It is a hit with Instagrammers and anglers, but most people do not realise that one of the Gold Coast’s most iconic pieces of infrastructure helped turn the once-sleepy Queensland tourist town into Australia’s sixth-largest city.
The Gold Coast Sand Bypass System has not only kept the seaway navigable for three decades, but it is also credited with helping transform the city’s tourism and marine industries.
The infrastructure is managed by the Gold Coast Waterways Authority, and the organisation’s chief executive Hal Morris said the bypass system needed recognition for the role it had played in helping grow the city.
“It’s right here on the Gold Coast and it’s the first of its kind in the world, and it’s absolutely pivotal to all of the development that’s come as a result of the investment that put the seaway in in 1986,” he said.
“This really is a hidden treasure of the Gold Coast.”
Russell Ratcliffe and Hal Morris inside the Gold Coast Sand Bypass System pump room. (ABC Gold Coast: Damien Larkins)
Engineering feat shared with the world
Located on the Southport Spit, the sand-pumping jetty juts an impressive 500 metres out to sea, but it is what happens beneath the pier that keeps the nearby seaway operating.
“It lets us, without dredging the seaway, keep the seaway open safely for craft,” Mr Morris said.
There are 10 pumps located along the jetty that are buried 2 metres beneath the sand.
The Gold Coast Sand Bypass System and Seaway helps keep the seaway navigable. (ABC News: Damien Larkins )
Every year the pumps collect 500,000 cubic metres of sand that drifts north along the coastline.
The sand is pumped through a pipe beneath the seaway and dumped on South Stradbroke Island so it can continue drifting north.
“It keeps the channel open through the seaway at the mouth of the Nerang River,” Mr Morris said.
“It’s been operating over 30 years and many other systems like this have now been built around the world.”
Huge project has stood test of time
Queensland Government research conducted during the 1970s identified a permanent sand bypass system was needed to stabilise the seaway’s entrance.
The system was opened in 1986 by then-Queensland premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Mr Morris said it had been one of the largest infrastructure projects carried out during the 1980s.
“I understand that in dollars, in the day, it was around about the $50 million mark, so it’s a lot of money in 1986,” he said.
Aerial photos of the Gold Coast seaway in 1983 and 2009. (Supplied: Gold Coast Waterways Authority )
In June the Queensland Government announced a $3.35 million upgrade to the system.
From early next year works will begin to replace the jetty’s concrete deck to allow larger cranes to work on the platform during maintenance periods.
On October 27, the sand bypass system will be open to the public as part of the annual Gold Coast Open House program.
Destination Gold Coast chief executive Annaliese Battista agrees the project was visionary and helped industries, including whale-watching and fishing charter businesses, to develop.
“It has been an absolutely integral mix of our infrastructure offering,” she said.
“The seaway development has, in no small way, contributed to opening up the water-based activities that happen on the Gold Coast and will happen in the future.”
System also sucks up debris
Sand bypass supervisor Russell Radcliffe has been keeping the pumps operating since the infrastructure was built.
He said the system had been difficult to operate in the early days.
“After 32 years it sort of comes as second nature now,” he said.
“Probably in the first 15 years, being nobody had any experience on these particular plants, it was all research and development from our side.
“It was a big learning curve. It was hard work.”
Sand bypass supervisor Russell Radcliffe with rubbish collected by system. (ABC Gold Coast: Damien Larkins )
The qualified fitter and turner said the system also acted as a vacuum cleaner by collecting rubbish and debris, which gets sucked into the pipes buried beneath the pier.
“We’ve found wallets where people have lost them down at Burleigh Heads, some 20 kilometres to the south, and we’ve got them three weeks later,” he said.
Maintenance staff have also collected mobile phones, surfboard fins, flippers and watches.