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Byron Shire
December 1, 2022

Belongil Creek dredging ‘in accordance with licence conditions’

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The recently dredged mouth of Belongil Creek. Photo Max Johnston
The recently dredged mouth of Belongil Creek. Photo Max Johnston

Dredging of the mouth of Belongil Creek, undertaken this week by Byron Shire Council, was carried out ‘in strict accordance with licence conditions’ imposed by the NSW Government, council’s director of infrastructure services, Phil Holloway, has told Echonetdaily.

Council this week used an excavator to remove sand from the mouth that had closed due to low rainfall.

Mr Holloway said that Byron Shire Council has a licence from the NSW Government to do the work as a way of minimising the flood risk to Byron Bay should there be heavy rain or significant weather events.

He added that ‘this type of work at the mouth of Belongil Creek has been done for many years and is carried out as needed, sometimes several times a year, depending on the amount of rain received.

‘When it rains regularly excavation is not generally required, but when it hasn’t rained much, as has been the case recently, sand build up blocks the entrance,’ Mr Holloway said.

‘When it rains heavily, or for long periods, Belongil Creek carries a lot of stormwater and if the entrance to the creek is blocked water will not be able to escape, potentially flooding properties in Byron Bay.

‘When the water level in the creek reaches a certain point, and rain or storms are predicted, the council will organise equipment to open the creek to the ocean and this is what happened.’

Nesting shorebirds

Mr Holloway was responding to concerns expressed by Echonetdaily reader Max Johnston that the work may have impacted on nesting shorebirds.

But Mr Holloway said this was not the case.

‘Council, and the NSW Government recognise the sensitive environment in that area and work is carried out in strict accordance with licence conditions.

‘We locate the exact alignment using GPS to ensure the opening is between the important shorebird habitat and the erosion-prone land at Elements,’ Mr Holloway said.

‘The excavator and staff are on the beach several hours before the high tide digging a trench to the ocean but the final opening is not made until just before low tide to make sure the water flowing out of Belongil Creek meets the incoming tide to reduce the immediate loss of water in the Belongil catchment, reducing the potential for fish kills,’ he said.


Belongil Creek is considered by the NSW Government as one of approximately 70 Intermittently Closed and Open Lakes and Lagoons (ICOLL) in NSW.

Council said that the management of Belongil Creek is ‘similar to what is done in other parts of NSW where ICOLLs are in urban areas.’

For more information go to http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/habitat/aquatic-habitats/wetland/coastal-wetlands/management-of-coastal-lakes-and-lagoons-in-nsw


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  1. Once upon a time Belongil Creek used to be an ICOLL, the estuary used to regularly close causing water to back up to around 2.6m above sea level for prolonged periods, creating a massive wetland that would have been teaming with wildlife, particularly during dry periods. Decades ago Council began opening the estuary when water levels rose by 1.2m, which drained most of the wetlands, created acid-sulfate soils and toxic runoff, and caused fish kills. This dramatically changed the ecological functioning of the estuary.

    On the grounds of trying to overcome the fish kills they created, in 2001 Council decided to open the estuary more often, when water levels rise to 1m above sea-levels. This further reduced the wetlands, created more acid-sulfate soils and further changed the ecology. The estuary used to naturally open further to the north, creating a large sandflat used for roosting and nesting by migratory shorebirds, though to reduce erosion of Elements it is now opened further to the south, significantly reducing the bird habitat.

    By 2001 times had changed and Council should have prepared an Environmental Impact Statement before reducing the opening height, but they refused to. A Belongil Estuary Opening group was formed in 2002 to develop a long term strategic plan for the mouth opening taking into account all relevant criteria. As far as I am aware the strategy has still not been prepared and the opening occurs under an interim licence while Council avoids its legal responsibilities to identify and mitigate environmental impacts.

  2. Phil Holloway confirms my suspicion that the policy of opening further to the south was to protect inappropriate development at Elements. The result of this, I believe, has been to significantly reduce the bird nesting area and to shift erosion to the littoral rainforest to the east of Elements. There is now continuing erosion along several hundred metres of the rainforest area, with trees falling into the creek. It seems private development is being protected at the expense of shorebirds and scarce littoral rainforest.


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