A Managed Approach to Exiting Coral Dredging Operations in Moreton Bay

Amy Hogan

Stuart Ritchie

Environmental Projects Officer

Group Environmental Coordinator

QCL Group

QCL Group


Community and political pressure to cease the extraction of dead coral limestone from Moreton Bay near Brisbane was a major factor contributing to the closure of Queensland Cement Limited’s Darra cement plant in 1998. This paper investigates the management approach adopted by Queensland Cement Limited in exiting its Moreton Bay operations including the legislative scenario, the results of marine monitoring undertaken and the progress of community consultation efforts. Successes and learnings from this project are discussed within the context of a cement company pursuing its vision of world class environmental performance.


Queensland Cement Limited (QCL) commenced production of cement in 1917 at the company’s first plant at Darra in the western suburbs of Brisbane. Darra was chosen because of its isolation from residential areas and proximity to rail transport and the coalfields of Ipswich. Limestone was originally mined from reserves located at Gore, near Warwick.

The depletion of the limestone reserves at Gore in the 1930’s and increasing production rates at Darra resulted in the substitution of dead coral from various deposits in Moreton Bay. The geologist investigating the coral and shell deposits at Mud Island wrote that: 

"….the whole deposit is uniform in character, it is twenty feet or more in thickness over the area between high and low water marks, its physical and chemical conditions are most satisfactory, it occurs around the whole of the island, and to all intents and purposes must be regarded as virtually inexhaustible."

Dredging procedures had remained much the same over the 60 years of operation, with coral dredged at low tide and transferred to barge for the 64 kilometre voyage to QCL’s Oxley Wharf facilities located on the upper reaches of the Brisbane River.

Over the past decade or so, there had been growing community concern over QCL’s dredging activities in Moreton Bay. This concern had been adopted by a number of local environmental groups whose interests lay with issues variously attributed to QCL’s coral dredging activities. Identified issues include coral reef flat protection and rehabilitation, commercial and recreational fishing values, and water quality and boating safety.

With assistance from local media sources and platforms provided by such events as the Sixth International Ramsar Convention on the Preservation of Wetlands held in Brisbane, community pressure had enabled a significant degree of influence to be placed on the decision-makers of Queensland. This pressure culminated in 1995, when the Goss Labor Government made an election promise to the people of Queensland that QCL Darra would be closed as soon as practicable. This led to the eventual cessation of dredging in November 1997, the closure of three existing kilns (two wet kilns at Darra and one semi-wet kiln at Gladstone) and the $200M expansion of the existing clinker manufacturing facility at Fisherman’s Landing in Gladstone, incorporating state-of-the-art technology.

Historical Background

QCL commenced coral extraction in Moreton Bay in 1937. In 1956, a 50-year exclusive licence was granted by the Queensland Government for the extraction of coral from the shallow shelf and off-shore areas of Mud Island (see Figure 1). Following this, a 25-year licence was granted in 1966 for the whole of the shelf surrounding St Helena and Green Islands as well as offshore deposits near Empire Point. An inshore licence for Cleveland Point, Raby Bay and Wellington Point was granted in 1974 for a 25-year period.

In 1989, the Queensland Government agreed to recommend to His Excellency the Governor in Council, that he approve an exclusive licence to QCL to take dead coral limestone from areas near St Helena and Green Island, and Empire Point in Moreton Bay. On the basis of these reserves, estimated as having a twenty-year life, QCL committed to new dredging and barge equipment worth $16 million.

However, in 1991 when licences were renewed, they were restricted to the areas adjacent to St Helena and Mud Islands, with reserves estimated at that time as having a life of six or seven years. Administered by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), this exclusive licence was issued on the 30 August 1991 pursuant to the Fisheries Act 1976 (Qld). It was agreed an Impact Assessment Study (IAS) would be undertaken addressing the extraction of deposits east of Green Island, prior to renewal of the Green Island licence. The IAS was completed in 1993 according to Terms of Reference established by the DPI and the Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH). However, community and environmental reactions to the Green Island application were also being felt by the company and influencing Government opinion.

In 1994, recognising that the Green Island reserves would not be required for several years, QCL was encouraged to withdraw the Green Island licence application pending a more definite conclusion regarding its future resource needs. Only a year later, the Queensland Government decided not to extend or grant any further licences for the dredging of dead coral in Moreton Bay, sealing the fate of the Darra plant and sending plans for the expansion of Gladstone into overdrive.

 Environmental Protection Act Licence Requirements

In 1996, the Environmental Protection Act 1994 ("the EP Act") was introduced to reform environmental management measures, aiming to improve environmental protection and ensuring accountability. The Act replaced existing separate environmental legislation such as the Clean Waters, Clean Air and Noise Abatement Acts. The Queensland Department of Environment (DoE) issued QCL a licence for the carrying out of dredging operations under the newly enacted EP Act.

