Timber boardwalk, Cairns waterfront
The view from the stylishly re-decked Cairns Esplanade boardwalk is somewhat boring these days. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

The great sand ‘cover-up’


Just when I think readers are sick of hearing about the destruction of the Cairns Esplanade as a significant wader habitat, requests arrive for an update.

Ok, you asked for it … The environmental tragedy that is the Cairns Regional Council’s ‘sand nourishment’ along the Esplanade foreshore has again been laid bare.

January’s monsoon deluge and big tides have eroded massive quantities of introduced sand right along the waterfront, particularly at the northern end. A blanket of sand now covers vast areas of former shorebird feeding habitat.


The council would have us believe that the sand has always been there, and that it is just ‘repositioning’ the stuff to make the interface between what used to be mud and the shoreline more attractive (to humans).

But there is possibly another, more sinister reason: asbestos! 

Rubble (probably from old demolition work in the area) was used as landfill, and evidence of it is regularly exposed by big tides and heavy rain. 

When I recently asked a council person working along the shoreline with a litter-picking tool and sack why he had deliberately walked through a group of roosting shorebirds, he said, “Asbestos, mate. We can’t deviate because we might miss some of the stuff.”

Shorebird watching

Thus, I contend that the CRC’s ‘sand nourishment’ program that has all-but destroyed the Esplanade as a shorebird-watching venue, is not in the slightest bit ‘nutritional’, and every bit a cover-up.

Great knots waiting in the tide on Cairns Esplanade
Close-up views of migratory wader flocks on the Cairns Esplanade are hard to find. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Are there any waders left?

Yes, there are a few – on a good day you might see close to 200 in scattered groups along the bay. That’s 90% fewer than was the norm before the sand dumping began. And those that have stuck around generally leave the bay at about half-tide to roost elsewhere. (In other words, if you don’t have a scope, you don’t see much.)

The final irony is that although we now have excellent information signs about the shorebirds along the Esplanade boardwalk, visitors are hard-pressed to find many of those featured.

An excellent job

But before I turn my back on this painful subject, the CRC should be acknowledged for the excellent job it has done re-decking the Esplanade boardwalk with natural timber. It looks fantastic – so much better than an expanse of fake wood (plastic composite) that many wanted.

The half-km-long boardwalk is now clad with what I’m told is preservative-treated Darwin stringybark – a hard, dense and heavy tropical timber similar to ironbark. It is stylishly laid using a German hidden-fixing system, held in place with 120-mm-long stainless decking screws that have a special thread-less section to accommodate timber movement. 

A bit too much information for some, perhaps, but with 110,000 screws apparently used at $1.10 each, it is no wonder the job cost several million.

All we need now are some birds to look at.

©Natural Images 2019


©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.


2 thoughts on “WHERE DANGER LURKS

  • Carol Iles February 4, 2019 at 10:16 PM Reply

    A cover-up would not surprise me. Have you asked Council to confirm or deny the suggestion? Now, wouldn’t a bit of truth make a refreshing change?

    • Tony Neilson February 7, 2019 at 8:32 AM Reply

      Hi Carol. I have verbal acknowledgement of ‘an asbestos problem’ from CRC staff but nothing sought in writing.

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