Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Drainage Works Begin at Yandina Creek Wetlands

Drainage Works Underway at Yandina Creek Wetlands
Work has begun to drain the Yandina Creek Wetlands on the Sunshine Coast, notwithstanding federal and Queensland government investigations into the potential implications of such a move under environmental protection laws. The move comes as the Sunshine Coast Council continues to consider a proposal to acquire the wetlands - regarded as nationally and, very likely, internationally significant under federal guidelines - for an environmental reserve.  The purpose of this post is to explain why drainage work has begun; the implications of the work; and what government authorities are doing about it.
Drainage Works Underway at Yandina Creek Wetlands
A decision on a proposal to acquire three properties totalling 200 hectares under the council's Environment Levy Acquisition Program will be made later this year. The properties were formerly used for sugar cane production until they were sold about a decade ago. Since then, they have been inundated by tidal water from the Maroochy River as canal floodgates fell into disrepair - a development which effectively restored an excellent example of the wetlands that were naturally widespread in the area before the development of the sugar industry last century.

Royal Spoonbill at Yandina Creek Wetlands 
The wetlands are home to a large population of waterbirds of many varieties, including endangered and threatened species, and migratory shorebirds which are protected under international treaties to which Australia is a signatory. As was reported last month (see here) the landholders of the largest property - Lot 3RP148079 - leased their land recently to the sugar cane growers who owned it originally; the growers said then that they plan to again grow cane on the land after draining it later this year, probably in September. This was a significant change of plan by the landholders, who had indicated their intention to graze cattle on the land - a move which would have required considerable land-filling and flood mitigation operations.

Yandina Creek Wetlands
The landholders were advised earlier this year by the federal  Environment Department that redevelopment of the land would potentially breach Commonwealth laws relating to protecting endangered species and migratory shorebirds. The move to lease the land for sugar cane production is presumably intended to bypass those laws because although no sugar has been grown there for many years, a "continuing use" for the property could potentially be claimed by the landholders, thereby exempting the cane growing plan.

Last week, the cane growers abruptly moved their drainage plans forward, constructing a 300-metre long wall of compacted mud and dredge spoils along the eastern boundary of Lot 3RP148079. The move is intended to prevent inundation at high tide, effectively assisting to drain the wetlands so sugar cane can again be grown. At the same time, pipes and other equipment have been moved to an area adjacent to the major floodgate on Yandina Creek that had fallen into disrepair, signalling that work may be planned to restore the floodgate to prevent further inundation of tidal water.

Yandina Creek Wetlands
It is not certain that the landholders and cane growers can avoid potential implications under the federal Environment Protection and Diversity Conservation Act. The Environment Department is investigating whether in fact the drainage works presently underway are exempt. What is certain is that neither the landholders nor the cane growers sought clearance from the department before proceeding with the drainage works.

At the same time, the new Queensland Environment Minister, Steven Miles, is examining whether the works have implications under the Nature Conservation Act for endangered and threatened species. The minister has also been asked to take urgent steps to determine if the landholdings should be designated a Wetland Protection Area - a move that would require state intervention to protect the wetlands.

Pipes and Other Equipment in Place - Yandina Creek Wetlands
Fisheries Queensland is also negotiating with the landholders to determine if the drainage works breach the provisions of the Fisheries Act. Drainage would kill a substantial area of protected mangroves at the eastern end of Lot 3RP148079.

However, while stopping all drainage works is the priority of those concerned with protecting the wetlands, regrowing the area with sugar cane is a better option than cattle pasture development.  Retaining walls can be dismantled and land can again be inundated. Restored floodgates can be removed. Even if government investigations suggest that a "continuing use" prevents intervention at this time, moves to acquire the properties for an environmental reserve would not necessarily be affected adversely. While those efforts continued, ongoing monitoring could ensure that more serious land use options (such as cattle grazing) were not pursued in future.

Google Earth View of Yandina Creek Wetlands
Meanwhile, the landholders have not made clear their long-term plans for this land. It is presently zoned rural and cannot be subdivided under local council planning rules or under the state's South-East Queensland Regional Plan. Companies owned by the landholders of the two main properties covering the wetlands are associated primarily not with cattle or farming, but with property development and investment.

Long Term Plans for the Wetlands - Another Maroochy River Canal Estate?
The landholders may be hoping that the land has a future in the long term as a canal estate or similar development if the council and Queensland Government have a change of heart. Government and council sources familiar with a long-standing debate surrounding the future of the Maroochy River canelands stress that this is highly unlikely. Importantly, the landholders have left the door open to an acquisition offer from the council.

Many of those concerned about the future of the wetlands have written to various authorities. Now is the time for those efforts to be escalated. A more detailed report on the case for protecting the wetlands can be found here.

The federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt - - can be congratulated for his interest in the matter to date, but again be asked to ensure that the requirements of Commonwealth law relating to endangered species and migratory shorebirds are complied with. Mr Hunt could also be asked to order an inspection of the wetlands by departmental officers.

The Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles ( - with any communication copied to his electoral office ( - can be asked to ensure that the provisions of the Nature Conservation Act are complied with, and to launch an immediate investigation into the potential designation of the wetlands as a Wetland Protection Area.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson - - can be again asked to approve Nomination Number 100 under the Environment Levy Plan. If cost is an issue, Lot 4RP148079 - which presently is unaffected by drainage works - contains the best wetlands and could be considered for acquisition in isolation.  

Finally, the local state MP and Speaker of the Queensland Parliament, Peter Wellington - - can be asked to use his influence with the minority Labor Government to move to protect the wetlands.


  1. Draining wetlands is never good for nature in my opinion;
    But it always brings us back to the eternal battle of the clay pot against the iron pot...
    Another sad environmental story :(
    Thanks for posting such details about it, you've done a great job.