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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

SFA says Ballina’s Speeds Reef surf break ‘endangered’ by ocean pool

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Concept design for the proposed ocean pool at Ballina’s Shelly Beach. Image supplied

The proposed Ocean Pool at Shelly Beach rock platform in Ballina Shire has raised passions of both sides of the pool debate with the latest splash being made by the Surfrider Foundation Australia (SFA) who have declared Speeds Reef surf break as endangered.

The move comes following a recent Ballina Shire Council meeting where the motion to ‘discontinue the Ballina Ocean Pool Project’ by Cr Ben Smith was defeated.

‘The target location for the proposed pool is on the Shelly Beach rock platform which forms part of the internationally-known surf break extending from Lighthouse Point across “Speeds” Reef to Shelly Beach,’ say the SFA.

President of the Ballina branch of Surfrider Australia, Mark Hernage said, ‘surfers are a key stakeholder here, but we are not being properly consulted. This reef is a treasure for locals. Speeds reef forms a spectacular wave that attracts high performance surfers in various swell conditions.’

Impact on surf conditions

The key point of contention for SFA is that they are disputing the evidence put forward by the Ballina Ocean Pool committee by Associate Professor Rob Brander. Professor Brander is a geomorphologist from UNSW who visited the site and reported that, ‘the chosen location for the pool is in no way detrimental to any existing physical processes involving breaking waves, alongshore water movement and currents and the transport of sediments’.

The Surfrider Foundation contend that their own ‘local member who is a former coastal engineer, Craig Zerk has reviewed the Ocean Pool Committee’s engineering advice (by Water Research Laboratory of UNSW), including a Memorandum (dated May 2019) that was not available on Ballina Council’s website. Mr Zerk warned that “the proposed pool will reflect waves, creating significant backwash, potentially ruining the break”.’

Mr Zero acknowledges that ‘Coastal engineering is an imprecise science’ and highlights that, ‘It is possible that after construction, board riders may be faced with unacceptable conditions and be simply told: “sorry, we tried, but you’ll have to find another place to surf”.

‘This proposal may sacrifice a surfing community asset for the sake of experimental engineering,’ he said.

Assessment and debate needed

Local Councillor Keith Williams has told Echonetdaily that he agrees with the SFA ‘that the impact of reflected waves on Speeds Reef has not been sufficiently addressed in the Ocean Pool proposal to date.’ However, he points out that immediately pulling the plug on the project as a result is not the right approach either.

‘I think the calls to abandon the project now are based on the fear that the project will be pushed through without proper consideration and consultation,’ said Cr Williams.

Unfortunately, those fears are not without foundation. Every time someone raises a concern, whether it’s local residents, surfers, Indigenous representatives, environmentalists or even Mick Fanning, an Ocean Pool Committee spokesperson pipes up to dismiss it and say it’s all just part of a scare campaign. This is not good enough.

I’m concerned that some people are using the project as a political football, to further their own ambitions.

It’s clear that there is support for the idea of an Ocean Pool in the community, but this cannot mean a blank cheque, with no scrutiny of the location and the details.

As a community we need to be mature enough that we can discuss issues without resorting to name calling.

Council role

‘Council has an important role to play in ensuring fair consideration of all the impacts, just as it would for any other major development.

The community needs to be reassured that there will be proper planning processes put in place before we proceed to the Development Application stage. Community engagement and consultation in this process is crucial,’ he said. 

‘I will focus my efforts on ensuring the Ocean Pool project continues within a proper planning framework that includes extensive community consultation.

The alternative is where we line up and shout at each other. Nobody is listening then.’

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  1. It’s a nice little spot down there at Shelly, where families and kids can poke about the rock pools. There is no need to wreck that with a concrete pool dumped in the middle of it. There’s any amount of large, safe, salt water swimming options near-by, Shaw’s Bay being on of them

  2. Another example of councillors acting like politicians, Have 2 beautiful swim areas , Shaw’s Bay , Lake Ainsworth that have changed little in 50 yrs (no spending.)Get ur priority’s right for the community instead of a few people who will use this at a high price for the taxpayers.more wasting of taxpayers money in surveys.

  3. Surely this is an issue of location? It seems the community would like an ocean pool. But they don’t want to lose a famous surf break. Therefore, where else could such a pool go? And does it have to look like an ugly concrete rectangle? This is the Northern Rivers. Someone up here could design the most gorgeous ocean pool that suits all swimmers. (And is shark proof!)

  4. its just like saying build a pool on flat rock. totally stupid idea. theres plenty of safe places to swim already in the area. please dont ruin the natural asset of speeds reef

  5. There are also heaps of surf options up and down the coast. In fact the tiny little area affected by this pool vs the area of rock pools and surf areas seems insignificant and another excuse for people winge about change, development, or in other words progression. This seems like a small feature that will provide a lot of enjoyment to a decent amount of the community.


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