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Byron Shire
June 26, 2024

Belongil rock wall ‘fails first test’

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A major toll has been taken on Byron Shire's Interim Beach Stabilisation works at Belongil. Photo Paul Spooner
A major toll has been taken on Byron Shire’s Interim Beach Stabilisation works at Belongil. Photo Paul Spooner

Chris Dobney

Belongil’s Interim Beach Access Stabilisation (IBAS) works are being examined by Byron Shire Council officers this morning but critics of the $1 million spent on the project say the money might as well have been thrown out to sea.

Byron Cr Paul Spooner took a tour of the beach himself this morning and saw sand covering the rocks completely washed away, netting hanging in tatters over rocks, some of which seem to have become dislodged.

‘I was certainly expecting to see a more uniform rock formation,’ Cr Spooner told Echonetdaily.

‘Time will tell what becomes of the beach but as of this morning it had completely disappeared,’ he added.

Belongil beach wall on high tide June 6, 2016. Photo Paul Spooner
Belongil beach wall on high tide June 6, 2016. Photo Paul Spooner

The writer saw a similar sight yesterday when he walked the beach, although the tide was not as high.

Much of the sand that covered the rocks was washed and blown away in the storm and the plastic net that covered the rocks is now in tatters in many places.

Loose pieces of plastic netting that were seen strewn on the beach yesterday have since washed away on the high tide.

Environment writer Mary Gardner warned this has created a danger to birds and other creatures that may eat it when it enters the water.

Several readers have reported seeing rocks from the wall washed onto the beach and into the water, potentially creating a safety hazard for swimmers and surfers.

Cate Coorey of Byron Residents’ Group says ‘the rock walls that council only recently put in at Belongil Beach have failed their first big storm.’

Manfred Street steps at Belongil Beach on high tide, June 6, 2016. Photo Paul Spooner
Manfred Street steps at Belongil Beach on high tide, June 6, 2016. Photo Paul Spooner

‘Cr Sol Ibrahim and the other pro-rock councillors pushed the rock wall through as an essential infrastructure project, arguing that the sand bags that are in front of some Belongil houses – and which are legal – were ugly and posed a threat to marine life,’ she said.

‘The wall, which was rejected by the community and pushed through without community consent, was lauded as a great improvement.

‘It is now an eyesore, with the rocks that had been landscaped and covered now exposed and dangerous.

‘Surfers or bathers could be seriously injured if they were to hit one of the rocks that have washed down into the water.

‘Erosion is intensified in front of rocks and there is always a loss of sand.

‘We have an ugly mess on our beach that is the result of vested interests being placed ahead of community interests and environmental considerations,’ Ms Coorey said.

She added that this was a litmus test ahead of the much more substantial rock wall that council plans to build as part of its Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) that is currently on exhibition.

‘Council is planning even more rock walls or our beaches in the CZMP. Again the community was ignored in the drafting of this plan.

‘It proposes a 1.06 km rock wall on Belongil beach, that will certainly cause the erosion of the Belongil Estuary.

‘This CZMP does not even consider the environmental impacts of the proposed rock wall and future hard structures.

‘The impact on Belongil estuary will be devastating.

‘The estuary is essential for marine ecosystem functioning and as a roosting, nesting and feeding area for a multitude of threatened and migratory seabirds, shorebirds and waterbirds.

‘A rock wall will cause erosion and loss of sand to the north.

‘It will inevitably lead to legal action from those affected – it is obvious Elements resort will lose beachfront.

‘The IBAS has proven to be a detriment to our beaches that residents have had to pay for.

‘Why should residents pay what will be hundreds of millions of dollars into a never ending project to build a wall to protect a few houses – and lose our beach into the bargain? ,’ Ms Coorey queried.

She urged Byron Shire residents to ‘make a submission to council to reject rock walls on Byron’s beaches.’

Email submissions to: [email protected]


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  1. I expected an article like this to appear today. Of course the wall was going to be damaged from the high/rough seas over the weekend. Look at the similar damage which occurred to the rock walls along Northern/Southern Sydney beachfronts. To go on + then say ‘loose rocks dangerous to surfers’, ‘eyesore’ + ‘Elements will sue’ is yet again more sensationalism/scare tactics.

  2. Well surprise,surprise,surprise ! Now we have plastics polluting the ocean and killing marine, bird life. Great.
    What a disaster.

  3. Ugly! The “error correction error” once again… today’s solution becomes tomorrow’s problem. What a ridiculous solution from the outset. How do these councillors sleep at night.

