Mangrove massacre paves way for cyclone devastation
by Andrew Jackson Chainsaw wielding property agents slashed down 10,000 mangrove trees in the Hinchinbrook coastal area of North Queensland, with an aim to develop the area and "beautify" it with an artificial beach. The mangroves provided not only a haven for native wildlife, but also protected the fragile coast from the onslaught of cyclones. The reason for the proposed beach is to increase the value of the waterfront property. Cardwell Properties, which is responsible for the act, is building a housing estate on the waterfront land adjoining the mangroves. They deemed that a strip of artificial sand would be much more appealing to potential investors than the natural mangrove habitat. The new-growth mangroves were flourishing in an area covered by the Queensland State Marine Park, the inter-tidal zone along the Oyster Point foreshore about one kilometre south of Cardwell. Cardwell Properties had been given permission to cut down the mangroves by the Government, however there was no public notification. The required notices were placed on a fence where they could be viewed only from unoccupied private property. Under their Site Deed Management agreement, the Government could give permission for the land to be cleared if it was established that the coastline had been stabilised for a period of four years. Recent activities by Cardwell Properties such as their continual dumping of landfill and concrete in the area would indicate that that had not been the case. The North Queensland Conservation Council and the Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook believe that there was no sound evidence that would have supported the clearing of the mangroves. Both organisations made submissions to the Queensland Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in good time for this latest mangrove destruction to have been averted. They have now sought a "Statement of Reasons" from the Government, to force it to justify the decision to grant approval. The proposal to build an artificial beach on the site was long ago publicly declared "technically not feasible". Professor Peter Saenger of the Southern Cross University was the Independent Monitor under the Deed of Agreement between Cardwell Properties and the three levels of government. In 1998 he told a Federal Senate Committee that the stable beach desired by Cardwell Properties would be impossible to construct and maintain. "He cannot build a beach there; sand will just forever move north. "The cost of maintaining a beach at Oyster Point at the low level he is trying to do it is impossible." An unusual six years without cyclones, and careful tending by supporters from local environmental groups had allowed the new dense mangrove forest to become established along much of the foreshore. The new growth had replaced some of the earlier old-growth forest bulldozed in a midnight raid in 1994 which followed the announcement of the Australian Governor General's protective Proclamation under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act. Margaret Moorhouse, North Queensland Conservation Council Hinchinbrook Campaign Co-ordinator said, "The approximately ten thousand young trees destroyed were the only hope of restoring any naturally sustainable stability to the shore of this former mangrove island. "After the developer has left, who will pay the millions of dollars involved in beach replenishment and coastal erosion reparation?" "Will it be private property owners, Cardwell Shire ratepayers, or the public purse?" Ironically, the destruction of the mangrove forest by the developer could mean the future destruction of the housing estate. Mangroves provide vital protection for tropical coastal areas in the event of cyclone-generated storm surges. New CSIRO warnings specific to North Queensland include a 20 per cent increase in cyclone intensity, increase in rainfall intensity (in one of the wettest places on earth), a 0.7 metre increase in storm surge height from the sea, and a heightened risk of coastal erosion due to increased storm run-off and wave action — all in the context of global sea-level rise. The CSIRO has specifically warned of increased flooding between Cairns and Townsville, about halfway between which two cities lies Cardwell and the Port Hinchinbrook housing estate.