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Dredging proposal for Cairns Port / Trinity Inlet

Dugong feeding on seagrass. Photo: Julien Willem

Ports North, is proposing to undertake a major dredging operation in Trinity Inlet, however there are serious environmental risks and major community concerns with the proposal.,

This proposal is reportedly to allow larger cruise liners to enter. The claim is that this will provide economic benefits to the city, however this is yet to be backed up by economic data. Our concern is that this major dredging operation will jeopardise the health of the marine ecosystems that many of our tourists come to see. A healthy reef is fundamental to a healthy tourism economy, so any risks to reef health should not be taken lightly.

The proposed Cairns Shipping (Trinity Inlet)  Development Project would mean digging up an estimated over 4.4 million mof dredge spoil, which is a massive amount and is more than what is proposed for Abbot Point. Dredge spoil, the mud and other sediment removed from the sea floor, often contains heavy metals and other contaminants from industrial land uses and shipping. Options for dredge spoil disposal include dumping in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park [edit: note that offshore dumping in the Marine Park is now ior onshore dumping options, both of which pose risks to marine life by increasing sediment and nutrient loads and introducing contaminants. Onshore dumping poses risks to terrestrial habitats as well as marine environments.

QUEENSLAND RESIDENTS – sign the parliamentary petition here.

Why is new capital dredging of Trinity Inlet is a bad idea?

Issues of concern include:

  • Direct impacts on marine life such as  fish, dugongs and turtles.
  • The impact of environmental damage from dredging on the tourism industry, recreational fishing and commercial fishing. Events after capital dredging in Gladstone should send us a clear warning about potential impacts in Trinity Inlet.
  • The release of potentially contaminated sediment into the greater Trinity environment and it’s impact on both human and wildlife health.
  • Impacts on critical habitat including seagrass beds and coral reef.
  • There is no real need for new dredging in Cairns as alternatives exist for large cruise ships and there is little current demand for larger ships to visit port.
  • The cumulative impact of this proposal in the context of the broader Great Barrier Reef environment and the massive increase in maintenance dredging that would be required.
  • The environmental and amenity damage of increased (possibly toxic) mud washing up on our Northern beaches.
  • The cost to the taxpayer of dredging.
  • The risk of UNESCO ‘in danger’ listing of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This listing was recently temporarily prevented due to Government policies which included no new dredging in Cairns.
  • The reputation damage to Cairns if dredging was to proceed – this would destroy our reputation as reef / environmental stewards and as a nature tourism destination.

QUEENSLAND RESIDENTS – sign the parliamentary petition here.

For more information view:


About Trinity Inlet

Four metres of rainfall in the mountains meets three metres of tidal range in the creeks of East Trinity (graphic: DERM).

The beautiful Trinity Inlet in Cairns is an extensive estuarine area home to abundant life and is the spectacular meeting point of rainforested hills, intact mangrove systems and the marine ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef. The inlet is also home to the port of Cairns and is a thriving hub of activity.

The Barron and Trinity catchments both flow into Cairns Harbour and Trinity Inlet. Agricultural and urban developments are the primary land uses in both catchments.

The area supports significant seagrass habitat and represents the largest area of seagrass between
Hinchinbrook and Cooktown. These seagrass meadows provide critical nursery habita tand are feeding habitats for dugong (Dugong dugon), green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and wading bird populations. The seagrass beds are currently in trouble and at their lowest level of coverage in recorded history.

Trinity Inlet is also a significant cultural and economic resource for the Gunggandji, Yidinji and Yirranydji people. At least 11 fishing sites and four crabbing sites have been identified as being significant to indigenous peoples  for regional prawn and finfish fisheries of the region. Significant sites include freshwater, estuarine creeks, foreshores, seagrass beds, wetlands and offshore areas from Ellie Point to False Cape.

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