  4. Rock wall is still there. Houses still there. Manfred St still there. Childe St still there. Don St still there. Stairs and look-out still there.Moon struck still there. People sun baking on the sand in front of park this morning. Sea birds enjoying the sand spit at creek mouth. Elements still there. Tons of sand moved 100m out into the Bay will make its way back over the next month. But hey, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good “told you so..” Ironically, the only house damaged in the storm was the one gutted by fire.

  5. You must be kidding Greg, or a resident of Bilongil Spit.
    The Great Rock Wall was supposed to protect homes during a cyclone. Well, we have just had one and it clearly failed.
    So now it is damaged and we ratepayers will probably be asked to pay for the repairs.
    Well I object.
    This isn’t sensationalism or scare tactics. That’s rubbish. This will happen again and again, every time we have a serious weather event. An endless suck on revenue that should be spent elsewhere.
    The rock wall was a stupid idea in the first place, it should never have been built.
    You want to live on a beach? Suffer the consequences.

    • Peter you have been totally conned. If the Echo had done their job they would have spoken to a coastal engineer who would tell you the wall has performed, including the sand erosion – EXACTlY as designed and intended. But you don’t need to be a coastal engineer to know that. Go and have a look yourself. Not one single Boulder is out of place. The small rocks in the photo are just debris on the beach. People – don’t be a pawn in this political game. Go and have a look and read the CZMP and don’t be sucked in by the lies here. The councillors who have been out voted are desperate – but I really don’t believe the community is that gullible. Would you really prefer to have the Belongil totally destroyed over a few rocks protecting the spit? Think that sounds dramatic? Read the CZMP.

  6. This article is full of total nonsense.

    The wall failed it first test? I don’t think so. Two thirds of the wall is still buried under sand and hasn’t even gotten wet yet – despite what was has been called ‘the worst erosion event of the NSW coast since the 70’s’.

    After a similar event in 2009 Manfred St beach access was closed for 2 months. But thanks to this new wall the access is perfect, so feel free to walk down the shiny new stairs and have a look!

    I find it fascinating that after one of the worst storm events in 40 years this is the feature article in the Echo. Has anybody noticed that Main Beach has suffered far greater erosion and was basically non-existent at high tide this morning? The stairs from the surf club onto the beach are a disaster zone. There are posts and fencing wire and trees floating all over the place. Many times more crap than at Manfred St. Somehow this doest impact bird and marine life?

    No doubt responsible Councillors would first go to Main Beach and document the damage there? Isn’t that a far more important issue? Where are the articles and photos about this? (I have photos of Main beach from high tide this morning if you need them, and they look far worse than the photos you have of Manfred St).

    Regarding Manfred St, the black rocks on the beach being referred to are not even from this new wall. The Manfred St wall is made of a lighter brown coloured rock.

    And how does this wall cause ‘devastating’ impacts to the Estuary?

    Also please remember that the 1.1km rock wall proposed under the draft CZMP is largely already there. There will only be new rock walls in a few small sections to protect public land and access ways currently not protected. Existing walls will simply be upgraded over time to have more slope and less impact on the beach.

    If you have been conned into a submission ‘against rocks on Byron’s beaches’ remember that the majority of the ‘rocks on the beach’ are actually the ones at the carpark in town. This whole artificial headland is not only built on the beach, it extends 90m out into where the ocean once was. So if you take away all ‘rocks on the beach’ you will have no main beach, no surf club, no beach hotel, no swimming pool, and Jonson St and Lawson St will look like a Tsunami aftermath.

    And of course you can’t have one rule for one part of town and another for another part, just because you don’t like the people there!

    But this is really about politics isn’t it? It is all about trying to discredit the sensible, balanced councillors to elect an all all extreme Green council in September. With full support from the Echo.

  7. That ‘storm’ was not nearly as big as what can be expected in the future.

    It was windy and raining for about a day and there was no real ‘fetch’ for the system. As the trough crossed the coast and became an ‘east coast low’ – it didn’t generate anything like a proper tropical cyclone will do.

    Are we going to build a concrete and rock wall around the coastline and destroy the amenity and the environment so a few wealthy property owners can have their waterfront properties protected.

    For how long? Sea levels are going to rise and this is only the beginning of the effects of human induced climate change.

    Wake up or get your head out of the sand – those who think building walls is the answer!!!

