The island is about 38 kilometres (24 mi) long and 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) wide with an area of circa 275 square kilometres (106 sq mi) and a maximum elevation of 239 metres (784 ft) AHD .
The climate of North Stradbroke Island is sub-tropical with warm, moist summers and also mild winters. Average annual rainfall is 1,587 millimetres (62.5 in) and mean annual maximum temperature is 25 °C (77 °F)
The population of the island at the 2011 census was 117, but the number of people on the island swells significantly during the holiday season. The island is only accessible by vehicular or passenger ferries leaving from Cleveland.
There are three townships on the island. Dunwich is the largest and has most of the island’s services including a school, medical centre, local museum and university marine research station. Point Lookout (referred to locally as ‘the point’) is on the surf side of the island and is the major tourist destination in the holiday season.
The third is Amity Point which is much smaller and a popular fishing spot on the island. Flinders Beach is a small settlement of mostly holiday houses located on the main beach between Amity and Point Lookout.
In January 2014, about 60% of the island’s bushland was consumed by bushfires, later to regenerate.
Five main beaches provide fishing, surfing and water opportunities on North Stradbroke Island. These are Main Beach which is 32 kilometres (20 mi) long and good for surfing, Cylinder Beach which is a protected swimming beach with a smaller swell, Home Beach which is popular with swimmers, Frenchmans Beach/Deadmans Beach with rock pools but no lifesaving service and Flinders Beach which offers also good swimming and beach camping.
Lakes, springs and wetlands
North Stradbroke Island has over 100 freshwater lakes and wetlands and contains significant groundwater resources which are accessed by local communities and a sand mining company, Sibelco Australia. In addition, a significant volume of groundwater is exported to the mainland.
While there is the potential for expanded groundwater use, because so little is known about groundwater-dependent water bodies and ecosystems any expanded groundwater use is also suspended.
Dependent ecosystems include freshwater and estuarine wetlands, mangrove and paperbark communities, and surface-water fauna. Many of the wetlands are places for threatened migratory wading birds, including 34 species listed by JAMBA and CAMBA Moreton Bay RAMSAR area, Marine, migratory (EPBC Act).
Blue Lake, one of the largest lakes on the island, is protected within the Blue Lake National Park and is of cultural significance to the Quandamooka people of Stradbroke Island. It is a spring-fed lake relying on the stable aquifer feeding it.
This stable hydrology means it has been untouched by climate change and appears to be in the same condition as it was 7,500 years ago. Blue Lake has been an important climate ‘refuge’ for the freshwater biota of the region, and with appropriate management, the lake could also continue relatively unchanged for hundreds, possibly thousands of years to come.
Brown Lake is a perched lake which retains its water due to a layer of leaves lining the lake floor and is of cultural significance to the Quandamooka people of Stradbroke Island. The precipitated matter eventually forms an impermeable layer, preventing water from percolating to the watertable.
Eighteen Mile Swamp
The Eighteen Mile Swamp is the largest of its kind in the world and, in particular, is a fine and extensive representation of a coastal freshwater swamp. It is unusual for its size and dimensions (very long and narrow), covering 30 square kilometres (12 sq mi) and is considered to be very young (500-6,000 years) compared with similar swamps.
On 27 March 2011, the area was declared a national park, named Naree Budjong Djara National Park, My Mother Earth, by the Quandamooka people, the Traditional Owners of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), who are engaged in its joint management with the Queensland State government. The wetland is also in close proximity to the extensive Enterprise Mine.
The 18-mile swamp is home to many endangered, rare species, including the threatened Cryptocarya foetida whose habitat is the notophyll vine forest found at the foot and lower slope of parabolic high dunes on the west of the wetland. These high dunes on the west of Eighteen mile swamp provide excellent examples of long parabolic dunes migrating across North Stradbroke island from the south-east to the north-west.
