SOUTH EAST QLD surf, music, style, enviro & Politik

New Threat: Tate’s Terminal To Cast Swell Shadow On South Stradbroke Surf Break

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate has resurfaced for another term, wasting no time coming forward with wild plans for development and a cruise terminal on The Spit – this time right on the northern tip, at the opposite end of where he proposed ahead of the recent election.

In what appears to be yet another confusing and distracting attempt, in the hopes of gaining access to public lands in the area, the Mayor is calling for an array of bridge, tunnel, oceanside terminal, development and sewage infrastructure to be built just off the Seaway and on the northern tip of The Spit.

Revealed in the Gold Coast Bulletin over the weekend, Tom Tate’s shock plans to develop the northern Spit and ocean space off the Seaway into an international shipping port – far removed from his advertised oceanside terminal proposal he campaigned with ahead of the election a few weeks earlier

The loose proposal, which at this stage seems to have little detail of explanation to accompany it, would see a plethora of new threats to the existing amenity of the area, including the potential loss of the South Stradbroke surf break by way of constant significant alteration and dredging to outer shoals and channels as well as the potential for swell disruption and swell shadow resultant from an artificial rockwall island needed to protect the ships from prevailing swells and seas.

A bridge to Labrador, tunnel from Wavebreak to The Spit, a massive pier and new rock-wall island off the Seaway, just part of what Tom Tate is proposing could be built on The Spit and surrounding waterways.

As has been seen for decades on many occasions, this new proposal calls for cross-subsidising between the private commercial sector and public government to facilitate outcomes – more specifically, hinting that private developers will fund some of the infrastructure requirements in return for receiving access to build megadevelopments and commercial ventures on prime public Crown-land parklands.

Mayor Tom Tate suggested that – according to the Gold Coast Bulletin – “developers along The Spit could help pay for a traffic solution.”

Aside from the array of potential negative impacts such as the privatisation and commercialisation of public spaces, overuse and overcrowding, and many potential environmental issues, the likelihood for negative impacts on the South Stradbroke surf break have been compounded and increased under this new proposal.

Tate’s ‘Oceanside’ terminal, as depicted on his website and as he campaigned with ahead of the last election. True to form, shortly after being re-elected, his proposal mysteriously shifted and changed, away from the previous location towards the southern end of The Spit back to the northern end and back where it could really impact the surf and dive amenity. Duplicity, it seems, knows no bounds when it comes to terminal proposals on the Gold Coast.

Primarily, it is understood that the structure would consist of a lengthened pylon pier (from the existing location) to extend eastward, arriving at a long rockwall island built specifically to stop swell and create a sheltered harbour effect. The rockwall island would have to be significant in size, around half a kilometer in length with additional angled sides before it could even possibly provide the required shelter for large modern cruise ships, most of which are now over 300m in length overall. Some liners such as RMS Queen Mary 2 are up to 345m in length.


A significant list of other problems exists that may arise from this location, some being the probability of swell reflection from such a structure (which could impact arriving and departing ships) the significant current generated by the tidal flow in and out of the seaway and around the structure, the exposure to various wind patterns given there is no protection from such winds out on the open sea, and of course the exposure to significant swells throughout the summer cruise season, namely powerful cyclone and low-pressure system swells. All of this would make regular scheduling of large ships a potential nightmare, dissuading cruise companies to commit.

A large swing-basin, continuous dredging and sand pumping would be required to ensure that the areas used by the ships do not infill due to factors such as storm surge and impacts, the litterol sand movements and the longshore drift in the highly volatile sedimentary environment we have on the Gold Coast.

It’s a freak combination of natural and man-made elements that has produced one of the best beach breaks in the world. Despite its consistency, it also carries with it a certain sense of fragility given that a change in any one of the many factors that make this place great could spell the end for the incredible waves there // Photo Luke Sorensen

For surfers, the impacts could be catastrophic for The Spit and particularly for the South Stradbroke surf break which is heavily reliant on a particular set of parameters that allows the location to produce those juicy and perfect A-frame peaks, often drawing in more swell than the surrounding beaches.

