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Byron Shire
May 11, 2021

Adapting to sea-level rise

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Dailan Pugh, Byron Bay

I have been contributing to the discussion over the issue of Byron beach erosion to encourage consideration of the long-term impacts of rising sea-levels owing to global heating, though for my efforts I have been attacked by Oliver Dunne, Matt Hartley, Jim Mangelson and others.

After years of research and observation I think I have a good knowledge of the studies, reports, and history of this issue, as well as the coastal processes involved.

I represented BEACON on Council’s Coastline Management Committee from 2002–07 and Byron Residents’ Group on the Coastal Zone Management Byron Bay Embayment Plan Project Reference Group in 2015–16.

I am fully aware that there are numerous short-term processes affecting the volume and location of sand on our beaches at any point in time as sand comes and goes, though the overall trend is that over the past 70 years there has been an average sand loss of some 50,000m3 per annum from the Byron embayment.

Oliver Dunne’s claims that I am advocating that Byron Bay residents pack their bags and move to Casino, or trying to stop toddlers being pushed in prams to the lighthouse, or stopping surfing are all ludicrous hyperbole.

Byron Council clearly identified those zones vulnerable to coastal erosion over the next 100 years back in 1986 when they adopted planned retreat, and required new buildings in those zones to be demountable so they can be moved back from the coast as it erodes.

I don’t see what the problem is with moving holiday cabins in Reflections Holiday Park, or the Byron Bay Beach Cafe, back from the brink to leave room for the beach.

When I moved to Byron Bay I intentionally bought a property outside the coastal erosion zones, and just considering coastal recession my house will be okay for the next 100 years, as will the mothers pushing prams up to the lighthouse, and surfers (provided engineers don’t mess with their breaks).

It is those people who bought in the mapped coastal erosion zones who may have problems with coastal recession. Though anything they built since then had to be capable of being moved out of harm’s way.

When it comes to a choice between building a rock wall to protect movable buildings or retaining a public beach by allowing it to move inland, my preference is for the beach.

While Jim Mangelson apparently agrees with Dr Derrick’s claims that climate change and sea-level rise are a hoax, sadly, they aren’t.

Like it or not, sea-levels are rising in response to global heating and this is already contributing to Byron’s erosion problems and will greatly exacerbate them into the future, which will become most apparent when we get our next period of cyclonic erosion.

Byron needs a plan to adapt to the climate changes already locked in, while our State and Federal governments need to take urgent action to curb and sequester our carbon emissions to limit the magnitude of future sea-level rises.

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  1. I for one am amazed at your willingness to contribute to the neverending debate about the issues facing our area dailan . I find your knowledge and expertise very interesting and I agree with nearly everything you say . What I admire most of all is your unwillingness to stray from the points being discussed unlike your many detractors who often resort to ad hominem arguments . We love in such polarised times that it often seems nobody listens to the counter argument … And many folk simply switch off . Thank you again dailan for keeping me informed … Keep up the amazing work. .

  2. Hi Dailen,

    Yes we do need to be aware of climate change and sea level rises. Well done in buying a property that will be fine for 100 years. Now you just need to find a way to live that long!

    For the rest of us who actually live and work (here and now in 2020) in Byron Bay itself, we have more immediate coastal erosion issues that we need Council and State Government to solve now – using experts, science and engineering, as has been successfully implemented in many other places around the world where humans built a town or city close to nature. Noosa and the Gold solved these short term erosion issues while protecting beaches long ago. Why can’t we?

    Sea levels have risen a fraction in the past 100 years. The current erosion at Main Beach is not related to sea level rises, just normal coastal processes. As you will know the whole area east of Fletcher st was once sand dunes. Have you seen first hand the erosion today at main beach? 40 year old pandanus in the sea and perhaps 5-10m of frontage lost overnight (when the bank levels out). Acres and acres of community land. Do you know how much more land can be lost quickly without erosion protection? We are quite seriously – one badly timed cyclone away from Lawson St being the next great surf break. What is being done?

    You advocate the cafe and caravan park being moved back. Have you thought this through??? How do you move Lawson St back next storm event? Are you seriously saying that we should just get ready to abandon the road to the Pass and Wategoes? What is the plan? Where does planned retreat end?? Don’t we already have a housing shortage in the Bay?!

    What is the actual planned retreat ‘plan?’. It’s about time the extreme dark greens came clean on their vision for Byron in 50 years. One with no roads, businesses, houses or people!

    The comments by others about moving to Casino are not so silly when planned retreat doesn’t have limits.

    Or we could just solve this short term erosion using engineering solutions like other states and places around the world have. It’s not a perfect solution. But it’s better than an ideology without action that leads to abandoning our town.

    We have a lot of sand in the bay. And a lot of sand transport. With a little more rock buried under sand as a backstop we could get through the next 100 years with Byron looking largely as it does today. Provided (as you correctly stated) we also reduce our emissions globally.

    The man made town of Byron Bay, one of Australia’s most iconic assets is at risk. Obviously the beach is the draw card and we need to protect that too. There are thousands of kilometers of beautiful beaches without towns on the east coast. What is unique about Byron (and Noosa, and many other places) is having a beautiful Bay where people can actually live, work and play.

    About time the NSW Government stopped smoking the peace pipe and got some experts in to sort this out. I can’t believe we don’t have a coastal management plan here. It’s a disgrace. Where do our taxes and rates go???

    I don’t have a lot of faith in the Council doing anything real other than getting in the way of solutions so they can tell their friends they are ‘saving the beach’ by letting the town wash away.

    In the mean time, let’s get some bloody sand bags on main beach protecting community land right now!

    They can be taken away after this event passes for a proper solution. But let’s not destroy more of the foreshore to make a point about sea level rises which are in fact not really happening (yet). Especially 10 days before Christmas – when holiday makers that provide incomes for our residents don’t want to be swimming through dead trees.


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