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Byron Shire
June 24, 2024

Half-hearted Byron Council approach to beach rehabilitation

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Main Beach in Byron as it is being impacted by the ocean. Photo Jeff ‘Stormy Weather’ Dawson.

Protection, restoration and rehabilitation of Main Beach, Byron Bay, has been ignored by our local authorities for decades. Before I left Council I was assured an application for grant funding to address beach rescue had at last been made.

The Echo alerted us recently that funding had been approved and work was to begin, yet much to my dismay, I found that staff’s commitment to saving our beach remains half-hearted and limited.

Clarkes Beach’s main access stairs. Photo Simon Haslam

Sand scraping

Piecemeal band-aid actions here and there are a waste of money. Yet staff plans to only sand scrape half of Main Beach, from the car park to Clarkes Beach. This ignores the massive sand and dune loss west of the car park up to Kendall Street (the western boundary of Main Beach), which is currently suffering the greatest degradation and erosion. Staff say the sand profile is too low to scrape on the western side, which is true, but what about doing some work on dune protection?

Soft engineering and revegetation

Beach scraping should be used in combination with other soft engineering and revegetation schemes, such as beach nourishment (adding new sand to increase sand levels), addressing beach drainage, the creation of buffer zones and estuarine ecosystems and, most importantly, the protection and rehabilitation of the dunes, including:

New Brighton beach scraping in 2010. Photo Byron Shire Council

• educating visitors – noticeboards, leaflets, and beach wardens to explain how to avoid damaging the dunes,

• boardwalks and ‘dutch ladders’ to stop the removal of sediment by humans,

• fences constructed of simple materials to create sand traps and hold incoming sand,

• the planting of natural plants and grasses to prevent further sand loss, and

• the closure of damaged areas to the public to allow rejuvenation to occur.

Main Beach car park Byron Bay.

Dune stabalisation essential

When I asked Council to fund rescue work at Main Beach, we specifically agreed on the need to protect and stabilise the depleted dunes along the entire length of Main Beach, that is, from Clarkes to Kendall Street.

As the western side of the car park (which is in the middle of Main Beach), is currently suffering the greatest erosion, protection of those dunes cannot be ignored. Yet staff are prepared to turn their backs, saying ‘it’s not possible’, and simply do some scraping on the eastern side (because it’s easy).

A group of 50 students from year 9 at Shearwater School clearing Bitou Bush in Byron Shire. Photo supplied.

The Coastal Management Act 2016 clearly states that the objectives of coastal management are:

• to maintain the presence of beaches, dunes and natural features of the foreshore,

• to protect and enhance natural processes and coastal environment values,

• to recognise the inherent ambulatory and dynamic nature of the foreshore and manage coastal use and development accordingly, and, most importantly:

• to restore the beach and land adjacent to the beach if any increased erosion of the beach or adjacent land is caused by the presence of engineered protection works (aka the car park and groynes).

High tides caused significant erosion of the dunes at Clarkes Beach in Byron Bay. Photo Rosie Lee

Time for action

Main Beach needs help if we are to have any beach at all within the embayment. Council cannot continue to dilly dally or ignore the problem any longer. They must act courageously, strategically and responsibly NOW, or our town’s greatest asset will not just be reshaped, but will die an ignominious death.

♦ Jan Hackett is a former Byron Shire Councillor.

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  1. Throwing $millions at natural cycles of beach erosion and natural replenishment is a waste.
    Also, is this not State government responsibility?

  2. Simple fix, QLD does it all the time – “Beach nourishment is the process of replacing sand on a beach lost through coastal erosion with new sand from outside the active beach system. Beach nourishment generally doesn’t change the underlying cause of coastal erosion and as such is usually planned as a management strategy involving multiple campaigns. Beach nourishment can also be used in conjunction with other coastal defence strategies, such as restoring and vegetating coastal dunes, or to help offset erosion brought about by the changes in sediment transport due to modification of the foreshore by the construction of seawalls or groynes”

    From here – https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/270407/sdap-coastal-management-code-guideline-vers2-6.pdf

  3. The council, NPWS and the State gov do not seem to understand that this beach is the centrepiece of of Byron’s tourism industry and as such is priceless and needs IMEDIATE attention and ongoing active management, it is also of great importance for indigenous culture, other locals culture and is a world wide iconic location, so please please look after it properly.

  4. Well quoted Darren,a simplistic fix for Byron and and other sand eroded beaches would be to pump the sand that has been deposited into the river mouth and lower estuary at Ballina a kilometre or so out to sea and let it continue its northward drift .If it doesn’t replenish close beaches shorten the outlet until it does and then extend it later to create a more northern buildup.
    This would help restore a better interchange of water for the Richmond River ,mitigate lower river flood levels and help to restore beaches north from there.They do it at the Tweed River very successfully.
    You will NEVER achieve a perfect result as the 70s sand mining removed the heavy/fine mineral sands that stabilise the foreshore and dune areas.Probably too much to expect any councils or government departments to get onboard and do anything.Beem waiting to see the Richmond dredged for 40 years and and the dithering goes on while sea grasses are suffocated and acid sulphate pours in unchecked from poor farming practices and derelict flood mitigation infrastructure.
    Good luck.

  5. Natural replenishment seems not to be happening fast enough at Clarkes/Main. It’s basically an earthworks volume problem.
    Assuming 500m of beach 50m wide, to fill this 1m requires 25,000 m3 of sand. Thousands of truck loads.
    Favourable wave and wind action may replenish part of this, but it may not happen at all.
    Others have studied this area ad nauseum.
    In the end, to save the walkway and road (and surf club), you will probably have to build, at some stage, a concrete sea wall. See Manly, Bondi, Kingscliff for examples.

  6. I’d say the Byron council is well aware that in not so many years the ocean will be well beyond the coast line as we currently know it.

  7. It has been half hearted. As sand comes back fencing needs to go up to keep people off the dunes as vegetation struggles to come back. Just a simple white wire will do.
    This will make a difference and there has been almost no effort made over the past few years to do this. Visitors have no idea and will trample every bit of dune they can get access when it gets to summer. It shouldnt be up to locals to try and educate kids and parents as they take slides down the bare dunes etc etc.

    • The sand has not returned since or prior 2008 the whole stretch from Wategos to Brunswick have been washing away. The whole East Coast and in fact every beach around Australia has been seeing the movement of sand and dunes out to sea and little to sand deposition on beaches. You should look at Pacifica Coastal Erosion Oct 1st 2022 aerial video. Much of America, New Zealand, Africa and the Asian areas are experiencing multiple concurrent beach erosion and no meaning full sand deposition. Most areas have seen fore dunes completely wiped out and extensive damage to hind dune systems. The way things are going I’d say Aldi in Byron Street will have waves crashing through in the next 10-15 years


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