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Composites tread lightly in national parks

Australia’s national parks managers are discovering the benefits composite materials offer in helping protect sensitive environments while reducing maintenance costs.

They are turning to fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) to replace timber and steel on footbridges, boardwalks, joists, stringers, posts and bearers.

Queensland’s Parks and Wildlife Service says it is turning to fibre composites for highly developed visitor facilities along the state’s sensitive coast and isolated islands and is assessing the benefits of fibre composite use in high rainfall and/or high humidity environments to replace timber joists, stringers and bearers in some situations.

“FRP is chosen for its light weight, chemical inertness, potential corrosion resistance and potential durability. Sometimes it’s also chosen for specialist solutions – for example, used in the Tallebudgera Conservation Park boardwalk (Burleigh Heads) it allows more than 40% of light through the surface to meet standards for works on a fish habitat area,” a QPWS spokesperson said.

The importance of light to marine habitat also led to FRP decking being chosen for the recently completed Wynnum Mangrove Boardwalk on Moreton Bay. The service has chosen to use FRP decking on the Springbrook Suspension Bridge, Gold Coast hinterland and the Rex Creek Suspension Bridge in Daintree National Park, far north Queensland. Also in the Daintree, the Marrdja Boardwalk was built using recycled plastic decking with FRP posts, bearers and joists. The Service used the same combination of materials on the Lizard Island boardwalk. Built by Queensland composite materials specialists Wagners, you can read the story behind the construction of this boardwalk in this remote island in the highly sensitive Great Barrier Reef here …).

In Tasmania’s remote and sensitive Cradle Mountain National Park, FRP is replacing rotting timber boardwalks and bridges, its lightweight reducing the high costs of helicopter deployment into the remote and popular Overland Track, its corrosion resistance and promise of longevity in the wet and harsh environment reducing maintenance costs and improving safety for walkers and parks staff.

Eric Tierney, Acting Ranger in Charge of the Overland Track says Fibre Reinforce Plastic (FRP) is becoming more widely available. “We have been using it on our pedestrian bridges for some years now. Last year we decided to trial it as a general track surface material. So far we are pleased with the results and it is being used elsewhere within other Tasmanian National Parks and Reserves.”

In NSW, FRP is becoming more widely used in many national parks with high-visitation and demanding environmental conditions. “As FRP is a relatively new material, its longevity and asset life-cycle advantages is still being reviewed. However, to date, FRP has proven to have much superior corrosion protection compared with steel; and the fire-resistant nature of the material is of interest to the National Parks and Wildlife Service,” says a spokesperson.

“FRP is particularly suitable for wet areas where traditional materials have less durability, for example in the construction of boardwalk through wetlands.”
So far the Service’s most common sue of FRP has been at coastal locations for boardwalk facilities and pedestrian bridges.
The recently completed viewing platform and walkway at Jibbon Beach in the Royal National Park extensively uses FRP mesh and there are plans to use FRP in future upgrades in National Parks, especially around replacing steel boardwalks with FRP.

More information

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service 
NSW  National Parks and Wildlife Services
Tasmanian National Parks and Reserves