Gold Coast Cruise Ship Terminal Controversy

Gecko’s  Position: Gecko opposes the construction of any of the cruise ship terminal options for the Gold Coast as currently proposed in the media. Reasons for this opposition are detailed below. Our objections are based on three principles which have guided Gecko’s advocacy since its foundation in 1989. These principles are:
  • The protection and conservation of the natural environment from inappropriate use.
  • The prevention of the alienation of public open space for private profit and use.
  • The support of more ecologically sustainable businesses.
In summary our objections include:– The alienation of public open space in the Broadwater and coastal areas for private benefit, the impact of massive dredging and construction on the marine environment, loss of biodiversity and pollution, impact on sand movements from south to north, the impact on existing  diving, fishing, surfing, whale watching and tourism businesses using the coastal areas, increased traffic in a congested road system, cost to ratepayers and taxpayers for ongoing dredging and maintenance, the lack of credibility of economic benefits, and failure to consider the impacts of climate change.

Mayor or Fort Lauderdale stated:

The following comment was made at the Gold Coast International Boat show, by Jim Naugle, Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, home to one of the largest US ship terminals. “If I could, I’d get rid of the cruise ships tomorrow. Their passengers clog up our airport and leave empty hotel rooms that tourists wishing to stay in the city can’t access. They don’t spend any money, other than cab fares getting between the airport and the cruise terminal. They’re a huge drain on our city’s resources” We are told by vested interests and Mayor Tom Tate that “the cruise industry is booming and that the Gold Coast is missing out on this opportunity to boost a quiet tourism industry”, but the facts do not justify the degradation of the beautiful Broadwater.
Gecko and other conservation groups on the Coast are opposed to any cruise terminal development in the Broadwater and on The Spit, as well as the proposal for Bilinga- North Kirra. An offshore proposal has been mooted but at present there is too little information to know whether this is even feasible. Gecko is working with other conservation groups such as Save Our Spit to convince the State Government and Gold Coast City Council that a cruise terminal project is not advantageous to the Gold Coast and that the costs to residents is too high. See Gecko’s petition. In 2006, over 30,000 Australian citizens signed a petition to oppose a proposal for a cruise ship terminal on The Spit. The community outrage over this proposal was successful in getting the State Government to drop the proposal, and this decision was confirmed when the EIS did not stack up. Nothing has changed since that time except that the Broadwater has become busier with recreational and commercial users and there is still no place for a cruise ship terminal of any description. Gecko opposes a cruise ship terminal and all the other development proposed to accompany it such as hotels, casinos, condominiums etc. for the following reasons:- Loss of biodiversity Loss of aesthetics/ lifestyle/ relief from urbanisation Pollution Dredging impact and costs Loss of income for existing businesses Inadequate financial returns Private profit and public cost Numbers of ships and weather access Alienation of Public Open Space. The Broadwater and foreshores is a relatively small estuary full of shifting sand banks and it is an important area of public open space for a growing population. A cruise ship terminal will alienate a considerable amount of that public open space and render what is left of limited use.

Loss of Biodiversity

The Broadwater has been proven to be an important area for biodiversity on the Coast despite its multiple uses. Ian Banks’ films of the marine life demonstrate an exceptional variety of fish species. The  Broadwater is also an an important fish nursery: protected turtles species and dugong are known to feed in the Broadwater and their feeding tracks have been filmed in the seagrass beds;  48 species of wader, migratory and shore birds have been recorded on sandbanks south of Wavebreak Island by Robert Westerman this year. Some of the migratory birds travel up to 20,000 kilometres from Russia to the Gold Coast thus conservation of their habitat is crucial to their survival. Australia has international obligations as it is a party to the following treaties and agreements:- China – Australia Migratory Bird Agreement 1988 (CAMBA); Japan – Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA)RAMSAR Convention; Bonn Convention; Convention of Biological Diversity; Rokamba (Australia – Korea). Australia administers its international obligations to Migratory Birds through the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act. Seagrass Watch records several species of seagrass in the Broadwater and monitors their health as it is essential to the growth of fish, turtles and dugong. Migratory whales are recorded as using the Seaway and Broadwater to rest on their migration north and south. It is estimated that 13,000 Humpback whales pass by the Broadwater each year and these magnificent species will be put at risk of being struck by cruise ships coming to the Gold Coast.

Loss of Aesthetics/Lifestyle/Relief from Urbanisation

The Broadwater is a beautiful place with clean, clear, sparkling waters, mostly vegetated foreshores as well some urban parks and marinas. It provides an important visual amenity in contrast to the highly developed Main Beach, Southport and Surfers Paradise surrounding suburbs. It encourages a relaxed lifestyle of outdoor recreation and reconnection with nature. It is a growing city’s ‘central park’.


Cruise ships bring pollution with them. Their emissions pollute the air and they remain operational throughout their stay in port; pollution of marine environment comes from the oils, sewage and other pollutants including rubbish that accompany all big ships; in addition there are the foreign marine creatures that are attached to the hull; pollution of the land component of these developments stems from the inevitable rubbish that is generated. There are all too many documented cases of cruise liner companies violating legislation designed to keep our oceans clean.