With the issuing of a licence under the EP Act in 1996, QCL were operating dredging activities in Moreton Bay under two separate authorities. While the Fisheries Act licence allowed the extraction of the coral limestone resource, the EP Act licence permitted QCL to conduct the prescribed environmentally relevant activity of dredging material from the bed of waters using plant or equipment having a design capacity of 100,000 tonnes or more per year (ERA 18(c) Environmental Protection Regulation).

QCL’s EP Act environmental authority established a new requirement for QCL to monitor the effects of dredging activities on the littoral and supralittoral communities that occur 150 metres seaward of the Mean High Water Mark (MHWM) of Mud Island and St Helena Island. It had been proposed in the Green Island IAS of 1993, that dredging should be excluded from within 150 metres of the existing mangrove line, to leave, intact, a large section of reef flat. Through collaboration with the DPI, QCL voluntarily adopted this approach leading to the inclusion of such monitoring requirements in the environmental authority. The monitoring program was to address:

Further, monitoring and reporting was to be undertaken within 6 months of the date of issue of the environmental authority and thereafter once every six months until cessation of dredging; and twice following cessation of dredging, not less than five months apart in the twelve-month period (condition A10).

Queensland Cement Limited’s Approach to Monitoring the Dredging Effects in Moreton Bay

QCL commissioned LeProvost Dames & Moore (LDM) to carry out the required monitoring program which was commenced during January 1997. To ensure that useful data was collected, QCL with LDM’s assistance undertook a scientific assessment of the most appropriate environmental indicators relevant to coral rubble bank movement, mangrove health, and reef and island ecological communities. Within the context of QCL’s commitment to ‘World Class Environmental Performance’, this process was seen as important due to the diverse and complex nature of the community concerns that had been previously aired about the impacts of dredging. Subsequently, QCL committed to going beyond the licence requirements and to undertake surveys with the following components: 

The size of each mangrove monitoring plot is 10 m ´ 10 m at all sites except at one site where 15 m ´ 15 m plots were established owing to the lower density of trees. The corners of each plot are marked with a labelled wood post or metal stake, plus a back-up system of number-punched aluminium tags attached to ‘corner’ trees in the event that posts are removed or lost. The positions of some corners have also been fixed using the DGPS system.

The following environmental indicators were used to describe mangrove community health.

Results were statistically analysed by pooling frequency distributions of the defoliation index across plots and expressed as histograms. The tree and seedling counts per plot were standardised to provide numbers per hectare, and these data were subjected to a two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) for comparison among and between sites. Data were natural log transformed to enable parametric statistical analysis (ie. conformity of the data set with key parametric assumptions concerning homogeneity of variance and normality of the frequency distribution).

Analysis of the results produced from the field surveys at Mud, St Helena and Green Islands have so far determined that: 

With respect to Mud Island, it can be determined that, with one exception, there has been no major coral rubble bank movement, no further deterioration of mangrove stands, and only some minor re-shaping of banks through wave-induced erosion (refer to Figure 3). In one location, at a creek mouth, there is evidence of continuing long shore movement of the rubble bank, which remains a threat to that particular drainage system. Movement in this region of Mud Island will continue to be monitored.

With respect to St Helena Island (refer to Figure 4) a rubble bank situated on the south east side of the island has shifted and grown, while a beach ridge on the north-west of the island has continued to elongate some 32m in two years. This beach ridge is not formed from coral rubble and is located on the opposite side of the island from where dredging has taken place. The beach ridge has been formed by the same natural processes, which are responsible for older inland beach ridge development. This beach ridge movement has raised the question as to whether dredging activities have been responsible for accelerating the process.

Queensland Cement Limited’s involvement in the Community Advisory Group (CAG)

QCL’s environmental strategy has been developed to focus on ‘a triple bottom line’ approach. This integrated concept places equal emphasis on the economy, the environment and the community. It can be argued that businesses tend to overlook environmental quality and social justice in the race to achieve economic prosperity. QCL, however, is attempting to harmonise the traditional financial bottom line with a sustainable focus on environmental and community issues. QCL’s commitment to a community consultative approach to issue resolution is illustrative of the adoption of such a concept by senior management.

Initial contact between QCL and the community groups of Moreton Bay was by way of a request for information by one of the peak community groups in the Bay area, known as the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), and with which we had previous contact. Presently, twenty-five groups form a base association of environmental interests known as the Moreton Bay Alliance. At QCL’s first meeting with the various community groups it was agreed to develop an appropriate membership from this alliance, based on interest and technical expertise, for the formation of a Community Advisory Group (CAG). Through this process, the CAG and QCL have been able to develop a cooperative relationship through the sharing of information and technical experience.

