One of the jewels in the Gold Coast’s crown as the lifestyle capital of Australia is its waterways.
Amazingly, the city has 480 kilometres of rivers and streams while there is another 890 kilometres of constructed residential waterfront land within the city.
The waterways contribute enormously to the laidback lifestyle of the region by providing a wide range of recreational opportunities. The waterways also have an impact on the Gold Coast’s regional economy.
Hal Morris, the Chief Executive Officer of the Gold Coast Waterways Authority, has the job of maintaining and improving the clear majority of the waterways.
The authority has responsibility for improving and maintaining navigational access to the waterways, improving marine facilities for the public and managing the sustainable use of the waterways for marine industries, tourism and recreation.
Morris says last year the authority spent $7.8 million dredging the waterways, $1.2 million in recreational pontoons and upgraded pontoons, $1.3 million on a waterfront park in Surfers Paradise, $2 million upgrading Doug Jennings Park on The Spit and more than $2 million on boat ramps.
He says the Waterways Authority has another 50 projects planned for the next four years.
“I think the waterways for many people are an undiscovered jewel for the Gold Coast,’’ he says.
“That is why we are investing in research with Griffith University to truly understand what people want from the waterways, how we can help and in what ways we can care for the environment.
“The waterways are important for industry but we also need to provide things such as rest stops for migratory birds and at the same time you want people to use it recreationally.”
It’s a big job. The authority has 29 employees including a highly trained, fast response team that can respond to environmental emergencies such as oil spills at a moment’s notice.
Morris says the Authority also has a 10-year management strategy of how it will work with partner organisations to sustain, enhance and promote the waterways.
He says the waterways could be a divisive issue because of the many different opinions in the community about how they can be used.
“These divisions can be between different water users and even between the water users and the landholders who own or reside in properties beside the water,’’ he says.
“However, I also feel the waterways connect the community and brings together family to have fun together.”
Those divisions can cause tensions in the community and pose significant hurdles for governments. At the start of 2017 the Queensland Government commissioned two, independent community consultation programs relating to activity along The Spit, which divides the Southport Broadwater from the Pacific Ocean.
Another issue for the Waterways Authority is the waterways themselves. They are constantly shifting. Morris says the mouth of Nerang River gradually moved northwards from Surfers Paradise until the man-made seaway was constructed in the 1980s.
“If you look at the plans for the seaway area you can actually see that right in the middle of it is a surveyed township called Moondarewa,’’ he says. “The movement of the opening to the sea northwards and the erosion eventually swallowed up the township.”
Regardless of the difficulties of managing the waterways, there’s no doubt they are popular.
Morris says there are now 30,000 registered marine craft in the Gold Coast area.
John Hogan, Managing Director of international marina builder Superior Jetties, agrees that the Gold Coast is a playground for boaties.
“We have more boats on the Gold Coast than any other region in Queensland according to the Boating Industry Association figures,’’ says Hogan, who also serves on the Board of Marina Industries Association and is Chair of the Global Marina Institute.
“The Broadwater is the greatest asset the city has for the marine industry. You only have to gaze out to the ocean to see that only the hardy fishermen use it while the recreational market uses the Broadwater.”
Hogan says 70 per cent of Australia’s boat manufacturing facilities are now based on the Gold Coast and the Gold Coast marine industry has emerged as a very important economic hub.
“We operate as a cluster and the mutual support also makes us very competitive in the global market,’’ says Hogan.
Steve Sammes, the Chief Operating Officer of Gold Coast City Marina and Shipyard says the Waterways Authority’s recent steps to invest millions of dollars into a planned dredging program is already to pay dividends.
“Ensuring the maintenance of the channels are up to date is vital for the marine industry and for the boating community,’’ Sammes says.
“I look at the channels in the same way as the highways and roads. It is essential that they be maintained for all traffic, not just for our customers. The message is already going out that the dredging works are under way and its attracting a lot of attention around the world in the build up to the Commonwealth Games.”
Sammes says the marine industry is also pushing the Australian Government to set up a permanent Port of Clearance (a customs facility) on the Gold Coast.
Sammes says boats travelling from overseas have to travel to the Port of Clearance in Brisbane first, before heading south to the Gold Coast.
“We are hoping the Port of Clearance will be in place on the Gold Coast in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and then remain here,” he says.
Hogan says the marine manufacturing sector on the Gold Coast has now hit critical mass in the region but there is still room to grow.
“It’s not just boat builders any more, reliable suppliers are also present so there is a good supply chain established in the city,’’ he says.
“There are still marina opportunities for new players and I believe there is more room for boat storage facilities, particularly dry stack facilities with increased levels of service.”
Sammes says one of the keys to the industry’s success is the 250-hectare marine precinct at Coomera, which is limited to businesses associated with the marine industry.
“This means it will never be encroached upon by residential development,” said Sammes.
“Our marine precinct is the largest of its kinds in the southern hemisphere. About 80 per cent of all boats manufactured in Australia are built here.
“It’s a huge volume and a lot of the boats are sent to the export market.”
Maritimo boss Bill Barry-Cotter has plans to build an even bigger marine precinct. He’s hoping to create a $500 million expansion of the existing marine precinct on a 42-hectare site adjoining the existing precinct while the Gay family, which is behind the Gold Coast City Marina and Shipyard, also hold another 50 hectares.
Planit Consulting director Boyd Sargeant, who managed the approval process for Barry-Cotter, says the marine precinct expansion would include a 390-berth marina, a 290-berth dry stack storage complex, a TAFE college, a yacht club, and commercial outlets once completed.
“The proposal will generate significant stimulus to the region’s economy with up to 4000 jobs created locally during the construction phase and up to 5500 jobs during its operation,’’ Sargeant says.