The propensity for such a structure to create a notable swell shadow behind it would be high and depending on the swell direction and swell period, it could eliminate much of any South Easterly swells, preventing the wave energy from properly arriving on the beaches at the surf break. An example of the ‘Swell Shadow’ effect and how it may impact the surf break at South Stradbroke in the animated video below.

Swell arriving from the East through to the South-South East make up the primary swell direction that makes the place work, and it is often noted that on a solid South swell, much of the northern Gold Coast can be breaking at 2 feet whilst The Other Side can be producing 3 to 5 foot barrels at the same time.

Swell Shadow from structures and islands is famed for impacting many surf breaks around the world, particularly on the west coast of the United States where offshore islands can often block significant groundswell emanating from storm systems, making one surf break be double over head and the next break a few miles down the coast be barley chest high. Such places include Santa Barbara, which is often impacted by South Swells hitting the Channel Islands just offshore and failing to eventuate on the mainland.


Huntington Beach is another break that can be broken down into two primary swell windows, with a significant portion of their ocean-facing vectors blocked by offshore islands which shield the coast there from most swell arriving from those directions.

Offshore islands create varying swell windows and swell shadows that have a notable impact on the wave energy and surf that arrives at the famous Huntington Beach surf breaks in California

Despite the proposed structure from Tom Tate being smaller in scale and closer to shore than the large islands off the Californian coastline, the physics and effects apply the same on this proposal for a rockwall island harbour, particularly when the wave period is increased and the swell travels from from farther away – meaning a deep groundswell that could potentially deliver the day of the year, might instead be turned away or blocked by the terminal structure.


This manifestation of the mayor’s personal pet-project ambitions comes as the latest in a string of super-sized development plans initiated by the man who once told surfers and divers that their opinions do not “matter”. From elite and exclusive Polo tournaments on Doug Jennings Park to XCat powerboat racing right through well-known humpback whale, turtle and dugong habitat, the mayor has long demonstrated his ambitious idea of what the city’s waterways, foreshores and oceanfront mean to him, causing him to clash often with everyone from community associations, environment groups, the entire surfing community, local business owners, the dive community, boaties, fishermen, artists and a vast proportion of long-term locals.

Each time similar dubious proposals have been put forward the community has exploded with enormous opposition and rallies of thousands of people. In 2014 over 2500 people turned out at the Broadwater Parklands on a rainy Sunday morning to voice their opposition to Tate’s terminal plans, something rarely seen within the apathetic confines of the city. Sadly, it appears the community may have to get the posters and signs out again and demonstrate exactly how much they value their surf breaks, public spaces and waterways.

Not to be dissuaded or deferred from the issues at hand, there are some serious questions to be asked about the apparent lunacy of such a proposal this time around. Both the major cruise companies have been sheepish and reluctant to commit to a Gold Coast terminal, adopting a wait-and-see-approach, which should be of major concern to every Gold Coaster. One CEO from the Royal Caribbean cruise company stated without any ambiguity that their interest primarily lies with the new Brisbane terminal for the Brisbane Rivermouth and they can not support a Gold Coast port of call. Both companies are as-of-now in the final stages of talks that will secure their private investment in the new Brisbane terminal to the tune of around $100 million, meaning there will be almost zero cost to tax payers. The new home port will accommodate the biggest ships easily and more importantly, it will deliver on their business modeling due to its accessibility in almost all weather, proximity to the airport and rail lines, proximity to supply lines, fuel, the M1 highway and the efficiency by which they can facilitate both port-of-call needs and home-port needs for their passengers. None of these efficiencies or objectives are achievable by any potential Gold Coast terminal currently proposed.

