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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

Rock wall won’t stop climate change impacts

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The argument about how well or poorly the Belongil rock wall held up in last weekend’s storm 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.

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