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Moreton Bay
Sandy Shores of Moreton Bay.jpg
Moreton Bay and the Brisbane metropolitan area
A map of Queensland, Australia with a mark indicating the location of Moreton Bay
A map of Queensland, Australia with a mark indicating the location of Moreton Bay
Moreton Bay
Location in Queensland
Aus - Moreton bay area.PNG
Location of Moreton Bay in South East Queensland
Location South East Queensland
Coordinates 27°15′S 153°15′E / 27.250°S 153.250°E / -27.250; 153.250
Native name Quandamooka Error {{native name checker}}: parameter value is malformed (help)
Etymology In honour of Lord Morton
River sources
Ocean/sea sources Coral Sea
Catchment area 21,220 km2 (8,190 sq mi)
Basin countries Australia
Max. length 125 km (78 mi)
Max. width 35 km (22 mi)
Surface area 1,523 km2 (588 sq mi)
Average depth 6.8 m (22 ft)
Frozen never
Settlements Brisbane
Designated: 22 October 1993
Reference #: 631

Moreton Bay is a bay located on the eastern coast of Australia 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) from central Brisbane, Queensland. It is one of Queensland's most important coastal resources. The waters of Moreton Bay are a popular destination for recreational anglers and are used by commercial operators who provide seafood to market.

The Port of Brisbane coordinates large traffic along the shipping channel which crosses the northern section of the bay. The bay serves as a safe approach to the airport and reduces noise pollution over the city to the west of the runway. A number of barge, ferry and water-taxi services also travel over the bay.

Moreton Bay was the site of conflict between the indigenous Quandamooka people and early European settlers. It contains environmentally significant habitats and large areas of sandbanks. The bay is the only place in Australia where dugong gather into herds. Many parts of the mainland foreshore and southern islands are settled.

The waters of Moreton Bay are relatively calm, being sheltered from large swells by Moreton Island and North Stradbroke Island. In 2009 as part of the Q150 celebrations, the Moreton Bay was announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for its role as a "Natural attraction". Moreton Bay is a Pacific Ocean Hope Spot.


Early history

Moreton Bay was formed roughly 6000 years ago as the sea level rose and inundated what was then the floodplains of the Brisbane River. Moreton Bay and its islands were inhabited by indigenous tribes. In indigenous economy was very rich, one of the strongest for its productive yields of edible natural resources on the Australian continent. Of particular importance for the intertribal trade and ceremonial life were in particular massive oyster beds, the annual mullet catch, and bunya nut harvesting, on the coast and inland, which led to annual migrations either way to enjoy the abundance of the respective tribal group's territory. In the 1840s, resident white administrators estimated the aboriginal population of the area to be around 4,000. They were only outnumbered with the influx over the five year period of 1850-1855 with saw the disembarkation of 3,000 European migrants on their land.

European exploration and settlement

View to Moreton Island
Matthew Flinders sailed between Moreton Island and Bribie Island in 1799.
Dixon (1842)
Map of Moreton Bay made in 1842 by Robert Dixon (high resolution image)
StateLibQld 1 130843 Estate map of Manly Beach, Manly,1887
Land for sale in Manly in 1887
StateLibQld 1 297231 Sailing on Moreton Bay, 1915
Sailing on Moreton Bay in 1915
StateLibQld 2 153867 Fishing from the shore in Moreton Bay, 1936
Fishing from the shore in Moreton Bay, 1936
Queensland State Archives 2127 Beach scene Sandgate December 1937
Beach scene, Sandgate December 1937
Tangalooma Wrecks 2002-06-02
The first of the Tangalooma Wrecks were placed in 1963, one year after the whaling station ceased operations.
Brisbane aerial view 05 cropped
View of Port of Brisbane and southern Moreton Bay
Queensland State Archives 1105 View of Beach showing Bribie Island and entrance to Pumicestone Channel Caloundra December 1930
Bribie Island and entrance to Pumicestone Channel Caloundra 1930
Bay Islands
The islands of southern Moreton Bay
Sandbanks in Moreton Bay
Cleveland Harbour
Raby Bay Marina at Cleveland, 2006
Bar-Tail Godwits G.J. Walter Park c
Godwits feeding on Cleveland foreshore in area proposed for marina development
Mangroves Immediately South of Toondah Harbour, Cleveland, Queensland, 2014
Mangroves, Toondah Harbour, Cleveland
Cooked whole Moreton Bay Bug
Cooked whole Moreton Bay bug
StateLibQld 1 115428 Picnic area at Cleveland Point, ca. 1938
Moreton Bay fig, Cleveland Point, 1938
Toondah Harbour From Public Boat Ramp , Cleveland, Queensland, 2014
Toondah Harbour, Cleveland
Eastern curlew inskip
Eastern curlew
Cassim Island at Sunrise viewed from G.J. Walter Park
Cassim Island viewed from G.J. Walter Park, Cleveland
Manly 1
The foreshore at Manly, 2004
Foreshores of the bay at Scarborough, 2007

