The Guardian September 20, 2000


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.

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