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Sustainable Design, Construction and Operations of New Port Developments in Australia

With the high demand for intercontinental shipping, driven by the growth of world trade, coupled with the increased scrutiny of climate change influences, the environment will become the most important aspect of new port design, construction and subsequent operations. With Australia’s almost total reliance on shipping as an enabler of all Import/Export activities, there is a constant need for new port developments projects.

Port developments are being progressed in increasingly complex socio/regulatory environments. There is a growing environmental awareness amongst project proponents, shareholders, regulators and contractors.

“Progressive port developers are taking ownership of their responsibilities – by promoting the design and implementation of more sustainable Port solutions including operational methodologies”.


Ports are facing continuous changes concerning new ship developments, new cargo handling technology and environmental requirements. These changes present challenges for the design of ports. Green ports need to not only offset carbon emissions, and turn to green energy sources, they need to become the location of net nature benefit through the creation of new and improved habitats for marine and terrestrial flora and fauna.

Northport Malaysia

An environmentally sensitive design philosophy can be used to create opportunities for sustainable port developments (as seen in Port of Kuala Tanjong, Malaysia). It promotes the use of nature-based solutions for breakwaters and marine infrastructure. The ability of mangroves to realise significant wave attenuation is high and this factor enables mangroves to be ‘planted’ into new type breakwaters offer operational, environmental, economic and aesthetic benefits to the Port.

The loss of one hectare of mangroves results in a loss of opportunities for fish, shellfish molluscs (539 kg/y) and prawn (146 kg/y) habitats with an estimated loss of economic value for fisheries of US$23,613 (environmental impact study Port Kuala Tanjong).  

Overall, a port expansion project should result in more fish productivity thanks to an increase in the total nursery area. However, developing and designing solutions are not good enough. To enable broad implementation and ensure effective realisation, solutions should be widely accepted by clients, project financers and other stakeholders. The benefits of these solutions or approaches should be taken into account in the construction method to be utilised.


The dredging (excavation, transportation and disposal) of soft-bottom material may lead to various adverse impacts on the marine environment, especially when carried out near sensitive habitats such as coral reefs or seagrass beds.  The cumulative effects from on related (adjacent) ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrass meadows (including effects from maintenance dredging cycles) may also have indirect consequences for the coral reef/seagrass ecosystem.

A combination of e monitoring of water quality and coral health during dredging activities and the modelling of dredging plumes to guide decisions on when to modify (or even stop) dredging appears to be the most effective approach to minimise negative impacts on seagrass meadows and coral reefs.

“I once had the pleasure of attending a seminar by Harry Butler AO CBE, in which he answered a question concerning dredging plumes around coral reefs on Barrow Island. Mr Butler stated, “what do you think a Category 5 cyclone does to the seabed”! Amen!”


The operations phase of a port development will have the greatest contribution to net environmental impacts.  The installation of full coverage of high voltage shore power for all ship berths ships is critical for low carbon footprints. This improves the air environment around the port and reduce the surrounding water pollution, optimises the energy structure and reduces the environmental pollution caused by the auxiliary power generation of berthing ships.

Rubber Tired Gantry (RTG) cranes are recommended because they are the most environmentally friendly when used in commercial ports and strike the best trade-off between environmental protection and profitability. Rail Mounted Cranes (RMC) and Empty Container Handlers (ECH)  consume considerable hydrocarbon-based energy. The replacement of outdated equipment or the investment and use of smarter port equipment is a key element of operational sustainability and commercial outcomes (lower operational costs).

Wastes generated by shipping operations are categorized by MARPOL 73/78.  Port reception facilities must be able to receive used and contaminated oil and other contaminants, and also provide quick and efficient recovery services and disposals facilities for oil and other contaminants. Once shipping switches initially to LNG and then Hydrogen power, these waste streams will significantly reduce in quantity.

Rubber tyre gantry crane

The Cruise ship Industry

A key issue on the relation of cruising and the environment is the development of effective policies and practices for the collection and handling of the on-board produced waste and garbage. The amount and types of waste might vary from one cruise ship to another, yet cruises are generators of the highest amount of garbage when compared with other shipping markets.

Cruise ship waste management – “the 3 R’s”

A cruise ship with 3.000 passengers and crew generates about 50 tonnes of solid waste in a single week and an average of 50 tonnes of sewage (black water) per day. IMO advocates a figure of 3.5 kg/passenger/day, while the US Department of Transportation data estimates that the generated waste during a typical one-week voyage includes 94.000 litres of oily bilge water; 794.000 litres of sewage (or black water), 3.7 million litres of non-sewage wastewater and eight tons of solid waste (i.e., plastic, paper, wood, cardboard, food, cans, glass).

During peak cruise ship seasons, these waste quantities are likely to be significant for any port, and requires detailed and significant Waste facility planning, including a strong emphasis on the “3 R’s”, especially in regional port settings where access to broad waste management facilities are limited.  


The design and construct with the environment approach provides a dramatic shift from the traditional approach to Port designs, by focusing on natural ecosystems and the benefits that ports can create for the marine and terrestrial environment. Well planned and executed dredging programmes need not impact marine environments in the medium and long term. The selection and operation of ‘green’ terminal equipment greatly improve port air quality and overall carbon footprints.  Port Developers, shareholders, operators and customers need to ensure that the focus on strong environmental credentials for ports are not compromised.