The death this week of a 51-year-old man who was struck by a jet-ski while swimming in Victoria has sparked an urgent plea to Tweed shire councillors not to overturn last week’s decision banning a wakeboarding clinic on the Tweed River.
Fingal Head residents say the death of the swimmer in Port Melbourne has raised to a national level the debate about the dangers of sharing rivers between passive or low-key users such as swimmers and high-speed boating activities such as jet-skis and wakeboarding, and councillors should heed the warnings.
The swimmer, 51, whose family was on the beach at the time, died in hospital earlier this week after sustaining severe head injuries. The Melbourne Age reported that the two men aboard the jet-ski had allegedly been warned beforehand to leave the area by fishermen on a nearby pier.
Fingal Head Residents Association president Dawn Walker said Fingal Head could become the jet-skiing and wakeboarding hub of the river if councillors overturn the decision to ban the wakeboarding operation as it would set a precedent for other speedboat sports waiting to expand their activities on the river.
‘The Tweed needs to lead on this safety debate, not lag behind the rest of Australia,’ Ms Walker said.
Many Queensland water-skiers and speedboats use the Tweed River as they are banned from waterways on the Gold Coast.
Cr Kevin Skinner was absent at the last council meeting when a vote by councillors on the proposal was tied at 3–3, allowing mayor Barry Longland to use his casting vote to reject it.
But Cr Skinner is tipped to vote for a rescission motion which has since been lodged in a bid to reverse the decision banning the proposal by the Pro-Wake Academy to run the clinic on a stretch of the Tweed River between Chinderah and Fingal Head.
Ms Walker said councillors should also heed not just the safety aspects but the environmental risks of allowing such activities like wakeboarding where a person on a surfboard is towed around at high speeds.
Experts and Tweed Shire Council staff, in a study tabled at the last council meeting, warned against allowing such activities, saying they caused severe riverbank erosion.
Ms Walker said the estuaries around Fingal Head were also known internationally as nesting sites for several endangered migratory bird species, and they too could be affected by such activities.
‘There are international treaties in place to protect those birds and Tweed Council needs to abide by them; the federal government also has to protect those areas on behalf of several Asian governments under these treaties,’ she said.
Ms Walker has been invited to address the annual World Congress of Ocean 2012 in Dalian, China, in September where she will raise the issue of the protected migratory birds.
‘The international treaties on Ukeregabh Island (on the Tweed River adjacent to Fingal Head) are enforceable and mean that the Tweed is custodian of precious environmental assets that they are responsible for protecting, not just on behalf of Tweed residents, residents of NSW or the people of Australia, but internationally,’ she said.
‘We should be proud of this and celebrate the fragile environment that we have here on the Tweed River.’