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Click image to enlarge - Cp. Cleveland

Building on our Success and Delivering on our Commitment:

The Townsville's State of the Environment Report 2003 to 2008 marked an important step for the city and for sustainable development in the region.

Working in Partnership with the Community
Towards Sustainability

Summary Document (large file)

Townsville continues to show leadership, initiative and creativity in addressing environmental challenges in Townsville and environs (see awards) and this is demonstrated in this first State of Environment Report for the Townsville region.

Satelite image of Townsville, June 1996, Dry SeasonClick here to access Department of Local Government and Planning (Townsville city). Townsville Local Government Area map used with permission of the Department of Local Government and Planning Satelite image of Townsville, May 2001, Wet Season
Click the images to enlarge
Townsville Local Government Area map courtesy of the Department of Local Government and Planning

Those of us fortunate enough to live in Townsville well appreciate how unique and rich in environmental values is the surrounding region. Unlike almost any other region in Australia, four distinct types of environment come together in the Townsville region. Each of these provide habitats upon which a very unique collection of plants and animals depend. Many of the flora and fauna that occur in the North Queensland region are found nowhere else. Some of them are threatened or endangered while others are migratory species, which depend heavily on our wetlands, waterways and coastal waters each year.

Our community also sits on the edge of one of the greatest environmental icons in the world – the Great Barrier Reef. As a consequence, the environment is an issue very close to the hearts of Townsville residents. We are proud of it, we appreciate it, and as custodians we recognise that we carry an even greater responsibility than most communities. It is a responsibility we take seriously as a community.

It is also a responsibility, which the Townsville Community takes very seriously. In the past decade, the community has worked hard to reduce the impact of the existing city on its environment, and to enhance local environmental values in harmony with other social and economic aspirations of the city’s residents. This has involved among other things:

  • Planting a million trees by 2000;
  • drought-proofing the city;
  • investing in better sewage treatment facilities;
  • improving the eco-efficiency of the city and business operations,
  • working with local businesses to improve environmental performance
  • supporting a wide range of community-based on-ground environmental repair projects;
  • subsidising public transport to reduce environmental impacts;
  • building a bike path network connecting the city;
  • rehabilitating our main beaches, Castle Hill, Serpentine Lagoon and other sensitive areas;
  • supporting environmental research and monitoring;
  • raising environmental awareness in the community;

In these and many other ways, the Townsville City has one of the proudest records on the Environment in Local Communities. At the heart of the city’s approach is a desire to build a sustainable development culture in the community, which encourages residents to support projects, which enhance the environmental values of our region into the future.

Over the next 20 years it is anticipated that the Townsville region’s population will grow by some 50,000. By 2050, the region may be sustaining a population of 320,000. This growth brings with it substantial environmental policy challenges in controlling atmospheric pollution, in preventing land degradation, in protecting local biodiversity, in preserving river catchments, and in looking after sensitive coastal habitats.

The City is preparing to meet these challenges by incorporating economic, social and environmental aspirations into an integrated plan for sustainable development. This is a complex task requiring the community to take account of major environmental corridors, river catchments, wetlands, marine habitats, conservation reserves, remnant habitats, refuge areas, endangered and threatened flora and fauna, wilderness areas, sites of geological significance, and cultural heritage.

At the same time our community has to consider needs for future residential and business expansion, major infrastructure changes like the gas pipeline and highway by-pass, port and airport expansion, and the development of natural resources.

The Regional Structure Plan for the city is an important component of that work and provides a good indication of the extent of the planning task.

Townsville views this State of the Environment Report as an important development for the city. It builds on the city’s successful record in environment policy, and it will contribute to a community culture in support of sustainable development. Such a culture is essential if the community is to continue to successfully integrate the environmental, social and economic aspirations of this community as the city prepares for significant growth in the years ahead.

This SOE Report provides the most comprehensive picture to date of the condition of the local environment, the pressures upon it, and the response of the local community and Council (2003 to 2008). The report builds on the  leadership, initiative and creativity shown to date by Townsville in addressing environmental challenges in the region, particularly over the past decade.