  8. Council
    Please do not waste out ratepayers money in this bottomless pit It is purely a bandaid
    Thanking you
    Miffy willis

  9. David and others, the issue here shouldn’t come down to who is right or who is wrong. The rock wall has been built – whether a poor decision or otherwise. The matter that everyone should to be talking about is based on the reality of what all coastal towns across Australia are dealing with, and that’s increased storm activity and rising sea levels. How many rock walls will it take before we realise that we can’t stop nature and that our attempts to mould it to suit our purposes doesn’t work?

    “…Oh, but we can’t move houses as there are families who live in them, what will they do?”, “…It’s prime real estate, we need to protect it!”, and “…what about the town that will be inundated by water and all the businesses and homes in the area?” – are but a few of the arguments that I’ve heard over the years and they are all valid. Unfortunately though, we tend to be short-sighted animals and the rock wall situation is a prime example of that. This situation isn’t a win-win. The reality is that storms will get worse, sea levels will rise and all the rock walls in the world aren’t going to protect these properties, businesses and the like when the time comes.

    No one wants to hear this, we LOVE the coast – we love beaches, sea views, the sound of the ocean, etc. but what do we do when we literally can’t live where we are living now? When sea level rise and storm activity is so severe that there aren’t any beaches left, we’ve changed the morphology of the coastline to such an extent that the animals that we used to value are gone and when it becomes financially and otherwise non-viable to build rock walls? This is the reality that we face and we seemingly have two choices:

    1) Start preparing now, mitigating the impacts of rising seas and storm activity by creating natural buffer-zones and moving our towns and cities further inland, whilst protecting and enhancing our natural environment; or,

    2) Go on business as usual, build rock wall after rock wall and hope that we may just be able to overcome nature or that the sea will miraculously start retreating.

    I fear that number one isn’t going to happen with the current system that we have in place and with our bottom line being an economic one. Perhaps people’s common sense will win true and coastal properties will start becoming worthless as the demand for them dramatically decreases…?

    The reality is that coastal towns are in for a rough time over the coming decades and we can either use the brains that have given us the ability of foresight or we can continue building rock walls, mining every inch of available land and taking as much from this planet as our hearts desire, saying, “she”ll be right mate” until “she” is so un-alright that every single one of us is affected to the point of no return. No one likes doom and gloom, but we need to start realising that this is reality. The choice is ours and I hope that we make the right one.

  10. @ PeterL – What house fell into the ocean on the weekend? Zero. So it didn’t ‘fail’. Note I live in Shirley Lane vs Belongil so have no direct property interest here except that I believe in protecting households which were approved by Council on the beachfront (I don’t believe Council in granting permission for other property to be built on beachfront though). If our SLSC was in danger of collapsing into the sea (which it has been in the past) then would you protect it or let it be destroyed???

  11. So “David” with no surname, you’re right “you can’t have one rule for one part of town and another for another part”. The rule has been, since the mid 1980s – that if you bought on Belongil then you were issued with an S 149 certificate that placed restrictions on development, that said you had to build demountables and that you had to be prepared to abandon in the case of erosion coming too close. That was the rule and every Belongil landowner since then has known that.

    I looked at a house there myself in 2000 and being new to the area did not know the history that every local does – Belongil is an identified erosion hotspot – has been identified as such since the 1970s but has been eroding for much longer. The agent told us about the conditions of the S194 Certificate and we decided it was foolish to buy in such an area. Anyone else who did so chose to with full knowledge – ‘caveat emptor’. I believe there are only 2 houses there that haven’t changed hands since the 1980s. But now those buyers want the rest of us to pay to lose our beach. It is a pretty low tactic trying to make this into some kind of class warfare event. It is just what is fair. Did you ask the rest of the community before you made a poor real estate decision if they would be happy to bail you out if it went pear-shaped? Do we bail out others who make poor investments?

    Referrring to the Jonson St protection works as a jusification for more rock walls is ludicrous – there is no beach in front of the Jonson St rocks. Why would you repeat that? How can you say that people who object to this “don’t like the people there”? Apart from one very vocal resident who makes regular public comments – who I don’t ‘know’ – I don’t know who those people are. I don’t like what they want to do because it is unreasonable. Why should your house be protected on the condition that we lose our beach? It’s a lose/lose situation for every ratepayer. And it’s not as if it’s a one-off payment. The wall proposed in the draft CZMP will have ongoing impacts that will have us paying for beach maintenance forever.

