chrisss_91 Tuesday, 20 Apr 2021 at 4:08pm

Middleton on any other day of the week really

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Tuesday, 20 Apr 2021 at 8:59pm

Middleton is 10km from the Murray mouth, Pullen spit & scab channel.....

Redmond Clement's picture
Redmond Clement's picture
Redmond Clement Wednesday, 21 Apr 2021 at 4:03am

My prayers are for your recovery Tim. I remember surfing in a sludge when a US aircraft carrier was in town.

Extra-Effortz's picture
Extra-Effortz's picture
Extra-Effortz Wednesday, 21 Apr 2021 at 2:07pm

It's a terrible thing I'd not wish on anyone..but a ticket of support to the wave-pool affectionardos as I feel the instances of muck in the ocean is sadly going to be on the general rise forever and a day to come.


Logical's picture
Logical's picture
Logical Wednesday, 21 Apr 2021 at 10:17am

Hopefully more people will give up surfing and less new people will start.
Folks the water is too dangerous, many of us should re think a new sport to take up.