This migration has buried earlier positions of the west coast escarpment to form complex hydrological systems with the ancient dunes [estimated at up to 300,000 years old]. No comparative examples of the phenomenon are seen on Moreton and Fraser Islands.
Myora Springs and Myora Creek Swamp
Myora Springs is a unique wetland site on the North West side of North Stradbroke Island, of particular cultural significance to the Quandamooka people as a sacred gathering site, and is also a declared fish habitat area. Myora Springs is known to be essential habitat for the vulnerable water mouse (Xeromys myoides) and the endangered Swamp Orchid (Phaius australis).
Another perched lake, Lake Kounpee was partially drained after sand mining operations breached the impervious layer in 1987. CRL spent over $300,000 in the 10 years following this in attempts to fix the damage, and now acknowledge they can not repair the damage to the lake – “turning a clear freshwater lake into a reedy waterhole”.
Other lakes and wetlands
Other perched lakes include Black Snake Lagoon, Ibis lagoon [whose melaleuca community in unique in structure and floristics from other melaleuca areas on the island], Welsby Lagoon, Native Companion Lagoon and the ephemeral Tortoise Lagoon within Blue Lake National Park.
Amity swamp also suffered, in 1991, when up to 100,000 litres of diesel spilled from the sand mining company, Consolidated Rutile Limited [CRL]. This was not reported until 1994, the same year CRL was awarded a commendation in the inaugural State Government Award for Environmental Excellence.
It was not until 1997 that the incident was acknowledged in CRL’s Annual Report stating that the spill was expected to be cleared by 1999 – eight years after it occurred. The sand mining company was never fined by the Department of Mines and Energy for these environemental incidents and continues operating.
Flinders Swamp and its drainage lines is home to the rare acid frog (Litotia cooloolensis) and the area includes habitats for relict populations of the burrowing skink (Anomalopus truncatus).
The Keyholes are a series of clear, freshwater lakes at the northern end of the 18 Mile Swamp popular with visiting canoeists. As the Yarraman Mine is now operating close to these lakes, public access has been closed, as it is a prohibited mining area.
North Stradbroke Island is home to rare, vulnerable, endangered and near threatened animals.
- Migratory wading birds, including 34 species listed by JAMBA and CAMBA Moreton Bay RAMSAR area.
- ‘Crinia tinnula Wallum Froglet: These ocuur at Dunwich, Amity, Yarraman Lakes, Blue Lake, Eighteen Mile Swamp, Brown Lake, Amity Swamp, Tortoise Lagoon and Flinders Beach Wetlands.
- Litoria cooloolensis Cooloola Sedge Frog: These occur at Eighteen Mile Swamp, north of the causeway, Brown Lake, Dunwich, Point Lookout, Tortoise Lagoon, Blue Lake, Welsby Lagoon and Yarraman Lakes. The population of L. cooloolensis on North Stradbroke Island has also been called Litoria sp. cf. cooloolensis (North Stradbroke Is) and may represent an unnamed species endemic to the island, as it is genetically distinct and has a different mating call from the other population of L. cooloolensis on the Sunshine Coast.
- Nannoperca oxleyana Oxleyan Pygmy Perch: There are two genetically distinct populations, east and west, but in very low abundance. The eastern population is at Eighteen Mile Swamp and Blue Lake, though only one specimen was collected there by McGregor et al. in 2008. The western population is at Little Canalpin Creek.
There are 780 plant species recorded for the island, 599 native and 181 introduced species. Of these 14 species are classified as threatened or near threatened species under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992, two of them are endemic to the island.
- Notophyll vine forest on parabolic high dunes: These occur on the foot and lower slope of high dunes on the west of Eighteen Mile Swamp, Swan Bay area and are the habitat for rare and threatened flora including Cryptocarya foetida.
- Acacia baueri Bauer’s Wattle [vulnerable]: These occur in seasonally waterlogged sands in wallum areas such as Canalpin Swamp and Eighteen Mile Swamp.