The Link between Knowledge and Good Environment Policy:

The concept of State of the Environment (SOE) reporting is based on an important assumption – that environment policy is more likely to achieve effective results when policymakers are able to measure their progress against a reliable assessment of the benchmark condition of the environment. This requires a clear focus on a wide range of important “indicators” which together provide a meaningful assessment of environmental quality in six main categories: the Atmosphere, Biodiversity, the Land, Human Settlements, Inland Waters, and Coast and Marine.

Deciduous bark of the poplar gum
Click image to enlarge - Deciduous bark of the poplar gum

State of Environment (SOE) reporting (click here for United Nations Environment Program SOE and International SoE Cookbook) is increasingly a routine part of environmental policy administration by Australian Governments. It is a statutory requirement for the Queensland Government and in some states for local government. In New South Wales (NSW), for example, all local authorities must produce SOE reports biannually. The Queensland State Government is in the process of drafting its second SOE. This will be a more streamlined version of the first (2001) and is due to be released in mid 2003. Click here for Queensland SOE and here for Australia SOE.

Whilst it is not mandatory in Queensland, a number of Local Governments have put their hand to State of Environment reporting. These include Gold Coast City Council, Brisbane City Council, Maroochy Shire Council, Noosa Shire Council, and Johnstone Shire Council. The format followed by each council varies according to their own circumstances - click on the following links to see their reports:

Gold Coast City State of Environment Report

Brisbane City Council State of Environment

Maroochy Shire State of Environment Report

Noosa State of Environment Report

Johnstone Shire Council SOE Report

Information for this report has been compiled over the 4 years prior to 2003 and is both qualitative and quantitative. Some community and Council programs have been updated until January 2008. It is important to note that in many areas of Townsville’s environment there was little or no quantitative information available either locally or regionally on water quality; land degradation; flora and fauna; and ecosystem health/services (this has changed and much more information is now available to the community).

Recognising the need for reliable environmental data if policy measures are to achieve real progress,  Both Townsville and Thuringowa Councils have implemented programs as part of their environmental management policies to acquire data and information in a cost effective manner (Natural Assets Register and Environmental Audit).  It will always be beyond the capacity of local government to collect or collate all of the environmental data we would like because of constrained resources. Despite this, the councils were still able to recognise and provide measured responses to changing environmental conditions. As stated, quantitatively these changing conditions often remain unmeasured although qualitative changes do not go unnoticed.

Townsville’s Dilemma – Plenty of Policy & Commitment, Not Much Information:

It is sometimes the case that local communities can have plenty of information about their local environment but little in terms of meaningful policies and programs, which make a real difference in terms of improving sustainability. In Townsville where a wide range of effective programs operate, the opposite situation applies. The Councils prior to 2003 alone had some 50 major environment-related plans and policies either in place, being implemented already or now being developed. However, the quality of information on the quality of the environment in Townsville remained generally poor despite recent investments by the Councils, Industry, the Community (N.G.O.s) and Government. This is partly because data collection and analysis is very expensive. Another reason is that scientific, academic and broader community interests tends to lie north in the vulnerable Wet Tropics areas, West in the Rangelands, and east to the Great Barrier Reef.

Grassland moth in the savanna colour and texture
Click image to enlarge - Grassland moth in the savanna colour and texture

Gradually this appears to be changing as interest in Townsville's tropical savannas and wetlands grows and the local communities develop deeper awareness of their local environments.

The 3 Broad Townsville Environments

CSIRO logo Tropical Savanna Ecology

  Atlas of Environmental Values

Visit the Townsville Regional Natural Assets Database

Consistency with the Local, Regional & State Environment Policy Context:

While this report is intended to be an important local community resource in its own right it has been designed to take the wider policy context into account – including local, regional, state and national legislative frameworks, policies, and strategies.

In regard to the local, regional and state context, readers are encouraged to read this report in conjunction with the Queensland State of Environment Report (1999) and the National State of Environment Report (2001)

Locally, it is desirable that this report is read in conjunction with these historical documents.

1. "Community Plan for Natural Resources Management in Townsville-Thuringowa" (.pdf 772kb) (Coastal Dry Tropics Landcare Inc./Natural Resources and Environmental Forum 2002)

2. "State of the Bay Report" (.pdf 8MB!) (Cleveland Bay Consortium 2002)

3. "Townsville Thuringowa Strategy Plan" and Draft Policy Papers (Department of Local Government/TCC/CoT 1999).

