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Byron Shire
May 23, 2024

Managing Byron’s beaches

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Oliver Dunne, Wategos Beach

In The Echo two weeks ago, I challenged the opinions by prominent environmental campaigner, Dailan Pugh, that long-term erosion plus global warming and rising sea levels are the primary cause of Byron Bay’s current erosion problems.

An article on the Clarkes Beach event in The Conversation last week corroborates my rebuttal to Dailan. The Griffith University scientists outline what they call the Headland Effect and its impact on our beaches, particularly when the usual currents and prevailing winds do not show up, as happened in this instance.

No mystery here to the keen surfers who have tried to surf The Pass this year or to the longboarders getting wonderful surf off the Cape and Little Wategos. The Clarkes Beach dune blowout was most definitely not caused by climate change or long-term sea-level rise, as intimated by Dailan.

Byron Shire’s beaches have now largely stabilised after the onslaught of the ’60s and the ’70s but our community urgently requires a strategy for their annual management so that they can meet short-term challenges which occur with regularity after each East Coast Low.

Twice in the past 14 years, in 2006 and again in 2016, our Council declined to adopt a beach nourishment program to protect our beaches. Fair enough, Council did not have to adopt the gold-plated sand bypass pumping option from Tallow Beach. I’m pleased it did not as, if we believe Professor Goodwin’s recent assessments, the numbers relied on vastly overstated the problem and the amount of sand required to be transferred.

But, there are other proactive options for beach nourishment that are cheaper and more effective in dunal management. These alternatives should have been pursued by Council, and the state government should have required Council to pursue some of these options.

There appears to be an obsession amongst some on Council that any efforts at preservation of our public beaches and the protection of public amenity for all must be resisted if some private party benefits. This ludicrous position stymies all attempts by the staff to fix the problems we face. I would say we urgently need that discussion to reboot, both outside and on the Council.

For years now, there have been dredgers working off the Tweed Coast and the lower Gold Coast beaches on an annual basis carrying out remedial, storage and dune forming works. The Tweed River Sand Bypass has been working successfully for two decades. There has been beach protection and nourishment at Kingscliff and Duranbah. The growing expertise in placing dredged sand has led to the support from beach users in Tweed and the southern half of the Gold Coast, with ongoing consultation a big part of the planning and operation, eg, the Super Bank at Snapper.

If it’s good enough for Tweed Shire under current NSW coastal legislation, there should be no impediment to the state government requiring a similar proactive response in Byron Shire.

So here is my plea to you, Dailan: When residents come to discuss problems on our beaches, please don’t label those of us who do not agree with you as climate change deniers. I am happy to bow to you on all matters of forest conservation. But when it comes to the beach that I live on and which I observe daily, I prefer to follow the science.

I agree that if we have no action on climate change, there may be a sea-level rise of one metre by 2100. But, there are close to 5,000 of my fellow Byron Bay residents who are not quite ready to pack up their bags and move to Casino just yet. To the toddlers being daily pushed in prams to the Lighthouse, that represents at least another 75 years of good surfing. I doubt somehow they are planning any retreat either.

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