- Durringtonia paludosa Durringtonia [near threatened]: These occur in Myora Swamp and Eighteen Mile Swamp, and, in 1993 Bostock and Thomas recorded the first specimens on NSI since 1935.
- Phaius australis Swamp Orchid [endangered]: These occur at Flinders Beach Wetlands, Myora and Eighteen Mile swamps.
- Thelypteris confluens Soft Swamp Fern [vulnerable]: These occur found in permanently swamp areas associated with species of Baumea and Cladium at Flinders Beach Wetlands and Eighteen Mile Swamp.
- Arthraxon hispidus Hairy-joint grass [vulnerable] may no longer be present on the island.
- Blandifordia grandiflora Christmas Bells [endangered]
- Eleocarpus difformis Underwater Spikerush [endangered – Endemic]
- Goodenia arenicola [presumed extinct]
- Olearia hygrophila Swamp Daisy [endangered – Endemic]
- Persicaria elatior Smartweed [vulnerable]
- Phaius bernaysi Swamp Orchid [endangered] likely to be a yellow colour form of P. australis, it is likely that no mainland populations remain of this colour form.
- Pterostylis nigricans Brownhood Orchid [near threatened]
- Schoenus scabripes Bog Rush [near threatened]
- Thesium australe Toadflax [vulnerable]
The Aboriginal name of the island is Minjerribah, but in 1827 Captain Henry John Rous, who had the title of Viscount Dunwich, commander of HMS Rainbow, the first British ship of war to enter Moreton Bay, named the island after his father the Earl of Stradbroke, the town after his title, the entrance channel after himself and Rainbow Beach after his ship.
Three shipwrecked sailors, Thomas Pamphlett, John Finnegan and Richard Parsons, spent time on Stradbroke Island after they were washed ashore in 1823. The local Aboriginal people supplied them with food and shelter and even gave them a canoe to help them on their way. Before these three, Matthew Flinders called in at Stradbroke Island for fresh water and also mapped a large section of Moreton Bay.
Flinders was impressed by the Stradbroke Aboriginal people’s health and hospitality. Well known local historian, Thomas Welsby, records an Aboriginal oral tradition that there was an even earlier contact with European shipwreck survivors who walked into one of the Aboriginal camps after their ship was wrecked on the ocean side of Stradbroke Island. This tradition states that one of the men was named Juan and the other Woonunga.
In 1890 a member of the Campbell family, one of Stradbroke’s oldest mixed blood families, told Welsby that the remains of the ship were still visible in the 18 Mile Swamp and that the remains were of English oak. This story gives rise to a local legend that the remains of a Spanish or Portuguese shipwreck known as the Stradbroke Island Galleon exist somewhere in the 18 Mile Swamp.
North Stradbroke Island’s most famous local was Oodgeroo Noonuccal, formerly known as Kath Walker, the Aboriginal poet and native-rights campaigner. She was one of the prime movers of the movement that led to the 1997 landmark agreement between the local government council and the aboriginal people of the area that claimed rights over the island and parts of Moreton Bay.
The indigenous Quandamooka people are made up of the Noonuccal, Goenpul and Ngugi tribes. Quandamooka is the Aboriginal name for Moreton Bay; however North Stradbroke Island is also inhabited by the Quandamooka people.
This group was traditionally nomadic, moving between a number of semi-permanent settlements and living off the land. In July 2011, the Quandamooka people of North Stradbroke Island won a 16-year-long historic battle to have their Native
Title claim recognised. The Federal Court determinations outline native title rights and interest over land and waters on and around North Stradbroke Island. According to the Redland City Council, the Quandamooka People’s native title consent determinations cover the majority of North Stradbroke Island, Peel Island, Goat Island, Bird Island, Stingaree Island, Crab Island and the water surrounding Moreton Bay.
