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Mooloolah River Entrance Wave Dredged

Posted on June 13, 2022

Users of Mooloolaba Harbour have been promised the removal of sand currently settling at the entrance to the Mooloolah River on the Sunshine Coast. For surfers, however, the sand has created a dependable bank in east and north swells, and ridden as an extension of Point Cartwright.

The new bank traces the historical outline of the old rivermouth wave, which was destroyed when breakwalls were built in 1965 to train the river and create the harbour. Prior to that, a regular sand bank built up, fanning from the tip of Point Cartwright to where the Mooloolaba Surf Club now stands. Period photos show a straight-edged bank that, though semi-sheltered from swell, had fantastic potential.

Since the breakwalls went in, Mooloolaba Harbour became a designated state harbour: each one placed about a day’s sail apart on busy coastlines and used for recreation and safety. Mooloolaba Harbour is now home to a fishing fleet, recreational craft, and also hosts occasional yacht regattas. To manage the marine traffic, the entrance to the harbour has to be intermittently dredged to maintain depth.

The last time the entrance was significantly dredged was 2017, however sand began building up again and by 2019 the bank was again shallow enough to surf on lower tides and larger swells.

Back to back la Nina events accelerated sand accretion, and last season, when relentless east and northeast trade swells impacted the Sunshine Coast, the bank significantly grew in length and reduced in depth. By May, the bank could be surfed right around the tide, offering a long running wall.

The size and depth of the bank has adversely affected marine traffic with a string of crossing incidents occurring. On April 12th, the prawn trawler Canipa struck the bank while crossing the bar near high tide. Loaded with four tonnes of king prawns and 20,000 litres of fuel, skipper Peter Bellamy wrenched the boat free and turned back out to sea. He’s since set up port elsewhere.

Mooloolah River Fisheries also claim to have been financially struck by the errant sand as boats dock elsewhere to unload or buy fuel, usually sailing further south to Brisbane.

More recently, a surfer was literally struck when a boat from Mooloolaba Volunteer Coastguard, rather than navigating around the bank, crossed through the waves. One of the surfers had to ditch their board and dive underwater to avoid the oncoming vessel. The surfer dived deep enough to avoid the propeller, but their surfboard was run over in the process.

Local users have been asking for dredging works but to date only a small dredge working inside the harbour entrance has been able to operate. This work makes little difference to the outside sandbank which is largely comprised of marine sand from the longshore drift. Despite Marine Safety Queensland promising to begin dredge work on the bank since February, the active surf season halted every available window.

“We’re acutely aware of the shoaling at the entrance of the Mooloolah River,” MSQ general manager Kell Dillon told the ABC in May. “The high swell and increased wave action along the coast has made that particularly dangerous for mariners but also for the dredge.”

Mr Dillon also told the ABC a larger dredge, the Port Frederick, which was currently at anchor in Moreton Bay, would shortly be brought north to complete the outside dredging work, however work has yet to begin.

A spokesperson from Mooloolaba Coastguard said that when work begins, surfers will be advised to keep clear of the zone, yet also noted there was no power to remove them while the dredge wasn’t operating. Once it begins, the work could take up to six months, weather permitting, and when complete will spell the end of the wave.

And it may be for good, as boat users, buoyed by local Member for Maroochydore Fiona Simpson, campaign for a sixty metre extension to the eastern breakwall. If constructed, it would block all sandflow and almost certainly spell the end of the intermittent wave.


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