The cruise industry has been largely non-supportive of the concept of a Gold Coast port of call, or ‘way port’, and as cited in this letter, indicating no support specifically for an oceanside or offshore terminal. An oceanside terminal may be something to consider decades from now for the Gold Coast, however in its current crayon-drawing thought-bubble form, coming from the side of the mayor’s head, it appears to have no genuine place at the present time

The lack of interest, the likelihood of enormous port fees, lack of reliability, safety issues and lack of supporting infrastructure is as revealing as it is alarming, given the common thread on this topic having always reverted back to attempts to gain development access to Crown parklands.

In fact, it appears that for each version of this idea, it has been that the worse off the concept they can propose economically, the more prime public land appears to be needed to be offered to private developers in exchange for them subsidising the economic failure the terminal would likely become.

A previous proposal under Mayor Tate morphed from a simple $30 million floating dock into a $7 billion development on over 100 hectares of irreplaceable public waterways and parklands – essentially gifting Wavebreak Island, parts of The Spit and resumed waterways to a Chinese consortium (with the primary construction company being Chinese-government-owned and debarred from the World Bank for fraud and collusion practices) in return for an unsuitable and predestined-to-be-obsolete cruise ship terminal.

That proposal would have seen the Seaway dredged into oblivion and the outer banks and channels that make TOS fire gutted and replaced with a permanent and ongoing sand-mitigation regime of an unimaginable scale. The incoming Labor government recently had the sense to call a spade a spade and end that atrocious and glaringly obvious land grab.

The word around town is ‘here we go again’ as not just surfers and bodyboarders, but swarms of beach lovers and coastal communities, water users, ocean goers and park lovers prepare to rally again and fight what breaks down to be little more than a sly land-grab attempt by way of deception and division. Countless surveys and reports have often shown the issue of a terminal to be a divisive one, however the issue of keeping The Spit undeveloped, free, open and public has always returned a massive majority consensus that it must be preserved for the people and not handed to developers – not carved up with infrastructure or private developments.

Another point to consider is the modern-day heist that happens when governments use infrastructure projects as a dangling carrot of sorts to secretly push for and propagate development agendas. One such example is right here on the Gold Coast and may eventually come into play on The Spit.

The Gold Coast light rail system was a multi-billion dollar project that left our city in gridlock for some time, it allowed for the gentrification of parts of Southport by displacing existing businesses with a drawn-out construction phase that many could not afford or survive. The rail was met with a mixed response by demographers, businesses and locals who all shared views both denouncing it and supporting it. Tom Tate referred to it as a “lemon” on many occasions before later embracing after he became mayor.

What most people did not know (and many still are unaware of) is that wherever they laid that track, within 800 metres of it would become zoned as unlimited height development. Right now there is a strong indication that if this Spit terminal proposal was indeed built, then a spur line of the light rail would be planned to go past Seaworld through to the terminal, using the phony terminal as the excuse. The added infrastructure of terminal, tunnel and light rail would be used as the unstoppable excuse for The Spit to then be developed privately. What is essentially the last remaining undeveloped coastal space on the entire Gold Coast could be lost forever to private development.

The same applies for the proposed Stage 2 or 3 routes north and south of the current track, which would potentially deliver a continuous 1600m wide unlimited-height zone from one end of the coast possibly all the way to Coolangatta. We can hear the property developers and real estate speculators rubbing their hands in anticipation whilst the community is left out in the dark and out of the loop.

Bridges, tunnels, terminals, tracks, bus corrals, car parks, buildings, offices, kiosks, parking meters, dredging, walls, towers, resorts, casinos, fines, fees, fences and farcical ambitions are just some of the threats to the environment, amenity and true unwritten value of the spaces in question, and sadly it is up to the community to yet again stand up and fight for what is already theirs – fight for the waves and beaches and parks and waterways that are the beating heart of this water city. In the meantime, get your wallets out because it looks like mayor Tate will be pouring more public money yet again at investigations, studies and PR spin to push this ahead – not bad from the bloke who constantly told the public it would not cost them anything //

North end legend Damien Healy hooking in to the golden hour on the other side of the river last winter // Photo Luke Sorensen

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