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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

Man-made erosion

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I knew I would not have to wait long for someone like Pugh to complain about the money spent on saving Kingscliff beach, and relating it to climate change.

CSIRO released a report a couple of weeks ago on climate change which, among other things, suggested that sea levels around the world have risen in the last 100 years by an average of 1.7mm per year, and 3mm per year over the last 20 years (when they have had more accurate measurements). However the report also noted the variation of measured sea level change across Australia. That’s right, variation – the world is not a bowl of water, and sea levels don’t increase uniformly around the world in the same way that the magnitude of tides are not the same. The models and measurements agree that the rise in our area was minimal over the last 20 years (about 1–2mm per year).

That means that over the last 20 years, the sea has risen by around 2–4cm in our area! Pugh’s letter in last week’s Echo [Echonetdaily ? or not] would claim that this is causing the devastation in Kingscliff. Not likely. Go to Google maps and look at Kingscliff. Notice the huge rock groin to the south? Beach geomorphology 101 would explain that the rock groin to the south of Kingscliff diverts the northern sand drift. This is undoubtedly a more significant factor than a sea-level rise of 2cm on Kingscliff beach. In other words, it’s most likely a man-made problem.

Should the residents expect help? Consider it this way: If you lived on a hill, and the RTA built a road below you that caused a land slip and threatened your house, you would probably expect the government to fix the problem before your house fell over. And true to form, some governments would spend squillions of our money trying to prove that the landslip had nothing to do with their road, others would just fix the problem. Some of the community who are envious of your views would say it’s your fault for building on top of the hill – you should have built down in the valley with us – but please come and help us in the next flood.

What is happening at Kingscliff is no different. It is just harder (and costs more) to prove, because the beach comes and goes so frequently that it is hard to pin erosion events to any particular cause.

I agree we have to prepare for climate change, but it is hard to get traction with climate change fence-sitters when you have Chicken Little shouting ‘See – climate change!’ at every hot day, flood, drought, major cyclone or beach erosion event. The CSIRO data suggest that if the rate of increase remains as it is today, while other areas in Australia such as Sydney will be in trouble with a half-metre rise, our area would suffer about a 10–20cm rise in 100 years. This is simply not going to have a major impact on erosion for us, and certainly not something that could possibly justify the slash-and-burn planned retreat stance that Pugh and our council advocates.

We can probably manage this change with good beach protection practices. However, areas where our government’s engineers have exacerbated the problem may need engineered solutions.

New Brighton has had good results from our council’s beach-scrapping program, which is minimal cost and improves the beach habitat for humans as well as wildlife. But our rock groins are 2km away. Massive engineering works like the Kingscliff groins so close to the town will need larger and more expensive solutions, and as the government is the most likely cause of the problem, we will have to pay to sort it out.

Suggesting the government should use climate change as a reason to not shoulder its responsibilities to address the problem will only weaken the message that we need to act now to stop the real impacts of climate change.

Robert Crossley, New Brighton


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