Dear Minister Miles,
I write to you in your capacity as Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection to request that you publicly oppose plans to fill in part of the Brisbane River and destroy many of the mangroves growing along the Queens Wharf riverfront in Brisbane’s CBD.
I understand that while you personally are not the final decision-maker in approving the designs for the Queens Wharf mega-casino, the mangroves cannot be removed without your approval as Environment Minister. You will also no doubt be consulted regarding whether you support aspects of the development which involve filling in and building out over parts of the river, and your recommendation for or against this will carry significant weight.
The plans for the Queens Wharf Brisbane Priority Development Area suggest that the casino developer will remove many of the mangroves and other established trees growing along the riverbank between the Goodwill Bridge and the Victoria Bridge, leaving only a few large individual mangrove trees to serve as a hollow reminder of the ecosystem that used to exist here. This application should not be approved.
The development application talks about a ‘mangrove walk’ and makes general statements about preserving mangroves where possible, but when you drill down into the detail of the Foreshore Environmental Management Plan and other associated documents, it becomes quite clear that the vast majority of the mangroves will either be removed or will suffer severe negative impacts from construction work. It seems the development approval would not include any strict conditions requiring the protection of the mangrove forest in its entirety.
These mangroves provide a wide range of crucial ecosystem services. They clean the air and the water. They prevent sediment and rubbish from flowing into the river and ultimately out into Moreton Bay. They are a breeding habitat for a wide range of aquatic species, as well as a hunting ground and refuge for native mammals, reptiles and birds. Their value is reflected in Brisbane City Council’s Biodiversity Overlay, which maps these mangroves as an area of ‘High Ecological Significance’ and the area of bikeway between the trees and the Riverside Expressway as a ‘Biodiversity Interface Area’ - a buffer zone in which high-impact development should be restricted.
This stretch of vegetation - including the larger pine trees on the river below the 1 William Street government building - is a crucial wildlife corridor for a long list of species that travel up and down the Brisbane River. The large water birds which sometimes hunt and rest here are a particular delight to tourists and locals (I’m not just talking about the ibis, but also the herons, egrets, cormorants, owls and tawny frogmouths that pass through this spot).
Mangroves help prevent flood damage by slowing floodwaters and stabilising the riverbank to stop erosion. These mangroves also screen the Riverside Expressway. I’m not sure how much they do to reduce the noise and air pollution, but they definitely improve the view when you’re looking across from South Bank.
Even if you don’t find these arguments persuasive, you must surely acknowledge that the presence of mangroves in the middle of the CBD is part of what makes Brisbane special. There are thousands of cities around the world with casinos and highrises and luxury riverfront restaurants, but relatively few can boast the abundance and diversity of inner-city flora and fauna that most Brisbanites too often take for granted.
Brisbane’s character and identity rests in part on the presence of intact vegetated corridors stretching through the suburbs and right into the heart of the city. It is this feature which attracts and enthrals international tourists and sets us apart. Very few tourists travel to Queensland to see bright lights and big buildings. They are drawn to our state’s many natural wonders, from the Great Barrier Reef to the lush National Parks in the Gold Coast hinterland. The heart of our capital city should also respect and reflect this identity.
When you stroll along the river’s edge early in the morning, or late at night, the stretch of mangroves along the CBD riverfront is a rare and beautiful thing. Other big cities around the world are currently incurring great expense to re-establish wildlife corridors along their rivers, whereas we already have them.
These trees are an important part of the river ecosystem and of the city more generally. They have not been well looked after in recent years. Rubbish has been dumped there. Trees have been hacked away unnecessarily. Pollutants from the expressway and nearby construction sites have been allowed to flow into the river unchecked. But this doesn’t mean these trees are not worth preserving.
Although I am opposed to the Queens Wharf mega-casino, I am not opposed in general to the redevelopment of this site. It will be great to see more of the CBD riverfront opened up to the public for recreation and sightseeing. But whatever uses the site is ultimately put to, it should still be possible to preserve this wildlife corridor. A flourishing mangrove ecosystem in inner-Brisbane could be a tourist attraction in its own right. But one or two lonely remnant trees will not serve as viable habitat and will not be able to regenerate themselves over time.
I’m conscious that letters such as this are sometimes filed away as miscellaneous correspondence because they don’t technically comply with the government-prescribed format for submitting feedback. I’ve found it extremely difficult to access the processes and available avenues for public submissions into the Queens Wharf development, and if I as an elected city councillor find it confusing I can only imagine that many other residents are also being excluded from meaningful input. I request that this letter be incorporated as a public submission regarding the main development application and any other subsequent applications relating to the removal of the mangroves.
I know that you personally have strong environmental values, and that you won’t want to see this mangrove forest destroyed. The question is what you will be able to do about it. Please take a public stand in opposing the removal of these trees. You have the power to stop this.
Councillor for the Gabba Ward