FOI documents show federal wetland experts warn minister on Toondah Harbour impacts

HARBOUR PROJECT: Capalaba MP Don Brown, deputy premier Jackie Trad, Redland mayor Karen Williams and Walker Group's Peter Saba at Toondah Harbour.
HARBOUR PROJECT: Capalaba MP Don Brown, deputy premier Jackie Trad, Redland mayor Karen Williams and Walker Group's Peter Saba at Toondah Harbour.

A DEPARTMENTAL brief to federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg warns that the huge Toondah Harbour redevelopment will have a significant impact on Moreton Bay, a Ramsar-listed wetland of international significance.

The brief was part of advice to Mr Frydenberg that he should rule that the Toondah application be a controlled action.

Controlled actions occur if significant impacts are likely from a development. The referral then goes to the next stage which is an environmental assessment.

The brief, obtained through Freedom of Information laws by pressure group Redlands2030, says about 50 hectares of the 73 hectare project will be within the Ramsar Wetland and will feature 40 hectares of reclamation.

A total of 72 listed migratory species are likely within 2 kilometres of the development.

Developer Walker Group had also told the department the project was likely to have a significant impact.

“The proponent has stated in the referral that there are no alternatives to the location and footprint of the action,” the brief says.

Departmental staff said threatened species to be impacted included turtles, dugong and the critically endangered eastern curlew.

“Moreton Bay is one of only two Ramsar sites in Australia that supports the critically endangered eastern curlew throughout the year, with juvenile birds not migrating until they are two to three years old,” the brief says.

Walker general manager Queensland Peter Saba said the controlled action decision was the beginning of the environmental impact assessment process, with the project to go through several stages before development could start.

“Once we know the scope of the environmental impact assessment, we will begin gathering all the relevant scientific and technical information relating to the project,” he said.

“Environment assessments are undertaken to enable environment and heritage protection and biodiversity conservation and we are pleased to have been given the go-ahead to proceed with this work.”

Departmental wetland experts said the project would impact on a significant proportion of the eastern curlew, bar-tailed godwit, whimbrels and grey-tailed tattler through the removal or disturbance of roosting habitat.

They said the referral lacked detail on the development, like the size of the marina, number of apartments, height of buildings and extent of dredging.

It also did not consider indirect impacts like light pollution – which can impact species like turtles – and experts found that impacts will be difficult to mitigate and offset.

Due to a lack of information, the department was not confident that a proposed buffer zone between the development and Cassim Island would reduce impacts.

Mr Saba said details for issues like buffers, dredging and marina size would be responded to as the EIS progressed. 

Walker’s referral to the department stated that the area was not considered to be a major foraging site in terms of diversity or number of migratory shorebirds.

Despite this, surveys showed relatively large numbers of birds used the area.

“Up to 920 migratory shorebirds of four species known to roost in mangrove trees were recorded at Cassim Island while up to 1060 … were recorded roosting at the Nandeebie Claypan (south of the development),” the briefing said.

The major project is opposed by residents and conservationists but supported by Redland City Council and the state government and opposition.