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Byron Shire
August 1, 2021

Searching for answers to Byron’s beach erosion problem

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Hans Lovejoy

With Crown Lands currently preparing to lodge a DA so their existing geobags, placed in front of the Beach Byron Bay restaurant, can remain for five years, a prominent coastal engineer has blasted the move as ‘naive and ignorant’. 

Coastal Engineer Angus Gordon, who published the first report on Byron’s foreshore in 1978, told The Echo the move ‘goes against common sense, based on over 40 years of studies, and importantly goes against the basic principles and objectives of the NSW Coastal Protection Act 2016’. 

Sandbagging the area without a sand nourishment program, he says, will lead to further erosion, and the loss of Clarkes Beach. 

Sand nourishment is where sand is pumped from other locations to replenish sand lost to natural causes and built infrastructure, such as groynes. To date, Crown Lands have not put forward such plans.

Mr Gordon’s advice also contradicts Council’s position – a statement on Council’s website reads, ‘The sand [at Clarkes Beach] will come back, but this could take some time and it is difficult to predict when this will happen’.

An online public presentation was held Friday by Crown Lands representatives and consultants engaged to oversee the DA.

The complexities of foreshore management and beach hydrology were explained by Crown Lands and their consultants. 

It is well established that sand movement heads north up the coast, and according to Mr Gordon, ‘Byron is suffering long-term shoreline recession owing to natural causes’. 

Mr Gordon said, ‘The Jonson Street revetment [headland] seeks to locally prevent that recession’. 

‘The by-product being that it accelerates the recession to the north. Clarkes Beach is also in long-term recession (as all previous studies have indicated), and the stabilising effect of the Jonson Street revetment does not extend far enough south to stop the trend’. 

Long-term response 

Owing to the urgency around the restaurant’s unstable building structure, the DA is being lodged before adoption of Council’s Coastal Management Program (CMP). 

NSW government-run Reflections Holiday parks, located to the east of the restaurant, have already placed bags along their foreshore after severe erosion threatened the park.

Given that the issue of erosion has been a long time in the making, The Echo asked the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPEI), ‘Why isn’t Crown Lands preparing and presenting a long-term solution now, rather than sandbagging, thus speeding up the demise of the beach?’

A DPIE spokesperson replied that the five year DA, ‘will allow time for a wider precinct plan to be developed to manage [the] coastal erosion…’. 

They added, ‘The temporary sandbag wall and re-profiled dune have ensured that the cafe building is geotechnically stable, and safety risks have been mitigated under current conditions. However, the operator of the cafe has been advised that the cafe will need to be reconfigured and/or relocated’.

‘In the meantime, the University of NSW Water Research Laboratory will examine any impacts of the temporary sandbags, including on adjacent areas. 

‘We are also supporting Council on the development of its Coastal Management Program for South Golden Beach to Cape Byron, which may consider an option to import sand to address erosion’.

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