Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cassowary Coast Regional Council’s mismanagement encourages dune damage at Cowley Beach

I decided to visit Cowley beach a week ago and see for myself just how bad the vehicle damage to Cowley’s coastal dunes really was.

I posted a story about Cowley Beach a few months ago "Council inaction encourages environmental abuse at Cowley Beach". Surely what I’m being told is exaggerated I thought.

In no time at all I saw firsthand that I was wrong, very wrong!

Before I begin lets have a look at this area on a map! The top of the map is where the Cassowary Coast Regional Council (CCRC) has installed the beach access ramp. 1.5 kilometres south is the mouth of Liverpool Creek.
Perhaps this map will make it a bit clearer. The red line was created by my GPS as I followed the vehicle tracks.
Here’s another map that displays red zones where the Queensland Government (EPA who are new called DERM) considers vehicle use is inappropriate.

Let’s zoom in a little.
Well look at that! This part of Cowley Beach is earmarked by the Queensland Government as an “area on and adjacent to beaches where vehicle use is inappropriate”.

That’s enough background lets get into this beach walk!

Driving towards the beach access ramp the first scene I came across was a quad bike rider and passenger driving unlawfully on the wrong side of the road (and without helmets) on to the beach access ramp and then onto the beach! Hmmm nice start!
I parked my car, grabbed the camera and GPS unit and started walking.

Of course the first thing I saw was the beach access ramp that the CCRC had installed to protect the dunes from being damaged by vehicles driving onto the beach. When I saw the dune damage south of this ramp I had to shake my head and laugh at this structure which IMHO is basically green wash!
To the right of the ramp is a picnic area the council has built with bollards and fences for local people and visitors whose idea of a great day is going to the beach and not getting run over! This area has been affectionately christened “The cattle yard” by Cowley locals!I propose this structure's main purpose was to block off the entrance to the old Cowley dune track which can be seen in a pre “cattle yard” photo below.
I walked onto the beach and headed south and was faced with a multitude of vehicle tracks, hardly postcard material.
I walked to the “Thong tree” a famous Cowley landmark. Locals have nailed thongs that have washed up onto the beach to this She oak for years. Before I continue, by “thong” I am referring to the footwear also known as a flip flop and not some sexy item of underwear! Here is a photo I took last century.Unfortunately the poor old thong tree had given up the ghost and had gone to the great beach in the sky. An ill omen indeed.
I noticed the tracks were running through patches of Goats foot convolvulus Ipomoea pes-caprae a common primary sand stabilizing plant. Though this is hardly desirable, it didn’t cause me great concern.
A bit further along the tracks cut west into the dunes. The whole idea of the council installing the beach ramp was to get people out of the fragile dune ecosystem and onto the beach with their vehicles! It appears people are driving wherever they feel like driving!
I decided to turn right and follow the track through the dunes as it seemed to be the most heavily used route.
Eventually I came to a spot where you could see the old dune track that existed before all the extra traffic that the council has attracted to this area with their policies and unregulated beach access ramp.
As you can see this old track was not as heavily used in its time!
The new track weaved all over the place and many side tracks cut away to the left towards the sea.
Along the way there were places where the heavy vehicle traffic had exposed the roots of trees and shrubs to the elements. Eventually this can bring about their premature death and in doing so destabilise the resilience of the dune ecosystem as a whole.
When I arrived at the mouth of Liverpool Creek there were vehicle tracks all over the place.
On the other side of the creek mouth there was a flock of pelicans. One of them was having a bit of a yawn which I thought was rather comical!
I decided to follow the beach on my return trip, it did not appear to have been as heavily used as the dune tracks.
I passed many tracks heading west into the dunes on my way back.
Upon returning to the ramp I noticed this warning sign regarding the preservation of beachside vegetation. I thought “yeah right” a bit of a joke considering the foreshore damage I had just witnessed.
Why do I blame the council for this mess?

Well the other main party involved is the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM). They have made their thoughts and desired outcomes very clear in a letter to Mr Paul Devine councils Manager of Parks and Natural Environment on 23 September 2009. DERM clearly stated 3 desired coastal outcomes for Cowley Beach using the Wet Tropics Regional Coastal Management Plan for guidance. These were;

  1. The large esplanade extending from Cowley Beach Township to the mouth of Liverpool Creek is retained in its natural state, free from development and upgraded to a reserve for beach protection and management.
  2. The physical and biological integrity of the dune system and associated beach is maintained.
  3. Vehicular access and recreational use has minimal impacts on fauna (eg. Beach stone curlew, turtle) that use the beaches. There is no vehicle use on the beach south of the Cowley Township.