The name Morton's Bay was given by Captain Cook when he passed the area on 15 May 1770, honouring Lord Morton, president of the Royal Society. The spelling Moreton was an error in the first published account of Cook's voyage (Hawkesworth's Voyages). Cook gave the name only to the bight formed by the northern end of Stradbroke Island (in 1770, there was only one island) and the eastern side of Moreton Island. He was unaware of the South Passage (as it's now called) between the two islands, and did not sail into what is the present Moreton Bay.

Matthew Flinders was the first recorded European to enter the bay in 1799 touching down at the Pumicestone Passage, Redcliffe and Coochiemudlo Island. He was followed by John Oxley who explored the Brisbane River in 1823. On a subsequent visit in the following year, Oxley established the first European settlement in the bay at the present site of Redcliffe.

After Oxley in 1823 came convicts and soldiers. As the South Passage between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands was the shortest shipping route, a depot and pilot station were established at Amity Point in 1825.

European settlement began in earnest after the abandonment of the Redcliffe settlement, and work began on the new convict settlement several miles up the Brisbane River in 1825. Within a couple years this new settlement was growing rapidly and the number of ships entering the bay was increasing. As a result, the facilities required to service the pilot station at Amity grew, and in 1827 convicts were sent to the island to build a new causeway at Dunwich, remnants of which can still be found on the same site. Within a year the first permanent European settlement at Dunwich had been built. Due to poor weather, smuggling, and conflict with aborigines this convict out-station was difficult to sustain and was closed in 1831.

The first immigrant ship from England, the Artemisia, reached Moreton Bay in December 1848 after a four-month journey. The next year saw the arrival of the Fortitude carrying more free immigrants to the settlement.

By the 1850s the region's earliest industry was utilising the bay for the transport of timber. After felling, the logs were dragged or rolled into flooded streams from where they were washed downstream to tidal reaches and bound together into rafts. After the floods had ceased and tides returned to normal, the currents of the bay and sometimes boats were used to direct the timber north to the Brisbane River or to Dunwich for shipment to Sydney.

The bay was home to the Lightship Rose which provided a permanent navigation aid to passing ships at the mouth of the Brisbane River. The John Oxley was another notable boat which temporarily acted as a pilot ship.

Car ferries began crossing the bay to reach North Stradbroke Island in 1947, leading to an increase in tourism on the island. In the 1950s both sand mining and the first land sales at Point Lookout occurred.

On 1 September 2007 four people were killed in a boat accident on the bay, two kilometres from the Pinkenba boat ramp. Ten others were injured.

Moreton Bay has at least 102 shipwrecks of which 26 have their exact location known.

European contact with Aborigines

At first the Quandamooka tribes had a choice of avoiding contact or engaging with the Europeans at the various small government institutions that were established on the mainland and on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island). Aboriginal labour and resources were, however, voluntarily supplied to assist these newcomers, for example, at the pilot station.

Problems came about when the newcomers displayed a lack of respect for Aboriginal marriage rules, stole bones and other artefacts and desecrated sites important to the Aboriginals. This produced a period of conflict through the 1830s, sometimes followed up by reprisals with guns, during which a number of Aboriginal people were massacred.

Like the mainland tribes, the Nooghie, Noonuccal and Goenpul people struggled when Moreton Bay was opened up to free settlers. The mainland Aboriginal people in particular were progressively deprived of the traditional hunting grounds and food. When they turned to killing domestic stock to survive, they were rounded up and shot. As their tribal groups and way of life disintegrated, many drifted towards towns and cities. Because of their isolation, the people of the islands, however, managed to keep a lot of their traditional ways alive.

In 1843, Catholic missionaries chose Dunwich as the site for the first Catholic mission to Australian Aborigines. The sand islands of Quandamooka did not support pasturage suitable for sheep and cattle, and thus there did not occur conversion of large tracts of land into farms and pastoral properties and the subsequent widespread annihilation and displacement of Aboriginal people. The very existence of the quarantine station on Stradbroke Island from 1850 to the 1870s led to the official discouragement of pastoralism or wider settlement for fear of spreading disease. Another reason for discouraging settlement was to reduce the likelihood of incoming vessels to the bay evading customs duty.

