The Threat to Yarra Bay

Background

Save the Bay Coalition was formed in July 2018. It is a rapidly growing movement of local residents, community groups, businesses and other citizens from all over Sydney working together to stop the Berejiklian government from developing a Mega Cruise Ship terminal in Yarra Bay near La Perouse and the mouth of Botany Bay.

Yarra Bay from Bumbora Point
Yarra Bay from Bumbora Point

Two sites that would have grave impacts on Yarra Bay are under consideration – in Yarra Bay (which the Berejiklian government is believed to favour) – and at  Molineaux Point at the entrance to Yarra Bay (less likely).

Mega Cruise Ships

The terminal the Berejiklian government would construct in Yarra Bay would accommodate two Mega Cruise Ships. These are the latest craze of the ever expanding cruise industry. While they are great money spinners for the industry they are too large for many ports, including Sydney Harbour (Port Jackson) and because of the number of passengers they carry (~5000) create congestion and other problems for ports that do accept them.

Mega Cruise Ship on left
Mega Cruise Ship on left, dwarfing the large cruise ship to its right

Our (long) list of objections to the proposal

Overview

Thousands of residents, many businesses, our two local Councils (Randwick and Bayside) and other stakeholders are united in opposition to the New South Wales government’s evaluation of Yarra Bay as a location for a mega cruise ship terminal. We are joined by our Federal and State Members of Parliament (Matt Thistlethwaite and Michael Daley) and the La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council, the traditional custodians of the land.

Environmental/port functionality issues

Yarra Bay is in a direct line to the ocean and huge southerly and south easterly swells can roll into the bay at any time of the year. Every year this area suffers extreme weather conditions and huge swells.

Large swell striking the groyne at Yarra Bay Sailing Club

The existing breakwater that shelters ships at Port Botany is west of Yarra Bay and would not protect the proposed terminal. A terminal in Yarra Bay would therefore require massive investment in new breakwaters and other engineering works to protect gigantic berthed vessels from the effects of waves and wind.

The building of breakwaters and wharves for mega cruise ships and the associated dredging of the sea bed would completely change the character of Yarra Bay. The impact of the works on other beaches and sensitive locations in Botany Bay such as the adjacent Frenchmans Bay and the scuba diving sites around Bare Island is difficult to predict but unlikely to be benign.

Much of Yarra Bay is only a few metres deep so substantial dredging will be needed. Breakwaters built for one purpose can significantly adversely affect other areas in the vicinity through changes in wave behaviour and tidal flows. This can cause severe local coastal erosion that will impact Yarra Bay and neighbouring Frenchmans Bay.

In severe weather cruise ship activity and wave ‘bounce back’ from newly constructed breakwaters may might impact shipping lanes and delay the arrival and departure of cargo vessels at Port Botany.

A Mega Cruise Ship terminal will impact negatively on the operational efficiency of Port Botany which is currently a dedicated freight handling port. Save The Bay Coalition has made its strategic risk assessment available to the port operator, NSW Ports and to the terminal operators at the port. The risk assessment is available on request.

Grounding risk from strong winds

Yarra Bay is not protected by hills or ridges in any direction and strong to gale force winds impact the bay in all seasons of the year and from five directions.

There is a real risk that a mega cruise ship, berthed at an exposed wharf in Yarra Bay, could be hit by winds so strong that it would break its moorings. If not able to manoeuvre quickly enough under its own power, the gigantic ship could be pushed by the wind and run aground in the bay – in front of Yarra Bay beach or on the Port Botany breakwater, somewhere between Molineaux Point and Bumborah Point. For more on this risk see Wind poses grounding risk for cruise ships in Yarra Bay.

Environmental – species and habitats

Botany Bay is home to hundreds of marine species and marine, coastal and estuarine habitats, including some that are threatened. There is great concern for the impacts of a mega cruise terminal on marine species and habitats. Loss of species, coastal erosion and degradation of wetlands and sea grass beds are environmental impacts that would result from this project. Species extinctions are possible.

The bay receives regular visits by dolphins, whales, turtles and fairy penguins. Molineaux Point is home to a seal colony and rare Pygmy pipefish which are protected by the EPBC Act of 1999.

Seal at Bumbora Point

Pygmy pipefish are extremely susceptible to habitat change and disturbance from dredging to accommodate the Mega Cruise Ship terminal will increase the likelihood of extinction of this species.

