Damage, what damage?

Recent opinion[1] that so far dredging has had no impacts is plain wrong. The Bay does look wonderful at present, especially in the South – precisely because there has been no dredging for several months.

So here’s some damage that has already occurred:

  1. A toxic dump in our Bay


Yarra dredging and dumping hasn’t stopped throughout the summer. If we are swimming in contamination we don’t know, because most of the toxins known to be there are odourless, colourless and tasteless, and the EPA is not testing for all of the chemicals of concern listed in the SEES. We don’t know how far that toxic sludge can or will travel. We don’t know whether it contains any radionuclides. PoMC was not even able to predict whether Yarra sludge would behave as a solid or a liquid once dumped on the seabed.[2] Despite the best efforts of state and federal bureaucrats to assure us that no stone has been left unturned, the fact is that the historic studies they refer to did not test Yarra sediments for radionuclides. Sadly, Port Phillip Bay is getting a toxic dump which could never be built on land!

Ed: It is of note that the Port of Brisbane is currently wrestling with the problem of how to deal with dredged material judged too toxic to be dumped at sea. The known toxicants sound like a re-run of the ones named in Yarra sediments. It is being stored on land – something the PoMC claimed was impossible for them to arrange. Port of Brisbane dredges up millions of tonnes of toxic sludge


  1. Oil spills and ongoing rockfall damage at The Entrance

During 2008 Queen of the Netherlands spilled a significant volume of oil into the Bay and PoMC also failed to clean up rockfall over a 9000 sq. metre area. Independent divers report that now in 2009 an avalanche of rock and scree is dragging its way over the spectacular rocky reef at the entrance on its way to the canyon – and causing immeasurable damage as it goes. Even the Office of Environmental Monitor has confirmed[3] there is still rock to be cleaned up.

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Photo: Alan Beckhurst. Taken after completion of dredging works at Entrance October 2008. The rock remains there in February 2009 and is damaging rare sponges and corals found nowhere else on earth.

Nor should we forget the 2005 trial dredge, when PoMC reluctantly admitted to a small 20 m3 rockfall once volunteer divers filmed the dredged area, which was later revealed to be over 6,000 m3 of rock. In the dynamic environment of The Entrance (especially with project related increased current speed and tidal flow) mobile rock from the 2005 trial and the 2008 capital dredge is causing damage right now – it’s just that most of us can’t see it……... Does that make it OK?   

  1. Tide heights and current speed.

PoMC has admitted a 7 mm increase in tide height at Williamstown and Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt says there had been a 3 cm increase in tide height “near Point Henry very close to The Heads”[4] Mr. Bolt made it clear he thought a 3 cm increase was insignificant, but it may prove much more serious than he predicts. However one should not ignore the Bruun Rule which states that for every 1 unit that water rises vertically it spreads up to 100 units horizontally on low lying ground. Whilst the Bruun Rule has some limitations, it is still widely accepted as representing the general behaviour of a sandy shoreline.  See diagram below: 

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From: UNESCO Environment and development in coastal regions and in small islands.

Thus the supposedly insignificant and benign 3 centimetres increase in tide height means up to three metres of previously dry land is now susceptible to inundation and more coastal erosion - amplified further in more regular storm surges and additional sea level rise resulting from global warming, as predicted by CSIRO and countless other credentialed scientists world wide.

Why should the residents of Queenscliff, or anywhere for that matter, happily accept losing 3 metres of their irreplaceable and beloved coastline along with the resultant effects on coastal infrastructure – beach boxes, piers, boat ramps, coastal vegetation, footpaths, housing etc.? 

The impacts of increasing sea levels and greater tide heights will occur as nature dictates – not according to Mr. Bolt’s theories. 

  1. Dud economics damaging too    

Using the PoMC’s own data, and at its most optimistic, deeper channels would deliver around $2 billion direct benefits in total by 2035. Over 25 years, $2 billion equates to a benefit of only approx. $80 million benefits per annum. Compared to the approximate value of $75 billion trade per annum through the Port of Melbourne[5], the $80 million benefit per annum from channel deepening is miniscule – around 0.1% of the annual value of trade through the port.  Is the possibility of one tenth of one percent increase in the value of trade through the port worth the documented costs and risks of channel deepening? What’s more, that one tenth of one percent increase would only have been achieved had the economy kept rolling along like it was when the projections were done back in 2005-2007 –and it isn’t! 


And what of the global financial crisis and its impacts? Everything is pointing to the additional channel depth not being needed at present, if ever. There are no big ships on the horizon and smaller ships may well be the way of the future anyway[6].

The Herald Sun reports[7] that car imports are down 33% and reliable industry insiders tell us that Chinese imports are down 40 per cent and our exporters are struggling as Asian confidence evaporates. Dairy and meat exports particularly have collapsed as overseas importers can’t get credit to buy our goods. Three shipping lines based in Melbourne are in serious financial difficulties with a shakeout forecast within six months. The world’s biggest shipping line Maersk has a 13,000 TEU container ship sitting idle in Europe as insufficient container trade is available to warrant bringing it out of mothballs. All this suggests that our shipping channels are not even being used to current capacity.

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Off McCrae 20th February 2009

An ironic image above: An MSC container vessel (left) passes by the Prins der Nederlanden which has just arrived to start dredging near south channel. The bulbous bow on the MSC vessel, the protrusion at the prow of many ships, and which is usually well below the water line was clearly visible from shore (just visible in this image) and there appeared to be plenty of spare room on deck. If there was more cargo to be moved presumably the ship would have at least been laden to the Plimsoll line. It wasn’t – and there have been plenty of cargo vessels passing in recent months sitting pretty high in the water, and with what appears to be plenty of space on deck, further confirming the information provided above from industry sources.

The global financial crisis has already had an enormous impact on the mass movement of consumer goods around the world – and there is every indication that it will have long term impacts. We are building a freeway through the Bay which we don’t need at the moment, and which may never be used to capacity!


[2] PoMC Alliance Document No CDP All_MS_410 paragraph 4.3.1 http://www.channelproject.com/global/docs/WMS_0809_Material_Placement_PMDMG.pdf


[3]Channel deepening project meets Entrance depth limits’ February 18th 2009 

[4] ‘Paranoia kept at Bay’ Herald Sun 4th February 2009 See: Paranoia kept at bay

[5] Economic Analysis of the Port of Melbourne Pricewaterhouse Coopers March 2007 reported $53 billion- $75 billion trade for FY 2006.


[6] Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2008 Vol 87, issue 6, p. 133-140


[7] Vehicle slump hits port Herald Sun 3rd February 2009

 [1] ‘Paranoia kept at Bay’ Herald Sun 4th February 2009

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