I have no problems at all with the desired outcomes that DERM presented. However it would appear that the Cassowary Coast Regional Council’s Mayor Bill Shannon, its Councillors and Mr Paul Devine do.

Council have put in improved publicised access to the beach and basically laid out the red carpet for anyone who wants to drive any vehicle, registered/unregistered, insured/uninsured, roadworthy/unroadworthy through the fragile coastal sand dunes they should be protecting.

In the meantime they have meetings, form committees and fiddle while Rome burns.

Little wonder I feel that the mayor Bill Shannon, the councillors and Mr Paul Devine are failing in their basic duty to protect this area. Perhaps they all need to get off their butts and walk this beach (yes walk not drive) and see what they are promoting in this area? Perhaps the fresh air might clear their heads and the sea breeze might clear their vision. We can only hope.

Before I go, Cowley Beach resident Richard Piper, an accomplished entomologist and botanist, has informed me that most people want the old track reinstated with bollards to prevent people driving through the dunes willy nilly. He also stated most people do not want vehicles driving on the beach itself. Certainly this must be preferable to the current situation where people are driving anywhere they want to, both on the beach and in the dunes.

Ma:mu traditional owner and TUMRA representative, Mr James Epong, has told me that the Ma:mu traditional owners of this area do not want vehicles driving on Cowley Beach.

I hold James in very high regard for the personal effort he puts into caring for Ma:mu country especially their sea country. The Ma:mu people’s “No take” stance regarding marine turtles and dugong sets a shining example for other indigenous groups throughout Australia. I am sorry their wishes are being disrespected by our regions policy makers.

Personally I prefer DERM’s no traffic desired outcome as a better scenario. People aren’t building sandcastles on the highway so why are we driving vehicles on public beaches? Let’s be straight here, Australia has a good percentage of overweight and unhealthy people who would benefit from a good beach walk. Their bodies and minds would benefit and the littoral flora and fauna at Cowley Beach would be happy too…Win/Win!

Let’s hope those concerned with deciding the future of Cowley Beach get it together and do the right thing before Cowley’s southern dunes endure many more months of damage.

Cheers Russ


  1. Hmmm. From all your evidence, it seems like the Mayor and councillors are hypocrites. Wonder if they'll still be able to collect fat pay checks after the next election?

  2. Thank you for your comments anonymous. I don't care a lot about how much these people are paid. My main concern is that they earn their wages honestly and act in an environmentally responsible manner.My primary goal in writing this story was to let people witness what is happening to this beautiful part of North Queensland and question why Council is happy to let this happen.

  3. Hi Russ, I'm Pottsy the previous Leasee of Cowley Caravan Park and have intimate knowledge of the whole area, Council, Staff, Councillors, past and present Residents,Events, everything over the past 20yrs. I concur with your and Richard's philosophy and wants, but, as you are aware, Governments of all persuasions and levels have Egos they can't jump over,but trip over incessently. As I said to Richard "Stick it to them" and if can be of assistance in that endeavor please do not hesitate.
    Good luck

  4. Thank you so much for your comments Pottsy.
    I owe you a big thank you for recently getting your Stat declaration to me that described the 3+ lots of marine turtle nests that you witnessed in front of the Cowley Beach caravan park when you managed it.
    Traditional owner James Epong and myself recently made council aware of this and many other nesting events at Cowley Beach during a half hour Power Point presentation on local marine turtle nesting that we delivered to the full council. I must note they were very interested and made us both feel very welcome.
    Unfortunately as you are aware councillor Downs and other council representative appear happy to allow this same beach zone to be turned into an unregulated sand highway and our requests/emails are being ignored.... shameful.
    All is not lost Councillor Bill Horsford has shown common sense and integrity by openly opposing the destruction of this area right from the start...more power to him I say. I hope some other council people follow his lead as they become better informed.
    cheers Russ

  5. Hi,

    Some interesting comments and observations. Here is another example of the "Cassowary Coast Regional Coucils" inability to effectively manange it's natural assests and infrastructure. Go to this link: .

    If the Cassowary Coast Regional Council were a Corporation, Company or Business the Administrators would have "closed the door" the day the Queensland Government amalgamated the Cardwell and Johnstone Shire Councils. Welcome to rural third world North Queensland governed by southeast Queensland centric Political Parties.


  6. Thank you Otto for your comments.
    We have such wonderful natural and cultural assets in North Queensland and the neglect of these assets is terrible to watch.
    I can understand your frustration regarding road closures to the falls and council amalgamations have seen a very tough teething period which hopefully will not continue forever.
    It looks like your tour business visits some great places and I hope the future brings you better days.


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