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Council to follow up petition after hundreds appeal to 'save our passage'

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Sunshine Coast Council is looking into concerns about water quality in the Pumicestone Passage, after acknowledging a petition signed by hundreds of people.

The petition, created by local Damien Hede, was aimed at councillor Terry Landsberg and state MP Jason Hunt.

Signatories requested “attention and action” after a tidal breakthrough at Bribie Island in early 2022 led to shifting sands, changed tides and the clogging of the Caloundra Bar at the northern end of the passage.

“This relatively pristine waterway no longer flushes out to the sea, as it did in the past (twice a day with the outgoing tides),” Mr Hede said in the appeal.

“The altered flow pattern has raised concerns about potential pollution and safety issues for water activities.

“The blocking of the old Caloundra Bar will inevitably cause this section of this pristine waterway to become polluted and not safe for water activities.

“Additionally, there could be adverse effects on the local environment, residents’ way of life, and the appeal of this summer water haven as a tourist destination. This in turn will drastically affect the businesses along Bulcock Street.”

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Mr Hede, who is a member of environmental group TAPP (Take Action for Pumicestone Passage), implored local and state governments to address the “challenging” and “complex” issues.

“We respectfully request their attention and action,” he said via the petition, which has garnered more than 500 signatures.

The Caloundra Bar is packed with sand, blocking off the northern end of the passage. Picture: Bluey’s Photography.

“The well-being of our community and the environment depends on responsible leadership and proactive measures.

“We believe that with leadership and appropriate action, we can safeguard the far northern section of Pumicestone Passage for future generations.

“Let’s work towards a sustainable solution before it becomes too late, as the health and vitality of the environment depend on the actions we take today.”

Cr Landsberg tabled the petition – to undertake proactive steps to address the concerns – at the April 24 council meeting and it was carried unanimously.

It was referred to council CEO Emma Thomas “to determine appropriate action”.

“That section along Bulcock Beach is not receiving proper tidal flows,” Cr Landsberg said.

“We know several of our stormwater outlets are positioned there as well and there is concern for the water quality.”

But council would not otherwise comment on the matter, referring Sunshine Coast News to the Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, and Healthy Land and Water, for water quality information.

Pumicestone Passage, next to Golden Beach. The tidal breakthrough formed the new Bribie Bar, left. Picture: Bluey’s Photography.

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt’s office provided SCN with information “previously received from relevant departments in relation to water quality in the passage”.

It stated that the DES, Maritime Safety Queensland and council were “closely monitoring” the area, which has been a point of concern for locals since the breakthrough.

Water quality monitoring was increased, from eight times per year to monthly, at five sites in the area, and an additional site was established near the breakthrough, which is now the dominant bar in the region.

A DES spokesperson said there were no adverse impacts to date.

“Recent water quality monitoring has shown no environmental concerns,” they said.

“Small transient spikes in nutrient concentrations were observed after the new bar was formed, but nutrient concentrations have since been similar to those observed further south in the passage.”

The spokesperson said a new measurement was added to the observations last year.

“Quantification of the concentration of Enterococci bacteria as an indicator of sewage contamination was added to data collection in August 2023 to support safe swimming conditions over the summer,” they said.

A recent photo from 11,000 feet shows the effects of the tidal breakthrough, also known as the Bribie Bar, and the chocked Caloundra Bar.

A Healthy Land and Water report card, released in late December, rated the catchment ‘very good’ with a mark of 79 out of 100.

A research team for HLW told SCN that water quality declined in 2022 because of major flooding, but improved in 2023.

But the team said extreme weather events presented a threat to key habitats such as seagrass and oysters.

“The legacy impact of these major floods is an expansion in the area of mud on the seafloor which can influence water quality over the longer term,” the group said.

They said steps could be taken to counter this.

“Several key strategies have been identified to reduce these threats. These include: conservation and rehabilitation of natural areas within the catchment, including stream banks and waterways; adoption of best management practice to reduce nutrient, pesticide and herbicide run-off from agricultural and forestry lands; (and) improved sediment and erosion control on development sites and incorporation of water sensitive urban design,” they said.

The group said the breakthrough was “a natural coastal process that significantly changed the hydrodynamics of the passage, especially within the northern area”.

Discolouration along Golden Beach after storms earlier this year. Picture: Bluey’s Photography

“These changes are directly altering water movement and siltation within the area, which is likely influencing the distribution of local sub-tidal habitat, such as seagrass.”

The group said the area could be affected by runoff after extreme weather.

“The northern area of the passage, such as Bulcock Beach, is highly recreated,” they said.

“As tidal exchange has become restricted, waters within the northern area of the passage are becoming increasingly influenced by stormwater inflows from the adjacent urban areas (Caloundra), presenting a potential risk to recreational water quality.

“During and following heavy rainfall, the level of faecal pollution within waterways can increase significantly.

“It is recommended that residents avoid entering waterways while it’s raining, avoid entering open waterways and beaches for at least one day after a rainfall event, and avoid entering estuarine areas such as creeks, lakes, and rivers for at least three days after a rainfall event.”

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