Natural Resources & Environment Forum

NaREF Website

A Community Plan for Natural Resource Management in Townsville-Thuringowa
Produced by Coastal Dry Tropics Landcare Inc

Download the whole report (.pdf)
Download the whole Document (.pdf 775kb)

or download the separates sections (also in .pdf)

Download Section One (.pdf)
A Whole of Catchment Approach
(.pdf 165kb)

Download Section 2 (.pdf)
Land, Vegetation and Wildlife
(.pdf 90kb)

Download Section Three (.pdf)
Water, Wetlands and Waterways
(.pdf 60kb)

Download Section Four (.pdf)
Coastal and Marine Environments
(.pdf 65kb)

Download Section Five (.pdf)
Environmental Quality
(.pdf 50kb)

Download Section Six (.pdf)
Community Involvement and Education
(.pdf 65kb)
Produced by Coastal Dry Tropics Landcare Inc.

The community's 2000 NRM Plan was prepared by the Coastal Dry Tropics Landcare Inc., in collaboration with a wide variety of community groups, local governments (Townsville and Thuringowa Councils), industry/business and State representatives. The plan presents a detailed, capable and distinctive community view of Townsville's environment, including: qualitative condition, considered pressures, and current/desired responses).

The Community NRM Plan is implemented by individuals, community groups and government across Townsville-Thuringowa Sub-Region (of the Burdekin Dry Tropics Region) and faciliated and communicated by local subregional network of the Natural Resources & Environment Forum Townsville-Thuringowa (NaREF).


Cleveland Bay Consortium logo

Status Report for the Cleveland Bay 2002 (.pdf 8MB!)

The Cleveland Bay Consortium was an informal industry/research forum for the discussion of the sustainable use of the environments of Cleveland Bay. Industry and regulatory agencies in the Cleveland Bay region have identified a need for comprehensive information about water, sediment, flora and fauna of the Bay for environmental license applications and future planning for sustainable use of the region. Information from past research is often difficult to find, of variable quality, and is sometimes difficult to apply to current problems and applications. Business, industry, regulatory authorities, and research agencies identified a need for a focus or forum to exchange information, priorities, information needs, and expertise.

Home Page of the Plan
Regional Strategy Plan for Townsville and Thuringowa

The State and Local Government Association (LGA) Townsville Thuringowa Strategy Plan (TTSP 2000) and associated Draft Policy Papers on the other hand present a distinctively State Agency view. These documents offer limited quantitative environmental data produced mainly on maps, and with some input from Local Government Councillors, staff and community workshops. The various Policy Papers (Environmental Quality; Natural Resources Management; Nature Conservation; Water Resources etc) produced give qualitative SOE information on environmental condition and provide recommendations and objectives for addressing environmental issues.

The Townsville Thuringowa Strategy Plan
Townsville Thuringowa Strategy Plan cover


Though not formally associated with the Townsville State of the Environment Report 2002, the information available in these policy documents are nonetheless highly relevant supporting material. They reflect a community-wide desire to respond to existing environmental pressures and those associated with future population growth and development.  Across the many strategies and policy documents produced in recent years which address environmental challenges, there is a strong degree of agreement as to what needs to be done. These documents are referred to in this SOE as they comprise a very important part of our response to environmental pressures as a community. However, in the main, the material is not reproduced here with links provided instead so that readers can access the detail themselves.

Translating these policy frameworks and papers and the Councils' of the time own election commitments into meaningful and measurable improvement in the environmental values of Townsville is of course the real test of success. With that in mind, there is a deliberate emphasis in this SOE Report on activities, which go beyond planning and are making a real difference to our environment locally. 

Consistency with the National Environment Policy Context:

Notwithstanding this local ‘on-ground’ focus, the report has been prepared in line with the National State of Environment Reporting guidelines produced by Environment Australia and especially the Australian and New Zealand Environment & Conservation Council. In line with these guidelines, information is presented in a way which highlights three distinct areas of concern: pressure, condition and response.  However due to issues with scale and available data the core indicators have been used as a guide only.

