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Byron Shire
February 5, 2023

Dune – not bush – regeneration for Byron’s Main Beach

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Beach scraping. Photo supplied

I note in the current Byron Shire Council (BSC) Vegetation Management Plan (VMP), that six months after the current beach scraping is completed and a first phase of dune revegetation of Spinifex, Beach Bean and Goats Foot is done, a second wave of revegetation will follow.

It is this second wave that concerns me – though, of course, as BSC keep reminding me, I am not an ‘expert’ on these matters, and therefore my concerns are readily dismissed!

According to the VMP, the second revegetation planting is located at the rear of a foredune which is now being sand scraped into existence, and into what remains of our old back dunes, currently covered with dead trees, bush and weeds.

The plantings will be undertaken by our Dune Care group under the direction of contracted qualified bush regenerators, who have experience working in littoral rainforest and coastal habitats. The intention is to expand by four metres or more landward, with tree planting dominated by Coastal Banksia and other littoral rainforest species. Really?

There was never a littoral rainforest in this location. The entire ‘sandhills’ area east of Fletcher Street was, prior to circa 1970, just that – sandhills and dunes (albeit unfortunately damaged during mining by the NSW government post war). 

Following the extension of Lawson Street directly across to Massinger Street, the developers moved in – holiday rentals, businesses, footpaths, grassy parkland, and, for some unknown reason, Council planted a ‘littoral rainforest’ fronting the beach. Looks pretty but is no better than dumping rocks along the back of the beach.

Sandhills, Main Beach, Byron Bay. Photo supplied

Severe storm-cut erosion is nothing new in Byron Bay. Recorded history describes beach loss back to the coffee rock in the 1800s. Until the town’s tourist potential was ‘discovered’ 100+ years later and our built environment grew seaward, the beach swiftly rebuilt after these regular catastrophic events.

You will hear many say ‘It comes and it goes, so why do anything at all? Let nature take its course.’

Unfortunately, there is less sand travelling north due to blockages down south and we need to hold onto every grain of sand that swings around the cape. The key to natural beach recovery is for waterborne sand to stick readily and build up, forming a sloped beach with a protective bank of free-flowing dunes behind to absorb wave impact and replenish beach sand after storm events.

As less sand trickles around the cape, as replenishing sand from the dunes is locked away behind land development and tree plantings and as walled carparks and similar hard revetment reject incoming sand and send it packing further north, Main Beach is under the hammer!

Dead trees on the dune. Photo supplied

So, I have to ask – why, when we now have a chance to make corrections and regenerate a healthier dune barrier in the eastern corner of ‘The Bay’, are council intent on repeating past mistakes?

Why are they employing bush regenerators for what should be dune regeneration? 

Why aren’t Council expanding our protective dune buffer as councils are to the north of us? Surfers Paradise has already ‘moved’ and the entire ‘Gold backCoast’ is investing in dune regeneration between built and natural habitats. Why is this not happening here?

Why do Council continue to allow development and use on and of the dunes, e.g. music festivals, markets, akayak storage container?

It’s universally known dunes are our best defence against coastal erosion, yet for some reason BSC locks away our dunes behind trees, root balls, foreign soils, rocks, concrete and buildings and then blames global warming and changing currents for massive erosion and sand loss.

To my mind, WE are the ones eroding our once magnificent beach, not nature. 

The sea is rising and heading back to the escarpment where million-year-old marine fossils have been found. Byron Bay stands in its way. We can destroy our natural defences and hasten the need to create a walled city, relocate, or we can work with nature and extend the life of the town and beach by restoring a healthier dune buffer zone.

Which would you prefer? A beach and sandhills, or a shaded picnic spot atop a seawall with no beach below? Time’s running out.

♦ Jan Hacket is a former Byron Shire councillor and Byron Bay resident.

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  1. The dunes being beach scraped into existence under the current restoration plan will be nowhere as extensive as the dunes recently washed away . When earth movers have done their work bush regenerators & bush regenerator directed volunteers will put back basic foredune plants such as grasses , beach vines . They won’t be ‘replacing a forest’ because they know such forest ( littoral rainforest) simply won’t grow there because there won’t be enough dunes to support that : under projected sea level rises there probably never will be enough dunes to support forest. When the erosion began a couple of years ago there were 24 species of littoral rainforest tree arriving in the hind dunes via birds , even some very hardy ones in the dune hollows just back from the beach . They was ample foredune run-up (plenty of bare sacrificial sand) buffering evolving littoral rainforest landward. Yes old aerial photos show vast areas of exposed sand, that is because the foreshore and immediately landward had been cleared. Thus windblown sand migrated inland beyond (now) Lawson street, finally mixing with what would have been paperbark & swamp. If you want to know what was naturally growing behind the foredunes ‘once upon a time’ have a look at what remains immediately west of ‘Beach’ Cafe & what occurs further set back in Sandhills area ( Cowper street extension) Banksia woodland giving way now to littoral rainforest. The notion previously printed in the Echo, that somehow erosion at Main Beach was caused by ‘misguided /rehabilited’ vegetation is BS.


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