Thus the European usage and occupation of Quandamooka in the 19th century was largely restricted to government institutions on small portions on the islands, and with free enterprise business men like the Campbell brothers who ran a saltworks and sugar plantations on Russell and Macleay islands, and the early fishing and oystering businesses in the bay who employed the Aboriginal people of Quandamooka.

Aboriginal peoples were a source of labour for various institutions and enterprises from the time of the first pilot station. Conflict with Europeans intensified during the middle part of the 19th century, leading to significant numbers of Aboriginal people being killed (including at the hands of the native police). Despite these conflicts other Aboriginal people were able to evade intense contact due to the lack of European activity on the bay islands. From the 1830s to 1865 there remained virtual exclusive Aboriginal possession of most of Quandamooka. However trade and social interaction with the mainland groups gradually diminished due to the outward march of pastoral settlement on the mainland. This resulted in irreparable damage to indigenous social networks and patterns of group intermarriage, as well as joint ceremonial activities.

Geography and natural history

The bay extends some 125 kilometres (78 mi) from Caloundra in the north almost to Surfers Paradise in the south. The bay's southern navigation entrance is the Gold Coast Seaway. The bay is 35 kilometres (22 mi) across at its widest point.

It is separated from the Coral Sea by a chain of three sand islands: Moreton Island in the north, North Stradbroke Island, and South Stradbroke Island in the south. Tipplers Passage is the main channel on the western coast of South Stradbroke Island. The Gold Coast Seaway is at the southern extent of Moreton Bay, before the Gold Coast Broadwater.

The bay itself contains around 360 islands in total. This includes the populated Russell, Macleay, Lamb and Karragarra Islands collectively known as the Southern Moreton Bay Islands. Residential development has also occurred on Coochiemudlo Island and Bribie Island. In the past Peel Island has been used as a sisal plantation, quarantine station, asylum and a leper colony.

Moreton Bay is generally shallow and sandy, though a substantive channel is maintained to allow access to the Port of Brisbane at Fisherman Islands at the mouth of the Brisbane River, for international shipping. As well as the Brisbane River, the Pimpama River, Logan River, Albert River, Pine River, Tingalpa Creek and the Schulz Canal all empty into Moreton Bay. Within Moreton Bay are the smaller bays of Waterloo Bay, Redland Bay, Raby Bay, Deception Bay and Bramble Bay.

The bay contains a number of island villages such as the settlement on the bayside of Moreton Island, Tangalooma and on North Stradbroke, Dunwich and Amity Point. Prominent coastal communities and mainland suburbs situated on the bay include Deception Bay, Scarborough, Redcliffe, Margate, Woody Point, Brighton, Sandgate, Cleveland, Victoria Point and Redland Bay. Other attractions in the bay include Pumicestone Passage and numerous boat ramps, marinas and jetties, including the Shorncliffe pier.


Moreton Bay is filled with sandbanks from sand supplied via littoral drift along the coast of Moreton Island. The field of sandbanks extends across the entrance to Moreton Bay and evolved after sea level reached its present position, about 6,500 years ago after the last ice age Between Tangalooma and Skirmish Point on Bribie Island are the Middle Banks, Central Banks and Western Banks. From north of Moreton Island towards Caloundra are the Yulle Road, Spitfire Bank, and the Salamander Bank, amongst others.

Amity Banks are found just west of Amity Point, while the Moreton Banks lie to the west of the southern tip of Moreton Island. These banks can be hazard for marine navigation because they are constantly changing due to tidal currents.

The Middle Banks area close to Moreton Island has been used in the past as a source of sand for large projects such as the nearby Brisbane Airport and port facilities. Past dredging has removed 18 million metres3 and the removal of another 40 million metres3 is planned. Future sand extraction is expected to aid a major shipping channel straightening project.

To ensure the shipping channel remains open, several areas of the bay have been allocated for dredged material dumping sites. These sites have been selected to provide beach nourishment, aiding the natural long shore transport of sand along ocean beaches.