In 1949, Australian Consolidated Industries (ACI) commenced sand mining operations on North Stradbroke Island. Consolidated Rutile Limited (CRL), an Australian public company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, took over these sand mining operations in 1966 and operated two of Stradbroke’s three sand mines. CRL sand mined mineral sands. From 2001, the third mine, a silica sand mine, has been operated by Unimin Australia Limited, part of mining multi-national SCR-Sibelco, a company privately owned by the Belgian Emsens family. In 1998, Iluka Resources Limited, a publicly listed Australian company, acquired majority interest in CRL. Unimin Australia Limited acquired Iluka Resources majority interest in CRL holdings in 2009, and, in December 2010, the company changed its name to Sibelco Australia (after its Belgian parent company). Iluka Resources remains the overseas selling agent for mineral sands from Sibelco Australia’s Enterprise and Yarraman mines.
Mining began in the 1950s on the beachfront and this caused minimal disruption to the environment. However, as mining moved into the interior of the island in the late 1960s and increased in scale and size in the 1970s, the impact on Stradbroke’s ecosystem increased with Consolidated Rutile Limited (CRL) starting dredge-mining on Stradbroke’s high dunes. There are several accounts from sand mining employees of unusual artifacts being found during dredging operations.
Dredge mining involves levelling the high dunes and stripping vegetation to create the dredge pond and this dramatically changed the landscape of Stradbroke. The dredge is continually moving, leaving the tailings sand, so, although the mined dunes are revegetated and stabilised, the original ecology of the Island cannot be replaced.
As an alternative, development of the island for seaside residential use was mooted and in 1970 a bridge from the mainland via Russell Island was under serious consideration by the Queensland government. The Queensland Government also proposed a large-scale redevelopment of the island in the mid 1980s which would have seen the population of the island increase tenfold. However, after a concerted bid by conservationists and planners concerned at the impact on wetlands, fish breeding grounds and the impact of population growth, the idea fell from favour in February 1986 when Premier Bjelke-Peterson ruled the idea was not “financially viable”.
In 1991, the Australian Government and sand mining companies ACI and CRL attempted to reach an agreement on surrender of some or parts of mining lease tenements to form a national park. Half of North Stradbroke Island was to become a national park in return for a guarantee that mining could continue for the life of several mines in high-grade areas.1 The agreement was never signed by either of the mining companies nor the Government and has not been progressed to this day.
Sibelco Australia operates three sand mining sites on the island – Enterprise, Yarraman and Vance.
Rutile, zircon and ilmenite are dredged from the Yarraman Mine on the north of the island and the Enterprise Mine on the south of the island. Enterprise is the largest mine on the island and accounted for 60% of the island’s production in 2011.
It operates in close proximity to the Eighteen mile Swamp along a migrating dredge path with a buffer zone from the wetlands prescribed by the Queensland Government.
Conservationists have expressed concern that these buffer zones, the smallest of which is 25 metres (82 ft), are inadequate to protect the RAMSAR listed wetlands from pollution and will fail to protect the waterways, citing evidence from the 1976 inquiry into sandmining on Fraser Island which found even 500-metre (1,600 ft) buffer between areas mined and wetlands was ‘totally inadequate’.
In 2009, 500,000 tonnes (490,000 long tons; 550,000 short tons) of minerals were being produced by mining about 50 million tonnes of sand.
Sibelco Australia produces 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes (490,000 to 590,000 long tons; 550,000 to 660,000 short tons) of sand annually (approximately one per cent of North Stradbroke Island’s total sand). The silica extracted is used mainly in glass production, but also in digital tablets such as iPads.
The mineral sands are used in paints, plastics, metals, cosmetics and biotechnological devices (such as prosthesis), both for domestic and international markets. The international market for Australian mineral sands, sold through Iluka resources, is mainly China where 80% of exports are used as pigment in paints.