Community organisations that are involved in the Community Advisory Group process included: 

QCL’s continuing membership of the CAG has been an important mechanism for demonstrating QCL’s openness and commitment to community relations and to protecting the environment in the Moreton Bay region. QCL’s proposal in 1993 to extend dredging to Green Island created significant community outrage and added to an already unenviable reputation with respect to environmental management. The company’s learnings through this and previous high media-profile issues has been that community involvement can be a critical factor in the overall management of issues. For Moreton Bay, the involvement of the community in cessation of dredging has been seen as a proactive way of confronting and addressing past actions and perceptions, and of minimising further damage.

Through the formalised process of CAG, difficulties have arisen that have made progress at times laborious. For example, the diversity in CAG membership and the apparent differing interest base has meant that the somewhat extensive range of internally conflicting interests, along with a seeming avoidance to prioritise for fear of alienating certain interest groups, has tended to delay progress.

Additional Works by Queensland Cement Limited

As might be expected, involvement in a community consultative process has come at some financial cost to QCL. However, in terms of the ‘triple bottom line’ approach, this is offset by the environmental and community benefits of participation and achievements. QCL has continued to work with the DoE and DPI independent of CAG, and while achieving the same end, the path adopted gave politicians comfort in knowing that the situation was legislatively sound as well as acceptable to the community. QCL had already voluntarily committed to going beyond the EP Act licence requirements in the environmental authority, which gave further comfort. Additional works which QCL either agreed to undertake or undertook voluntarily and arising principally through the community consultation process included: 


To date, it can be determined that a number of successful outcomes have been achieved from the formal collaboration of QCL and CAG. However, the varying priorities of issues being represented by individual CAG members have meant that, inevitably, each participant will vary in their view as to how effectively their agenda has been met by the consultation process.

It is our belief that a productive working relationship has been established with most CAG members and as they represent different community groups that has been acceptable. It is worth noting that QCL had previously established a relationship with one of the CAG members when some earlier remedial work had been undertaken at Mud Island with the assistance of the DPI and the AMCS. This previous interaction has been of great value in relationship building, particularly in establishing a history of trust and cooperation, which in general was non-existent with other CAG members.

Other outcomes have included the focusing of environmental monitoring programs on more relevant issues, the ability to obtain technical and historical advice, and review and comment of monitoring and assessment results.

Specifically for QCL, the project will provide useful information to be used in developing a Community Relations Plan, which will be incorporated into QCL’s Environmental Management System. This plan will promote the benefits of community liaison and consultation and provide policy and objectives, advice, and in some cases, procedures relevant to community consultation.


With ongoing involvement and participation in the consulting and advisory process, QCL has committed itself to working with the community as well as the administering authorities (DPI and DEH), to ensure that any ongoing dredging impacts, should they occur, are alleviated or minimised.

It is expected that QCL’s participation will redress, as far as possible, some of the local community’s negative perceptions of QCL, by demonstrating that QCL has a real concern for both the environment and the community as well as for its own economic well-being. While at times this has been a time consuming and frustrating process, QCL is amassing first hand experience in community consultation programs including, for example, working with the local community on the rehabilitation of the Mt Etna limestone extraction operation, and local groundwater issues associated with QCL at the East End mining operations.

Through the significant utilisation of resources and appropriate community training at all levels, QCL is displaying an enthusiastic approach to the integration of ‘Community Relations Plans’ (CRP) and the adoption of the ‘triple bottom line’ concept.

QCL has publicly stated its commitment in the pursuit of World Class Environmental Performance. Through the adoption of an Environmental Vision Statement, the development of a QCL ‘Corporate Environmental Management System’ (EMS) and the implementation of site specific ‘Business Unit Environmental Programs’ (BUEP), QCL is able to minimise its impact on the environment while promoting environmental and community awareness.

The release of QCL’s inaugural environmental report next month, which is a public statement of redress for QCL’s past environmental misdemeanours as well as our vision for the future, and the proactive relationship building with various environmental and community groups, has illustrated QCL’s commitment to the ‘triple bottom line’ concept, whereby the company is increasing its accountability in all areas of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social justice. 



Connell Wagner 1993, ‘Coral Dredging from Green Island, Moreton Bay Impact Assessment Study Main Report for Queensland Cement Limited’, Connell Wagner, Queensland.

LeProvost Dames and Moore 1997-1998 (all reports included), ‘Monitoring of Dredging Effects, Moreton Bay for Queensland Cement Limited’, LeProvost Dames and Moore, Brisbane. 

(Figures are attached to Hard Copy)