By VERONICA ANASSIS
Little Bay and Botany residents turned out at Circular Quay on Sunday, Feb. 2, to protest the proposed Yarra Bay cruise terminal. A crowd of 30 Save Yarra Bay Coalition members stood outside the Royal Caribbean boarding terminal, tying the cruise-ship empire to plans they say will devastate their beach-side community.
The protesters were greeted with some heckling from those waiting to board the cruise empire’s latest ship, Ovation of the Seas. Several cruise passengers were visibly annoyed by the activists, causing them to direct profanities at the group.
‘Tell someone who cares,’ yelled a female passenger waiting to board, followed by expletives.
But the group remained unfazed, handing out pamphlets and chanting their slogan ‘Royal Caribbean no way / Save our beaches, save our bay!’ for hours. Many passers-by stopped to hear more about the campaign, mostly foreigners.
“We are not opposed to cruise ships,” explained the group’s leader, Maria Poulos Conklin, to onlookers. “We are against the Royal Caribbean monster cruises in Yarra Bay that will destroy our beaches, the environment, our beautiful marine life, and devastate aboriginal communities. It’s a travesty. It’s going to ruin lives, all for profit.”
Cruise ships are a big industry, and each year companies like Royal Caribbean dump visitors who spend some $5 billion a year in the country. The Circular Quay Terminal operates at capacity, and most of the new large liners are too tall to fit under the Harbour Bridge and dock at White Bay.
The state government and the deep-pocketed industry are unsurprisingly looking around at how to get more cruise ship passengers in the city, and has focused their sights on Yarra Bay. Current plans are for a new international cruise ship terminal to be built near La Perouse, on the north side of Botany Bay.
The Government’s $600 million development envisions a port that can accommodate two 5000-passenger mega cruise ships at the same time.
Residents, indigenous groups and both Randwick and Bayside councils say the plans are dangerous and environmentally destructive.
The bay is too shallow to support such large ships, so the plans call for dredging to deepen the harbour for the ships. This process is known to dig up contaminated sediment and deep laying waste that will pollute its surrounding waters with toxic silt.
Opponents also say that the dredging will drive out marine life, including thousands of fish species, dolphins, whales, turtles, penguins and will destroy the habitat of two endangered species, the pygmy pipehorse and the weedy sea dragon.
The plan also includes new breakwaters, which will affect wave and tidal flows; this, opponents say, will cause severe coastal erosion to Yarra Bay and neighbouring Frenchman’s Bay. The accompanying sea swells and congestion, they argue, will disrupt swimming, sailing, water sports and fishing at Botany and surrounding Eastern Suburbs’ beaches.
Road traffic too, will be unprecedented in an already overly congested area positioned so closely to the M5 and Sydney’s busiest port.
Cheryl and John Rennie are life-long Botany and Little Bay locals. Protesting together at the Quay on Sunday, they told City Hub the Royal Caribbean’s plans will wreak havoc on all fronts.
“The amount of traffic that’s coming through already, I don’t know how they’re going to do it,” said John, whose family built the sailing club at Yarra Bay over 90 years ago.
“It’s Royal Caribbean that’s pushing the NSW Government to build a terminal,” said Cheryl. “The dredging they will have to do will end up killing endangered marine life at Bare Island because the silt flows around and smothers them.
“And you’ve got one of your oldest Aboriginal populations; they have been here for seven or eight thousands years. They will lose their traditional fishing waters. The transport impact too. People come from everywhere now… the place is absolutely packed out. That part of Sydney is so clogged up now. You’ve got Port Botany right there.”
Indigenous groups not consulted
Yarra Bay is sacred to Indigenous custodians of the land, whose culture relies on access to, and preservation of the water, animals and traditional fishing practices. The cruise ship terminal plan has met with fervent opposition from Le Parouse Aboriginal Land Council. Indigenous groups say they were not consulted for the Port Authority’s business case that assessed the project’s impact.
The Save Yarra Bay Coalition have the full support of both Randwick and Bayside Councils, including cross-bench councillors. In January, Bayside Council demanded that the Port Authority have genuine engagement with relevant impacted communities. It is also calling for an urgent reopening of the investigation into Garden Island as an alternative site — previously rejected by Liberal government on the grounds it would interfere with navy operations.
The Circular Quay protest was a practice run for a major action March 15, the Save Yarra Bay’s Grand Flotilla. For details, see the group’s website at saveyarrabay.com
Eight Reasons to Stop The Yarra Bay Cruise Terminal
* Environmental: Dredging the bay to make it deeper digs up years of highly toxic mud that will kill water life.
* Animals: An entire seal colony will be forced to move. Endangered species on nearby Islands will be forced into extinction.
* Pollution: Cruise ships burn dirty, sulphurous fuel. They dump food waste into sea waters as they travel, retarding precious ecosystems.
* Indigenous: The sea and marine life sustains the culture and the practices of the local Aboriginal heritage, which will be clogged and polluted.
* Logistics: Few of the passengers on a 5000-person cruise ship will want to visit Sydney without seeing the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each docking will create a miserable caravan of would-be sightseers navigating 14 miles of inner-city traffic to get there, and then back to their ship.
* Character: The water sports and sailing integral to the suburb’s identity will be crippled.
* Human Rights: Cruise lines bypass labour codes. They employ crew members from lower income countries made to work below deck for over 10 hours a day, with reports of pay as low as USD $1.25 an hour.
* There Is an Alternative: A second terminal should be built on Garden Island, which is just two kilometres from the Opera House and affords the passengers the tourist-friendly views they want.
For all of City Hub’s reporting on Yarra Bay cruise ship terminal, please click here.