Flora and fauna

The bay's heritage protected wetlands, mudflats, and waterways are some of the healthiest in the region, supporting seasonally up to 25% of Australia's bird species. The combination of muddy habitats on the western side of the bay and sandy habitats on the eastern side of the bay together with coral and seagrass beds support more than 43 species of shorebird. Collectively, around 50,000 wading birds visit the Moreton Bay each year, and its wetlands are classified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). In its Shorebird Management Strategy, the Queensland Government notes that: "Moreton Bay's extensive intertidal areas are essential for shorebirds as they provide roosting, feeding and, in some cases, breeding habitat."

The bay is also home to other abundant wildlife, including whales, dolphins, dugong, sharks and turtles. The loggerhead turtle population in the bay is the most significant in the country.

The bay is ranked among the top ten dugong habitats in Australia and together with the Gulf of Carpentaria and Torres Strait is considered one of the most important areas for dugong in Queensland. Moreton Bay is the only place in Australia where dugongs gather in herds. In the past the dugongs in herds numbered in the thousands. Some herds 5 km long by 250 m wide were seen during the 1800s. In 2009, there were just between 600 and 800 remaining.

Many whale and dolphin species can be found in Moreton Bay including humpback whales, killer whales, southern right whales, sperm whales, melon-headed whales, blue whales, Bryde's whales, minke whales, common dolphins, spinner dolphins and Risso's dolphins. Under Australia's EPBC Act the southern right whale is listed as endangered and the humpback whale is listed as vulnerable. Commercial tour operators offer whale watching cruises between June and September each year. Most of larger cetaceans observed in the bay are humpbacks, and several smaller dolphins live or regularly visit the bay.

The Moreton Bay bug (Thenus orientalis) is a species of slipper lobster found throughout the waters of Australia's north coast. The bug is a relatively expensive delicacy served in many restaurants in Queensland.

The Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) is a large tree endemic to the east coast of Australia within a range centred on the shores and surrounds of Moreton Bay.

The southern and western parts of the bay contain shallow mud-layered waters that are protected from strong wave action by the barrier islands. This has provided excellent habitat for mangroves of which seven different species thrive within the bay.

About 1% of the bay is coral reef. Land clearing and settlement in the catchment has led to unfavourable conditions for coral growth. Climate change is expected to raise sea levels and produce warmer waters that will aid coral growth in the bay.

The bay may experience widespread outbreaks of bacteria lyngbya which can cause skin lesions and asthma attacks upon contact.

Ship strikes to marine megafauna

One of serious threats to marine animals in Moreton Bay is ship-strikes. Dugongs and turtles in Moreton Bay are often killed or injured when struck by speeding boats.

Southern right whales

Unlike the southern and south-western population of Australia, southern right whales off the east coast of Australia, along with the west coast, Tasmania, and eastern Victoria, are critically endangered, consisting of only 10 or more individuals. Whales have not been seen on the east coast for many years (unlike humpbacks) as the first whale came back to both Australia and New Zealand in the early '60s, largely due to mass illegal hunts by the Soviet Union with support from Japan although at first it was reported to take only 4 whales.

Recent increases in sightings along the east coast indicate very slow but certain recovery of the species in that area, and Moreton Bay was possibly used to be a prominent calving ground for these coast-loving whales. Very small but steady appearances of southern rights have been confirmed in Moreton Bay, Gold Coast, and Hervey Bay. Seasonal presences of right whales have been recorded in Moreton Bay at least in the late '90s, and small family groups of whales have been observed visiting the southern bay each year since 2002, especially around Toondah Harbour.

However, there was an instance of a southern right whale being fatally struck by a ferry in August 2014. This whale was a calf, and her mother was also seriously injured by the accident and her fate is still unknown. Another southern right whale, possibly with a calf was also hit few days prior to the incident with a sighting of possibly the same whales near Victoria Point. These ship-strikes and entanglements in fishing gear may contribute severely to preventing the future re-establishment of the species in the former habitats.

Economic aspects

The economic value of recreational fishing in Moreton Bay has been estimated at approximately $20 million per year.


The bay is popular with recreational anglers. The Moreton Bay Classic fishing competition is held annually from the Manly foreshore.

There are many sailing events held on Moreton Bay including:

  • Yacht and dinghy racing organised by the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron at Manly.
  • The Brisbane to Gladstone yacht race, first staged in 1949, which starts from near the Shorncliff Pier every year on Good Friday.
  • The Interclub Bay Cruise held each year in the first week of the Queensland September school holidays.

The bay is home to many other watersports and activities including kayaking, jet-skiing, windsurfing and water-skiing. Diving and snorkelling are popular around Tangalooma on Moreton Island.

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