Land reclamation and compulsory acquisition

As well as wharves and breakwaters, cruise terminals require a large amount of land to support the ships – for coach parking, for delivery of provisions and for taxi ranks and car parks.

Coach park at cruise terminal, Southampton UK, 2019 (photo courtesy Dennis Hourn)

Due to the shortage of available land, extensive dredging of Yarra Bay to reclaim part of the bay for a passenger terminal is possible. Extensive road widening would be required and possibly a new access road through an area that is heritage listed. Compulsory acquisition would be utilised to acquire land for road works and the terminal.

Air pollution

The cost of the terminal would likely be over a billion dollars. Once all this has been paid for by the taxpayer, On Shore Power will be out of the question, so local residents will have to endure the diesel fumes and the noise of ships’ massive diesel engines running around the clock to generate electricity .

Cruise ships generate their own electricity and produce dirty exhaust 24 x 7, even when in port (Photo of White Bay Cruise Terminal, Dec. 2018, courtesy of Tim Ritchie Media)

Reduced air quality and unknown health consequences result from mega emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. For more on this, see Stop cruise ship pollution.

This toxic by-product of the Mega Cruise Ship proposal would have negative health implications for bayside suburbs – and suburbs further to the west and north that would experience worsening air quality.

In summer, for example, with two mega cruise ships berthed in Yarra Bay all day, the very dirty exhaust from their engines would be blown straight across Kogarah, Rockdale and neighbouring suburbs by the north easterly sea breeze. If the ships choose to schedule overnight stays (highly likely), the fumes will blow to the south-west long into the evening.

Should the wind direction be from the south, the exhaust plume will impact all of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and the CBD.

Loss of a vital recreational asset

Yarra Bay is a very popular Sydney beach both with ‘real locals’ and people from elsewhere in the Eastern Suburbs such as Coogee and Clovelly who find their own beaches overcrowded and unsuitable for some activities.

For people from the Western Suburbs, it is a favourite beach, as they can access it easily via the M5 and Foreshore Road. According to an Energy Australia study, in summer 7500 people come every day to the La Perouse area, including Yarra Bay.

Weekend crowd at Yarra Bay; shade-providing parkland, picnic areas and bush in background

If Yarra Bay was spoilt or lost altogether, its current users would move to our other, already crowded beaches. It makes no sense in our fast growing city such of Sydney to sacrifice a precious recreational asset such as this beautiful beach.

Consider what we stand to lose:

    • Beaches for swimming. Yarra Bay and neighbouring Frenchmans Bay are calm, safe and protected beaches, making them ideal for families and less experienced swimmers. These beaches have been holiday and excursion destinations since the late 19th century.
    • Flat water for recreational activities. Watercraft that use Yarra bay include sailing dinghies, kayaks, windsurfers, kite surfers, stand up paddleboards, yachts and motorboats. All these uses will be excluded if the terminal is put in place due to commercial port security and other operational restrictions.
Motor boats from Botany Bay’s marinas visit Yarra Bay on sunny summer days
    • Clean water. There are serious concerns that dredging will stir up contaminated sediment and silt from decades of poor waste disposal and environmental management of chemical and paper making plants nearby.
    • Green space, shade and parkland. Local parkland will be lost to provide space for land side infrastructure to support Mega Cruise Ship operations. Currently, the open space and surrounding walking tracks are shared by the community including families, walkers, runners, bicyclists, dog owners, kite flyers and model plane enthusiasts.
Weekend crowd at Yarra Bay; the sailing club and shade-providing bush in background
Shaded parkland behind Yarra Bay beach is ideal for picnics and respite from the heat and glare of the sand
  • A quiet place, on weekdays and in the early morning and evening, offering peace and solitude in busy and crowded Sydney.

    Yarra Bay can be quiet and offer peace and solitude
  • Recreational fishing grounds. A cruise ship security exclusion zone will end safe, protected recreational fishing in Yarra Bay, rendering the recently installed artificial reef obsolete.
  • Scenic beauty and open views across the bay including sunsets. The public will no longer be able to enjoy the scenic beauty of Yarra Bay, its open views across the broad expanse of Botany Bay and its spectacular sunsets. The westerly outlook, extremely rare for a Sydney region beach, means that every year hundreds of couples record their special day with spectacular sunset wedding photos.
  • Sunset from Yarra Bay
    Sunset from Yarra Bay, 28 December 2018. Photo: Ben Weir
  • A valuable outdoor site for the film and television industry. Yarra Bay beach is frequently used for movies, documentaries and advertisement shoots because of its beautiful, hidden jewel quality. This commercially valuable and irreplaceable site will be lost to the film and television industry.