    BTW the devastating impact on the estuary as related in the story above relates to the wall proposed in the CZMP. It is inevitable that the proposed rock wall will cause the erosion of the entrance to the estuary to the north of it. So as well as paying for a wall that will cause the beach to disappear – lose/lose, we have to pay for the loss of the estuary, which is essential for marine ecosystem functioning and with it we would lose endangered coastal rainforest and a vital roosting, nesting and feeding area for many species of threatened and migratory birds. So it’s a lose lose lose etc proposition ad infinutum. It’s not that people “don’t like” the people at Belongil – they shouldn’t flatter themselves that it’s all about them. What we do like is the beach, the birds, the trees, the fish – I know, crazy greenies! If this isn’t important to you and a dead and engineered coastline is acceptable then the Gold Coast beckons. We live in Byron because we don’t want that. Not sure what an extremist Green is but since Council’s own community attitude survey (Umwelt) reported that over 65% disagreed with putting rock walls on the beach then that’s a lot of extremity out there in the community.

    • Cate, I love the environment every bit as much as you do. I enjoy the beach every single day. I don’t want more development in Byron Bay and am a ‘greenie’ at heart just like most of my neighbors in Belongil are. Like most people I’d love Byron Bay to stay exactly as it is. The 65% percent of people surveyed you refered to where asked if they want rock walls or not. Not a very good survey. Im supposed the number against wasn’t higher! If we ran a survey asking people whether they would like access to Belongil completely cut and the area turned into a junkyard – more than 65% of people would say no too. I would rather there were no rocks anywhere (including Jonson st or wategos) – but the history of the town requires it. What gets my goat are the lies and misinformation spread through the community about this issue specifically to create division. It’s mainly about ‘I told you so’ than rational decision making based on facts and acceptance of the issues. The Manfred st wall has not failed. It is perfect. Yes a small group of people fought hard against this wall as they would have loved to have seen the spit cut off in this vulnerable area. The proposed CZMP wall replaces 1km of existing wall. It’s not a new wall, and it’s not a groyne going out to see as I have seen photoshopped on one community groups Facebook page! If the existing walls were taken away (which they can’t be) then access to Belongil would be cut as the spit quickly eroded back to the new beach line created by Jonson St. The vulnerable area is now where there treehouse is. If waves break another 15m through that section of dune water will be rolling down the hill into the Treehouse. That will happen eventually without rock walls – but the 1km of walls of the past 40 years have shown the area can be accessible, beautiful and maintain an incredible beach for 99% of the time. The proposed upgraded wall has zero downside for anyone over what is there now. Belongil residents will contribute $12m to this infrastructure – so people saying paid parking is paying for it is also lies. So accepting all of this – the best decisions need to be made. You know all of this and willingly spread half truths to further your cause – which doesn’t do anyone any good. Planned retreat failed and it would cost the community hundreds of millions to lose access to Belongil and the rates taxes tourists and jobs it supports. The community deserves facts and a sensible debate about this issue. Not mischievous articles from councillors playing politics stating the wall has failed – which anyone who knows anything knows is just complete bollocks – to trick the ignorant into following an emotional ideological cause based on lies.

  12. so Karl according to your reality and principles , holland as a country should not exist as it is 1/3 is already below sea level and survives because of its protection
    and Australia should retreat 3 km inland , abandon all the major towns and ports on the coast , and relocate 2/3 of its population, and start right now
    well you just seem to forget , there is a thing called economic reality , where everyone is allowed to have economical use of their land , until such time as it is not feasible , which in this case even according to the worst predictions is at least 100 years +++ , over which time the economic benefits of protecting
    belongil and the main beach of byron bay are repaid many times over , this is standard thinking all around the world , a classic case being Venice , where the italian gov . and united nations are spending 20 billion dollars , to put in place surge walls , surrounding venice to protect from the sea . on the basic of econimic use that Venice is such an important tremendious tourist dollar earner for the italian economy
    BYRON BAY AREA is the 2nd most important and visited region in nsw for tourism , and produces enormous flow on effects for the regional economy , BELONGIL , is an intergial part of that economy , and is extremely important especially for locals , who can walk their dog , park free , visit the treehouse and belongil bistro and enjoy the “”lay back Louisiana feel of old byron ” which we all enjoy and lament from our hippie /surfer past , on which byron built its future as the alternative centre it has become famous for,
    if we impose your principal universally over all global warming issues , then according to latest science the east coast will receive 1/3 less rainfall , and increase the fire risk to dangerous critial levels , should we ban people from living and building in forest , where it risks the lives and property of the community in the future firestorms which are predicted as most of the shire is covered by trees which represent bushfire risks , this would require the relocation of over 1/2 the residents of the shire and should we be paying towards infrusture ,in these areas which will be lost to future fire storms
    I beleive a community should have full econimic use of all its assets , both rural and seaside , belongil and main beach have given good service to both locals and tourist , and will continue to do so long into the future , and the small investment in the CZMP,
    will be money well spent , and is a gold mine of econimic benefits for all the shires future generations a legacy for our children

  13. People who have bought risky real estate need to own the consequences of their investments. This is not schadenfreude. It is how capitalism works.