Dredging Impacts and Costs

Dredging impact and costs – To accommodate the large cruise liners of today which can carry up to 5000 passengers (a small town), the dredging of the Seaway entrance to the Broadwater, the approach to the terminal and the turning circle would be very substantial. The previous EIS stated that for one of the smaller cruise ships it would be necessary to extend the Seaway walls and dredge to a minimum of 16 metres. Given the nature of sand movement this dredging would need to be repeated at frequent intervals. The cost of the initial dredging and the ongoing maintenance dredging would be very high. Who would pay for this? The ratepayers of Gold Coast city? The tax payers of Queensland? One thing is certain- it will not be the cruise ship industry.

Loss of Income for Existing Businesses

Currently the Broadwater support a number of industries such as fishing, diving, surfing, whale watching, boating and boat tours, and these are worth many millions of dollars, facts verified by a number of studies. The Broadwater is the nursery for fish off the Gold Coast and the fishing fleet anchors in the Broadwater. Their access to and from the Broadwater would be limited with the entering and leaving of port by the cruise ships, a process that takes an hour or more. The diving industry uses the Broadwater to teach diving and also to take diving tourists on dives to see the marine biodiversity. It is also the only all-weather diving site on the south-east coast of Queensland and has good visibility even during rough conditions at sea. This would be lost with the dredging and the pollution. The surfing industry uses the Seaway and Broadwater to access surf on the southern point of South Stradbroke Island, which is considered to be one of the best and most reliable surf breaks on the east coast. The expenditure of the surfing fraternity in the Southport- Surfers Paradise area has been researched by Neil Lazarow and his report indicates this single surf site is worth $120 millon. Whale watching is a seasonal industry that coincides with the whale migration north in May and south in October and the tours boats are based in the Broadwater. Their livelihood is at risk from a cruise terminal due to limits to access, the potential impact of cruise ships on the whales and the pollution of the Broadwater waters making it unsuitable as a rest site for whales, particularly the juveniles.

Inadequate Financial Returns

Much has been made by the proponents of a cruise ship terminal about a boost to local tourism industry. However the cruise industry is structured to ensure that most of the dollars spent by passengers is spent on the cruise ship itself on accommodation, food, entertainment, activities, shopping and on shore tours. The average spend for a passenger spending a day in Brisbane is $180, consisting of organised tours $120 generally, but only $64 in Brisbane; Tours and shopping $ 42-64 and $19.00 on food and drink. Even if all 5000 passengers from one of the biggest ships disembarked, which is unlikely, the return is not comparable with the existing industries in the Broadwater. The Mayor has stated that 2 ships per week could call at the Gold Coast, however if this happened at all, given weather constraints, it would be to the detriment of the Brisbane cruise industry. Against these figures are the maintenance costs of the dredging and the port and terminal generally, which have not been disclosed to the public. Ross Klein, Lecturer in Social Research from Memorial University in Newfoundland is an expert on the problems  in the cruise industry and has written several books on the subject. He visited the Gold Coast and spoke at a Save Our Spit Rally in 2005. In 2005 Ross Klein wrote “Cruise Ship Squeeze- The new pirates of the seven seas.” Bruce Campbell, Executive Director, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote of this book “(it) is a masterful portrayal of how these corporate buccaneers in their relentless pursuit of profit leave social and environmental havoc in their wake. “They pay little or no taxes, play port cities off against each other for concessions, maintain sweat shop working conditions, pollute the oceans and despite seductive promises add minimal value to local communities”

Private Profit and Public Cost

The developers of cruise terminals and associated tourism infrastructure are, as one would expect, interested in profit to their company and to achieve this they will be asking for the gift of public land upon which they can construct their development and no doubt with waivers of planning and infrastructure costs. It is the taxpaying public who will pay these costs and when the boom in cruising declines it is the public who will lose rather than the cruise industry. As stated above, the public will also probably wear the dredging costs.

Numbers of Ships and Weather Access

Mayor Tate states he wants 2 ships per week to call in at the Gold Coast; this is the number that currently visits Brisbane according to Carnival Cruises. The Brisbane port is an all-weather port so ships can arrive at any time. The Gold Coast port will be subject to the weather and tides as high winds can create considerable swell in the Seaway which could make entry for a large cruise ship very tricky. While cruise ships are approaching and entering the Broadwater , during berthing and during departure the narrow access through the seaway will limit or even prohibit use by any other vessels during this period. This poses not only an inconvenience to the passengers but may also pose a safety risk to these other vessels.

Home Porting Costs

It is not known at this stage if it is proposed that the Gold Coast would be a home port where the ships take on water and dispose of excess garbage and sewage. While the cruise company would pay for this service it may require upgrades of existing service infrastructure to be able to cope with this additional load. In the event of a drought, such as we recently had, we may not have the water to spare to supply the ships. These costs would be borne by the ratepayers of the Gold Coast. Questions put to Paul Mis of Carnival Cruises at a recent forum about home porting were not very satisfactorily answered. He talked of the on-board waste management and desalination plants, but these do not cope with the total loads of ships with up to 5000 people. Overseas experience shows that ships do dump garbage and sewage off shore (refer Ross Klein “Cruise Ship Squeeze- The new pirates of the seven seas.”) Mr Mis went on to say the information about how they handle waste is not publicly available from their environment department.