Big enough already!

Our growing port

Back in 1864, when the Townsville Port was established as a ‘Port of Entry’ in Ross Creek,  its location – at the back of the big, sheltered, shallow Cleveland Bay – was great for catering to the pastoralists and pioneering miners of the day . Ships largely sailed up and down the coast, servicing developing townships.

Townsville Port c.1900 (Queensland Archives)

Over the following 150 years, the Port grew – and grew.

Aerial view of the Townsville Port
Aerial view of the Townsville Port

Bigger and bigger

Like many things, ships just keep getting bigger and bigger. But, without massive capital dredging and ongoing maintenance dredging, the natural shallowness of Cleveland Bay limits entry of ever-larger ships. Ironically, the latest plan (2016) for the Port expansion abandons the idea of deepening the channels in favour of widening them.

This is despite the fact that the 2013 plan stated categorically:

“The existing channels already handle ships of Panamax width, but will need to be deepened to accommodate the larger capacity (and therefore deeper draught) Panamax ships proposed for the new bulk trades. There is therefore no economic driver to widen until a particular trade (which cannot be forecast at present) is proposed that has a strong economic argument to use wider ships.” (EIS, Section A, p.70)

Capital and maintenance dredging, as well as more and bigger ships, contribute to the turbidity of the Port’s location, Cleveland Bay, which has also been made worse over the years by urban and agricultural development in the catchment.

It is now also recognised that the Bay is a biodiversity hotspot in an area of international importance often referred to as one of the wonders of the world: the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The Bay also contains a Dugong Protection Area and a Fisheries Habitat Area and has regionally significant fringing coral reefs and seagrass meadows frequented by threatened species of turtles and dugongs.

The Townsville Port must recognise and pay deference to its unique location. It cannot expand just because ships are getting bigger. Where will it end?

Now is the time to say ‘Big enough already!’