    Most insurance policies do not cover damage done by king tides, coastal erosion and storm surges. So the desperate demands of Belongil residents for a sea wall are understandable.

    However, people do not want to fund the risky real estate investments of others (such as the $1,000,0000 poured into the temporary rock wall). Nor will they sanction the destruction of the environment caused by the proposed rock wall. Especially, as Cate points out, after the 1980’s Belongil buyers were given S 149 certificates which stipulate that they must build demountable dwellings and be prepared to walk away in the case of erosion.

    Also, the argument that we cannot protect the CBD from inundation whilst enabling a planned retreat from areas such as Belongil because ‘it isn’t fair’ is playground stuff. For economic and social reasons CBD areas are given priority everywhere.

    In the face of climate change, the best available science tells us that planned retreat is the only viable option. This is widely recognized. For example, in the U.K flood CBD defences are prioritized, while reclaimed low lying areas of Norfolk have been returned to tidal inundation.

    Beyond the squabbling, the scale of the damage from the recent storm shows that Karl is correct to ask ‘How many rock walls will it take before we realise that we can’t stop nature and that our attempts to mould it to suit our purposes doesn’t work’.

    So, people who have bought risky beach real estate need to own the consequences of their investments. As well as the environmental costs of our collective penchant for burning fossil fuels.

  14. Byron Movement
    June 5 at 2:15am ·
    This is very interesting. Sand wars!

    Flat Earth: MUST SEE!!! Islands disappearing in favor of land. (climate change hoax)
    Flat Earth: MUST SEE!!! Islands disappearing in favor of land. Every house, skyscraper and glass building,
    PLease refer to Byron Movement facebook page to learn the truth re coastal erosion.

  15. Robert Camm,

    Denial is a natural human reaction.

    Yet the Netherlands is actually in a lot of difficulty due to climate change. But it is very densely populated, and 17% of its landmass is reclaimed from the sea, so it is not in a position to practice managed retreat.

    Venice is also in trouble. Not only is it at risk from sea level rise, it is also sinking.

    However, whilst Venice is a world heritage city and must be protected at all costs, the same cannot be said for the houses built on Belongil spit. Nor is Australia densely populated like the Netherlands. So, the comparisons you make are at best tenuous. Also, Belongil is an area zoned for demountable dwellings.

    The truth is that when it comes to the sea, some of us are like Icarus with the sun: such people cannot resist living too close. They crave the oceans fun and solace (as well as hefty real estate capital gains), despite its destructive power.

    That is their choice. But they cannot reasonably expect others to throw millions of dollars into the bottomless pit of a sea wall (such as the million spent on the above temporary wall) to protect their high risk real estate investment. That is not how the free market works.

  16. David

    It is self-evident that paid parking revenue has helped fill the $1,000,000 hole in the shire budget created by the construction of the temporary rock wall. No doubt future parking revenue will be earmarked to fund ongoing repairs.

    As a result, people who are offended by the discriminatory nature of paid parking strongly oppose the rock wall. This includes local bookshop browsers, fire twirlers, surfers, coffee drinkers, market goers and low income families.

    Such people are not bound by ideology, but they do share the traditional value of Australian egalitarianism.

  17. Hi,
    I have written this before on a previous occasion. I told the council that both a rock wall and geotextile bags would fail.
    We have a product which could easily have handled this storm surge. It has a longevity of over 35 years that I can vouch for it.This system has been highly successful elsewhere in the World. It is both eco and user friendly. It is a ” living wall” in that it can be planted with flora and thus create a habitat for small creatures within the wall.
    I do not understand Byron Council’s aversion at trying this system.
    It was tested by Manly Hydraulic Laboratories and found to be able to handle a ” Once in a hundred year event with less than 1% damage in a catastrophic event” You cannot do better than that!

    Please see http://www.australiancoastalwalls.com.au
    Manly Hydraulic is owned by Public Works NSW Govt.It has both credibility and legitimacy.
    Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require further information.


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