About 200 took to the water in kayaks and canoes, to impede access to the port, while 57 were arrested for blocking a rail line to the coal loader. A 41-year-old man who police say was hanging from a conveyor belt above a ship was charged with entering enclosed lands and destroying or damaging property.
Three women – aged 26, 27 and 22 – were charged after they allegedly abseiled from Stockton Bridge at the Port Waratah coal facility.
Further charges were laid against protesters accused of attaching themselves to equipment and ships, and a woman, 25, who allegedly climbed up mooring lines of a coal carrier.
“All have been granted police bail and are due to appear in Newcastle Local Court on June 9,” police said.
A spokesman from environmental activist group 350.org said climate change was an important issue to raise as the country prepared for the election on July 2.
“On a day when the election [was] called, it’s sending a signal to our elected leaders,” spokesman Campbell Klose said.
Despite the arrests, the protests were mainly peaceful, Mr Klose said.
Each group of protest craft paddled out to a roar of support, none more so than a contingent of canoes from the Pacific Islands.
Piloting the channel in a wooden outrigger canoe, Teddy Pelasio described life in his tiny, cyclone-battered home of Tokelau as “breakfast: fish, lunch: fish, dinner: fish”.
“What else can we do [but protest]? We’ve got no power, so we’ve got to ask the big boys like Australia,” said Mr Pelasio, who believed many of his 1400 countrymen and women would soon live in Australia and New Zealand.
“Are they going to let us drown? We’re just asking.”
Judith Leslie, John Krey and Anne Maree McLaughlin, who for the past six years have become anti-mine campaigners in their hometown of Bulga, joined the protest.
“It’s a bigger issue than just our local one,” Mr Krey said.
A man, who only wanted to be identified as Mark from New Lambton was out with family at Nobbys on Sunday.
“Don’t they realise they’re affecting people’s livelihoods?” he said.
“Like it’s fine to paddle out there and scream and yell, but someone else is footing the bill.
“That’s what the majority thinks, mate.