The Port of Cairns urgently needs modernising. Recently that progress has been suffocated. A project that would future proof the port has been downgraded, only allowing ships that are 300 metres long into the port if it is carried out. We are still waiting. Even if it is carried out, by 2026 the Voyager class of cruise ship that is 311 metres long, that will be the most dominant ship in Australian waters, will not be able to access the port.


Extract Cairns Post 18/8/2018

We advocate that the Cairns Shipping Development Project that proposes to carry out capital dredging, will not cause damage to the Great Barrier Reef. The port has had a major dredge every 20 years for more than 100 years to keep up with population growth and modern shipping technology. 

The deepening of the Cairns seaport channel is very definitely financially and economically viable with a very positive benefit-cost ratio.

CPD Inc. (Friends of the Port of Cairns) does not want to see anything take place that would degrade the coral reefs off Cairns that are so important to the region's tourism industry. We must recognize that local past experience and the scientific reporting that is part of the Cairns Shipping Development Project Environmental Impact Study, supports placement of dredge spoil within the harbour limits as there is no detrimental effects. Perception of harm has been created by conservation organisations, that has been very damaging to the families and businesses that responsibly live and work beside the Great Barrier Reef.  

In June 2018 the Queensland Ports Association released findings from research to prove that the re-suspenion of marine sediments from port acitivites in North Queensland only make up less than 1% of all sediment suspended. Activites DO NOT harm the reef. Click on the image below to read the report executive summary. 

Regardless of the science that proves there is no harm to the reef, the Commonwealth Governments Reef 2050 plan has banned at-sea placement of dredge spoil and banned future and ongoing expansion of Cairns sea-port, as it has not been allocated priority port status. This places a draconian economic cap on the regions growth.

The bann is a result of negotiations to appease UNESCO and the Reef 2050 plan and the Queensland Government's Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 now regulates the future of the Port of Cairns.

Now, solutions to onshore placement need to be secured and since governments has banned at-sea placement they must support and assist this process.  Deciding not to widen and deepen the channel is not an acceptable option given the importance to the Cairns' economy over a long period of time.

The Cairns Shipping Development Project study and planning was underway in 2015, so the project was allowed to continue. Ports North, the proponent of the Cairns Shipping Development Project was forced to revise the project in early 2016.  

The project was downscaled to one-quarter of the size needed, and the cost to carry out the smaller project tripled.

The study has cost well over $8 million since 2012 and the Cairns Shipping Development Project has still not been carried out.  

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD a presentation detailing the latest down-sized project plan that is over-priced and has no long term plan.

Effect of Negotiations with UNESCO:

Value of World Heritage Listing

The value to tourism of World Heritage listing is mainly as a 'marketing tool'.  It is not essential to reef protection legislation and constraints that are the responsibility of the Queensland and Australian governments.  We are not aware of anyone who has undertaken the task of assessing the real value of World Heritage listing.  It will certainly be much less than the total value of reef related tourism, most of which is not dependent on World Heritage listing and would take place without the marketing advantage of World Heritage listing.

Compass Research, the market research arm of Cummings Economics, carried out in 2009-10, very extensive research as part of a Commonwealth funded "TNQ Repositioning Study" among international and domestic visitors, Australian households and overseas travel agents, including extensive research in foreign languages.  The research sought feedback about prior awareness, perceptions and motivations for choosing to visit Cairns.  This included quite a few open-ended questions.  Full copies of the research can be found on the Compass Research website.  While the research indicated the reef was extremely important as a motivation for visiting Cairns, the fact that it was World Heritage listed was hardly mentioned.  Limited mentions tended to come from some Chinese travel agents.

However, as against the "'marketing value' of the World Heritage listing, in recent times, World Heritage listing has made the reef a target of very damaging international public 'Save the Reef' type campaigns inferring that the reef is degraded.  This has caused 'image' damage that the tourist industry is now having to make efforts to repair.

In relation to the adoption of the term Mega-Port

Groups opposing the project say that the dredging is about increasing tourism earnings and we already do OK. In response we say, why do we have one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Australia? What about the fuel ships that are already coming in half full from Singapore?

They say that the maintenance dredging from the proposed expansion will go on to the GBR. We say NO. The INSHORE lagoon that has taken the maintenance spoil for over 100 years has been scientifically proven to NOT affect the GBR.

They label the proposed work as creating a 'Mega Port', scaremongering in typical green political style. We say NO, we are growing our port to maintain economic opportunities. The port has had capital dredging projects every 20 years to service the increasing population and shipping technology.

Make NO mistake about this, our port is suffocated and it will slow down the growth of our city and region. The groups are opposed to dredging please; make a statement about Townsville's inclusion as a “priority port” that is also adjoining the GBR.

Showing 3 reactions

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  • Emma Thirkell
    Thanks for your comment Bruce. If you get a chance, please email us at There is a technical committee getting ready to review any changes to the scope of works in the projects EIS. You may wish to be part of that work. We know from the Federal Environment Minister’s latest correspondence that the proponent Ports North has submitted a change, reducing the volume of sediment to be removed. This could mean that the full extent of the works is being varied. Ports North and Qld Ports Minister have not made any public statement on the issue.
  • Bruce Copland
    This proposed moratorium on dredging the entrance channel is the height of ignorance. I was for 4 years master on the dredge Trinity Bay. The channel has been dredged since 1912, so that is 103 years! Ships sizes are increasing in draft and so now cannot load sugar in Cains to their maximum loaded draft. We have to move with the times and increase the dredged channel depth and width. Some local state politicians should wake up, where did the land come from on the Southeast side of Aumuller street? Answer the entrance channel!

    If I can be of any help let me know! Regards Bruce Copland. (Master Mariner)
  • James Mcintyre