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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Do you want beaches or rock walls?

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It never ceases to amaze me how many people remain in denial about climate heating and the effects it is having on sea-levels and thus coastal erosion.

CSIRO’s recently released ‘State of the Climate 2020’ once again confirms that seas have been rising over the past century and the rate is rapidly increasing.

CSIRO identify ‘Global mean sea level has risen by around 25 cm since 1880; half of this rise has occurred since 1970’. Further identifying ‘the rate of global mean sea level rise increased from 1.5 ± 0.2 cm per decade (1901–2000) to 3.5 ± 0.4 cm per decade (1993–2019)’.

CSIRO identify ‘Rising sea levels pose a significant threat to coastal communities by amplifying the risks of coastal inundation, storm surge and erosion. Coastal communities in Australia are already experiencing some of these changes’.

Sea-levels are rising because our rapidly warming seas are expanding and land based glaciers and ice sheets are melting and flowing into the sea. This is an indisputable fact.

CSIRO identify that sea level rises could be as ‘high as 0.61 to 1.10 m global average by the end of the century for a high emissions pathway’,

Many published scientific papers support the predictions that sea level rises are likely to be a metre or more by the end of this century, and that no matter what we do sea levels will go on rising for centuries.

We can now only affect the rate and ultimate level before they stabilise by quickly moving to zero emissions.

Similarly the 1:50-150m relationship between sea levels and retreat of sandy coastlines is a well established fact, though the distance it will retreat in Byron is contested.

So if we let nature take its course the coastline will retreat as sea-levels rise, and the rises so far are undoubtedly a contributor to Byron’s erosion problems.

We can intervene in this process by building rock walls, though the cost is that sooner or later the beach will erode away and at some stage the rock walls will be undermined and overtopped.

The question now is whether we want rock walls or beaches.

Also as sea-levels rise so too do tidal estuaries, so the problem extends up the Belongil to the town centre.

Enough of the denials, obfuscation and expensive knee-jerk reactions. We need a plan.

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  1. The question is definitely NOT whether we want beaches or rocks. We can have both like the rest of the world.

    Rightly or wrongly, Byron town was built on sand. (Belongil was actually built on higher land). We are here now and the town and it’s beaches need to be protected. It can be done elegantly and sustainability, using engineering solutions like anywhere else in the world. Most of the gold coast is protected by a huge rock wall (The A line) buried under sand. Mainbeach Gold Coast has better dunes and vegetation than Main Beach Byron right now. A lot of great beaches like Wategoes are backed by natural rocks. Rocks don’t mean no beaches. That’s fake news.

    This needs experts and engineering solutions (and a COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT PLAN) not people spouting feel good ideologies and impracticalities. With a town built on the coast and no engineered protection, there will not only be NO TOWN, but there will also be no roads, carparks, wetlands or access to the beach in the future.

    Think you can let the caravan park and a few houses at Belongil wash away but save the road to the pass, Wategos, the Treehouse, the wetlands, Industrial Estate and and the centre of town itself (below sea level)? Think again!

    There was mass hysteria when the rock wall at Manfred St was built a few years ago. ‘Surfing will be gone forever’ was the claim. No. That rock wall is now buried with sand (just like the entire gold coast wall). The beach at Belongil is wide, and the banks have been pretty good of late. There is more sand at Belongil than there has been for many decades, and it’s generally increased over the past 5 years.

    If there was a proper plan and solution like Manfred St at Clarkes, the caravan park and Cafe would be OK, and in a year or two when whether patterns normalise the sand would be back, and that rock wall would be buried. Without any protection, a cyclone next year could not only take away the whole caravan park but potentially the road to the Pass and Wategos as well. Thinking you can’t protect one thing really means giving up on everything, which is wrong. Many places around the world solved a lot of these issues many years ago.

    Places like Tyagarah that haven’t been developed should be left to erode naturally and not developed. We know that now. This applies to the vast majority of Australia’s coastline which is undeveloped. Places like Byron Bay that have been developed for nearly 150 years need to be carefully protected and maintained as a human habitat. Belongil was one of the first sub-divisions in the area due its proximately to the creek in the 1880’s, the horse has bolted. Planned retreat is a dream that can never be implemented, serving no one.

    As for sea level rises… Back in the 1980’s the Echo ran an article on the front cover announcing that a world leading climate scientist had predicted that the sea level would rise 80cm within 40 years and we needed to pack up and move out. In the 30 odd years since the sea level has risen by around 8cm. That prediction was 80% wrong. Yes of course sea levels are rising. But imagine if we’d just packed up the whole of Byron Bay and moved out 40 years ago? Who would that have served? What would the benefit have been? We would have jumped the gun by a lot… The legal chaos and cleanup would still be going on today. It’s not viable. And other places like Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast have much bigger problems. Yes lets have a plan, but let’s also not think we know exactly how nature is going to respond in the future. But yes, we can be prepared.

    Byron got it wrong decades ago by not just building a carpark, groyne and swimming pool, but doing it on reclaimed land where the ocean should be. That carpark in town is what has been determined by experts to be what has stuffed the whole of Belongil in the years that followed. Fortunately now it’s relatively stable and the beach there is the best it’s been in many decades.

    We are very fortunate in Byron that there is a lot of sand flow, and after short term erosion events the sand returns quickly. We have more options that most places. We need experts working on practical solutions, not politics, fake news, and feel good ideologies. Because when the whole of Byron is a big ugly caved in mess (like Clarkes has been lately) it won’t feel very good at all. Get the coastal engineers to work ASAP before it’s too late!


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