In 1991,up to 100,000 litres of diesel spilled from the sand mining company, Consolidated Rutile Limited [CRL] into Amity wetlands. This was not reported until 1994, the same year CRL was awarded a commendation in the inaugural State Government Award for Environmental Excellence. It was not until 1997 that the incident was acknowledged in CRL’s Annual Report stating that the spill was expected to be cleared by 1999 – eight years after it occurred. The sand mining company was never fined by the Department of Mines and Energy for these environemental incidents and continues operating. In 2008, CRL received the Premier’s Environment Protection Agency Sustainability Award for Resources industries for its rehabilitation processes. The award is given to a company that demonstrates leadership in environmental practices and commitment to progressive rehabilitation and long-term sustainability. According to the Stradbroke Island Management Organisation (an environmental watch-dog organisation) two-thirds of the island is covered by mining leases.
In late 2009, CRL, which became a subsidiary of Unimin Australia, itself a subsidiary of Sibelco, after being purchased from Iluka Resources, was charged with illegal sand mining after it was alleged to have sold sand extracted from the island, to the building industry for the production of glass without the correct permit.
Sibelco appealed, on technical grounds, the Magistrate’s decision that it had a case to answer on the criminal charges for the illegal selling of sand. On 22 May 2014, the Court of Appeal heard the appeal and delivered its judgement, all on the same day. It dismissed Sibelco’s appeal against criminal proceedings. The final day of this now five-year-long criminal trial was scheduled for 22 August 2014, in the Warwick Magistrates Court.
In another legal matter, the High Court of Australia ruled against Sibelco in June 2011 over a bid to sell sand to construction companies. Sibelco had lodged the appeal against the Redland City Council’s 2008 decision to deny the sand mining company’s application to sell 500,000 tonnes (490,000 long tons; 550,000 short tons) of sand to construction companies over the next 100 years.
In 2009 it became public knowledge that the mining leases on North Stradbroke island had also expired for the areas of operation of the Enterprise and Yarraman Mines.
This led to the June 2010 announcement by the then Premier Anna Bligh that sand mining on the island would be phased out by 2027 and the mined land and RAMSAR listed wetlands would become national park, eventually to cover 80% of the island. This proposal relied on renewing expired mining leases under the Mineral Resources Act.
The ensuing public discussion around future land use saw concern expressed by some residents as to the impact on the island’s economy. and by conservationists who saw it as sand mining business as usual, as the non-renewal of expired leases would effectively end mining around 2014.[42
] Conservationists campaigned with the simple message that 2027 was, in fact, the forecast date for the exhaustion of the mineral deposits on NSI as already anticipated by the Enterprise and Yarraman mine operators, citing details from CRL’s letter of 13 May 2009 to the Australian Securities Exchange [ASIX] that mineral sand mining as an economic force on the island would end by 2027.
Sibelco Australia’s commercial interests benefited by continued access to the mineral sand deposits on the expired leases until 2027, and, in 2010, Sibelco Australia commissioned Synergies Economic Consulting to report on the economic effect of an earlier closure of sand mining on NSI. The consultant’s report predicted an earlier closure of sand mining would prompt a rise in the price of ferry transport services, electricity services and fuel for the 2000 residents, with total employment on the island anticipated to drop by 30%.
Mining lease ML1117, the largest expired lease, contains the extensive Enterprise dredge mine, with a surface area of 1 square kilometre (0.39 sq mi) and a depth of 100 metres (330 ft). The application process for the renewal of mining leases requires the Minister for Mines for the Queensland government to consider future land uses of the area covered by the expired mining lease, under special section 286A of the Mineral Resources Act.
The Minister can not renew an expired lease if further mining would be inappropriate having regard to future uses of the land. Since it was last renewed in 1986, parts of ML1117 had been included in the national estate because of its high conservation value, parts had been included in the Moreton Bay RAMSAR protected wetland and all of it was for inclusion in a future national park.
