Approval has been granted to demolish and replace Victor Harbor’s heritage causeway despite concerns that construction works will drive the region’s whales away.

Key points:

  • Major works will begin within weeks to replace the heritage Victor Harbor causeway
  • Experts have warned that pile driving works during whale season could send the mammals away
  • Transport Minister Corey Wingard has said construction works would go ahead with mitigation measures

The South Australian Government has started investigative works to build the $31.1 million concrete and steel structure adjacent the existing 150-year-old timber causeway, which links the coastal town south of Adelaide with Granite Island.

SA Planning Minister Vickie Chapman on Monday gave a green light to the project after it was assessed favourably by the State Commission Assessment Panel.

Construction works will include mitigation measures to prevent marine life, particularly the southern right whales that visit the region during nursing season, from being harmed by pile-driving works.

But Conservation Council SA chief executive Craig Wilkins said the measures, which include an exclusion zone and marine observers halting works if a whale comes within a kilometre of construction, do not go far enough.

“It is actually unprecedented to have this type of pile driving construction noise in the middle of a whale nursery,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

Exploratory drilling took place at the site last week while the project was being considered.(

ABC Radio Adelaide: Caroline Horn


Mother ‘driven away’

Encounter Bay, which includes Victor Harbor, is a key breeding and nursing ground for the endangered species and generates significant tourism revenue each autumn and winter.

The Government wants the works completed by the end of the year, meaning pile driving will be taking place during whale season.

Mr Wilkins said whales had incredibly sensitive hearing within 10 kilometres and, while the mitigation measures would prevent physical injury to whales, the noise could drive them to a different location, “which would be a disaster”.


“Even last whale season, there was an incident where a whale mother came into Encounter Bay but was driven away by human noise from boats,” he said.

“Weeks later, it was seen at the top of the Great Australian Bight where it was with a baby.

The same concerns were earlier this year raised by Encounter Bay Right Whale Study chief investigator Claire Charlton, from Curtin University, who said construction should be moved so that it did not occur within May to November.

Works to begin soon

Department for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Corey Wingard said he “appreciated” the concern about whales being driven away, but major works would begin later this month or early April.

Mr Wingard said his department had worked closely on the project with the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, which he described as “the highest authority in the land”.

“With the exclusion zones, the observation zones, the employment of observers to make sure we have eyes on the water and eyes on the situation while we’re doing this, we’ve very confident we’ve got everything in place to deliver the right outcomes for the environment and also the community.”

A 1911 image of the causeway taken from Granite Island.(

Supplied: State Library of SA [B 8425]


Approved despite controversy

The project was also approved despite a petition launched last year to save and refurbish the existing causeway amassing more than 10,000 signatures.

Freedom of Information documents have also been sourced by the National Trust of SA, which revealed the same engineering firm, GHD, that in 2019 recommended the causeway be demolished, just nine years earlier outlined how it could and should be preserved as one of the town’s “central and special attractions”.

The new causeway will include tram tracks for the existing horse tram at Victor Harbor.(

Brian Walker


The State Government, however, claimed that GHD’s initial report was a heritage assessment that included a statement of significance, and was not an engineering assessment.

Mr Wingard said the causeway had “run its race and was well and truly worn out”.

He said two short sections at either end of the new causeway would be retained that “jut out” from Victor Harbor and Granite Island as a tribute.

“I think it will be a really nice project when it’s finished, and still give people access to Granite Island, which we’ve known and loved for years, which is great for tourism and great for that local community,” Mr Wingard said.