The Graph below indicates the linkages between Pressure, Condition and Response (click the graph below for a link to the national SOE reporting Framework website).

Linkages between the Pressure State Response Criteria for SOE reporting


Pressure-state-response model Source: Adapted from OECD (1993, p.10)

  • Pressures refer to human activities that affect the environment. Pressures do not necessarily imply harm, especially if the activity is appropriately managed.

  • Condition refers to the quality of the environment and how well important environmental processes are functioning; and

  • Response incorporates all human efforts to address environmental issues – at the level of government, industry, or the wider community.

By way of example, SOE information on vegetation issues might be framed in the following terms:

  • Pressure - Native Vegetation Clearing;

  • Condition - Extent and condition of remnant native vegetation;

  • Response: Measures to reduce clearing, and incentives to manage native vegetation (conservation, restoration, regeneration).

State of the Environment Reports can be heavy reading for non-technical audiences. By using this Pressure-Condition-Response format, the Report aims to make the material easier to use as well as consistent with state and national SOE approaches.

In order to make the SOE a “living” document, the Townsville SOE is an innovative internet based presentation and consistent colour-coding throughout. This both greatly enhances user-friendliness as well as enhancing the material with quick access to other relevant information links.

Capparis flower and leaf
Click image to enlarge - Capparis flower and leaf

In its sophistication and coverage, this SOE does not endeavour to emulate the State and Commonwealth versions. The scientific and financial resources at the disposal of Local Government is much more modest.

This SOE does not purport to cover all sustainability initiatives – past, present, and future – which have been led by others in the community. While this SOE focusses heavily on the historical role if the councils and community of the time, we also acknowledge the vital work being done by so many individuals and businesses in our community.

We also acknowledge the intricate environmental linkages which Townsville has with other neighbouring local communities. While this SOE does not endeavour to establish the State of the Environment in these areas, the Townsville SOE strongly acknowledges the importance of co-operative work towards positive environmental outcomes between local government authorities in the region - particularly Townsville and Thuringowa. To this end there were many integrated programs between the Councils of the time.

For purposes of manageability and because cultural heritage imperatives are addressed through a wide range of other initiatives, this SOE is restricted in its coverage to natural heritage issues.

Nonetheless, this report acknowledges the traditional owners of the Townsville Region, the Wulguru Kaba and Bindal peoples.

This historical report provides a yardstick against which the community will be able to measure improvement and progress towards sustainable development in the Townsville region. The Townsville SOE hopes that the Report will serve as a vehicle to involve all levels of the community in activities, which will make a real difference and ensure an sustainable city in the years ahead.

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Click image to enlarge - Oak Valley Landcare & TCC Revegetation Team
courtesy of White Pages 2002 / 2003 and Landcare Australia

Pressure - Condition - Response The SOE Model

Issues are the specific topics of interest for the State of Environment Report. These are determined by biophysical, cultural, social and economic criteria. While there are common issues amongst all SOE Reports in Australia, there are also regional differences.

Information about human activities that affect the environment is called Pressure. Pressure does not necessarily imply harm, especially if the activity is appropriately managed. There are many relationships between human activities (pressures) and the condition of the environment. However these relationships can be complex and sometimes difficult to demonstrate, as the condition of the environment typically depends upon a wide range of natural as well as human induced factors. In addition pressures may have occurred historically in the past when the effect of the extent of the human activities was not fully understood or known (e.g. Riparian vegetation clearing; mangrove/wasteland filling; amenity plants which are now weeds etc.).

Information about the Condition of the environment is the next section. That is, the quality of the environment and the functioning of important environmental processes.

Information about human efforts to address environmental issues. These are called Response. Response relates to actions, policies, plans, laws etc. that are enacted to alter the management or condition of one of the Issues.

For example, in relation to native vegetation:

  • Issue: Native Vegetation
  • Pressure: Native Vegetation Clearing
  • Condition: Extent and condition of native vegetation
  • Response: Measures to reduce harm to, and incentives to manage, native vegetation
Native CheeseTree
Click image to enlarge - Native CheeseTree