Conservationists foresaw there existed a strong argument that further mining would have been totally inappopriate, given regard for future and continuing land uses and therefore the lease ML1117 could not be renewed under the Mineral Resources Act. Under Queensland law, a ministerial decision to renew ML1117 would have allowed a right to judicial review of the decision in the Queensland Supreme Court by indigenous owners, the Quandamooka people of NSI, and conservationists.
These parties had publicly flagged they would certainly use that right, given the good prospects of overturning the lease renewal decision upon judicial review, and bringing about the cessation of sand mining on the island around 2014.
In response to the public debate, and to the very real likelihood that expired mining leases would not be successfully renewed under the Minerals Resources Act if proper regard was given to future land use, on 22 March 2011 then Premier Anna Bligh announced that the Enterprise Mine would continue the operating until 2019, the Yarraman mine would operate until 2015 and the silica mine [Vance mine] until 2025.
The Queensland government would approve sand mining on North Stradbroke Island not through considering an application for renewal of a mining lease under the Mineral Resources Act, but through the passage of a new Act, the Stradbroke Island Sustainability and Protection Act 2011 (NSI Act). This Act was passed in April 2011. The Act renewed the key expired Enterprise Mine mining lease ML1117 until 31 December 2019 and also extinguished the pre-existing judicial rights of conservationists and indigenous owners opposed to renewal of the leases. The Act also renewed two expired leases to facilitate continued silica sand mining at Vance Mine until 2025.
Under the State Government’s Stradbroke Island Sustainability and Protection Act 2011, 80% of the island will become national park by 2026. The national park will be jointly managed by the Quandamooka people under the Indigenous Land Use Agreement.
The State Government planned to develop tourism opportunities by creating new walking tracks, camping grounds and recreational facilities. However, economic modeling undertaken by consultants commissioned by Sibelco Australia, Synergies Economic Consulting, states the growth in labour demand from tourism expansion is not expected to be rapid. This was because, at the time of the report in 2011, there was an overall weakness in domestic tourism across Australia.
In January 2012, then state opposition LNP leader Campbell Newman announced that if elected his party would restore rights around mining leases to what they were [prior to the NSI Act passed in April 2011] and Sibelco Australia supported his electoral campaign by posting letters to voters by “mine supporters” without required disclosure, urging a vote for Campbell Newman.
Sibelco belatedly obtained authorisation and in 2013 filed a disclosure revealing it had spent more than $90,000 on postage and printing. However, this election promise was not fulfilled, with no restoration of rights to citizens extinguished by the North Stradbroke Island Sustainability Act.
Instead, in 2013 the LNP Government passed legislation that allows sand mining on the island for an extra 16 years from 2019 to 2035. For mining to continue past 2019 at the Enterprise sand mine, the lease owner (currently Sibelco) would have to apply for an extension in 2019 under the legislative amendments passed by the Newman government
in November 2013. However, if the amendments are repealed by a future government before 2019, the mine will close on 31 December 2019, the closure date legislated by the government in April, 2011 
The circumstances leading up to this legislative amendment were referred to Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission. On 6 June 2014 North Stradbroke Island’s traditional owners, the Quandamooka people, initiated a legal challenge saying that the LNP Government’s extension of mining contravened the Federal Native Title Act.
The public debate concerning sand-mining re-opened in late 2012 when conservationists and indigenous owners, the Quandamooka people of NSI, opposed to sand mining discovered that the Enterprise mine had commenced operation in 2004 without Federal government approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). As the Enterprise mine operates in close proximity to the RAMSAR protected wetlands, experts have advised that the mine is having significant impacts on the adjoining wetland as water used in the sand mine’s operation flows into these protected areas.
The wetlands are part of complex hydrological systems forming art of the ancient dunes [some up to 300,000 years old] and the long term impacts on the wetlands are unknown. As of August 2013, Friends of Stradbroke Island Inc is currently preparing to take Sibelco Australia to the Federal Court, as the Federal Government has not taken any steps to enforce Sibelco’s compliance with Australian environment protection laws.