Warrnambool man hospitalised with ruptured bowel after surfing near 'brown sludge'
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.
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.
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."
// DANIEL MILES
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