Aboriginal history and heritage

Yarra Bay is steeped in history. It is one of the only remaining areas in Sydney where indigenous people have had continuous connection to the land and sea for thousands of years.

Yarra Bay is the site of a famous Aboriginal settlement and the land is sacred to Australia’s indigenous community. The La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council has not been consulted and they have formally expressed their opposition to a Mega Cruise Ship Terminal in Yarra Bay.

The Council is strongly opposed to losing control of this land for a Mega Cruise Ship Terminal. This will become much more than a local political battle if the Aboriginal community experience a detrimental impact on their social and spiritual connection to this land, lose access to Yarra Bay for traditional fishing and other cultural practices and witness the destruction of their traditional fishing areas.

European history and heritage

Yarra Bay is a place of the highest heritage significance in the history of European settlement of Australia, being the place where the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillips and the French explorer Laperouse anchored and had initial contact with the indigenous owners.

The entire ambience and scenic landscape of Yarra Bay, where these extremely significant moments in Australia’s history occurred would be blighted by a Mega Cruise Ship Terminal and the gigantic vessels berthed there.

Molineaux Point and Bumbora Point are both listed on the NSW State Heritage register. There is also concern for the heritage listed Chinese market gardens near Yarra Beach.

In response to the threat of a Mega Cruise Ship Terminal land grab, Randwick City Council is seeking State Heritage listing of Yarra Bay and Frenchmans Bay (currently subject to local heritage listing).

A training ground for youth

The Yarra Bay Sailing Club has conducted sail training and racing from its club house on Yarra Bay since 1927. The club is a valuable sporting outlet and life skills education facility for young people.

Setting up before the race – Yarra Bay Sailing Club

The club’s courses make use of the full extent of Yarra Bay during the summer season – which is when the proposed terminal would operate. A terminal of the size required, with breakwaters and extremely tall mega cruise ships alongside, plus a security exclusion zone around the cruise ship wharf, would totally compromise the club’s courses and interfere with the winds they rely on.

The club cannot survive the loss of its sailing courses to a Mega Cruise Ship Terminal that caters not to the needs of youth but to the growth ambitions of the cruise industry and the convenience of its predominantly elderly customer base.

Road congestion

Road congestion in the area already affects the operation of busy Port Botany’s freight operations. A cruise terminal would disembark and embark 7,000 or more people in a single day from two Mega Cruise Ships. Hundreds of coaches, taxis and delivery trucks would have to access the terminal via Foreshore Road, Botany Road, Bunnerong Road and adjoining roads, and this would severely impact this heavily congested area which is already vulnerable to gridlock.

The modest plans that exist to improve the transport and road infrastructure in this part of Sydney are not adequate to meet the additional needs of a Mega Cruise Ship Terminal. The congestion that would ensue when thousands of passengers and crew were transported along our local main roads would be stressful for cruise ship passengers and would severely impact our residential communities, local businesses and Port Botany.

For more on road congestion see these blog posts:

Safety

The terminal would be directly adjacent to major hazardous facilities, including Bulk Liquid, Chemical and Gas storage.

The International Pilots Association has expressed concerns about the close proximity of berthed Mega Cruise Ships to Sydney Airport’s third runway. Possible issues include turbulence and restricted visibility issues on take-off.

A Mega Cruise Ship grounding as a result of adverse weather or human error would put Port Botany’s freight port operations at risk.

Conclusion

For all the above reasons, Yarra Bay simply does not make sense. There are suitable sites in regional NSW such as Newcastle and Port Kembla (Wollongong) where the terminal would be welcome. We also have it on record that the leaders of the big American owned cruise companies think Port Botany is a “horrible” location for a Mega Cruise Ship Terminal.

We appeal to you to support our campaign of opposition to this unrealistic proposal from the Berejiklian Government. We understand the need to find a solution to cruise industry port constraints in NSW, but a terminal in Yarra Bay or at Molineaux Point is not the answer.