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Byron Shire
July 23, 2024

Byron’s foreshore

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‘How could the foreshore be improved’? asks Byron Council. Simple. Incorporate natural and hybrid infrastructure into coastal policy and planning.

Natural infrastructure can consistently provide value and benefits for coastal communities and coastal resilience (protection).

Built infrastructure, on the other hand, is limited in that it only provides coastal protection value and only during storm events.

Built infrastructure and natural infrastructure have differing strengths and weaknesses.

The benefits associated with natural infrastructure are precisely what make coastal areas so valuable and what draws people to live and work in these vulnerable regions.

Coastal ecosystems enhance resilience by providing protection, as well as contributing raw goods and materials, plants and animal habitat, regulating water and air quality, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling and opportunities for tourism, recreation, education and research.

Built infrastructure is strong immediately upon its completion, but has a set lifetime, weakens with age and is constructed to specific parameters that cannot adapt to changing conditions. It also has negative impacts on coastal shoreline development, changing the transportation of sediment and the ability of the shoreline to respond naturally to changing conditions, which can result in habitat loss, loss of species diversity, lowering the sand profile of the beach and eating away the dunes at the end of the hard structures – particularly noticeable from Main Beach to Belongil.

However, large seawalls can lull communities behind them into a sense of false security, as seems to be the case in Byron Bay.

Ultimately, natural infrastructure (i.e. healthy ecosystems) and combinations of natural and built infrastructures (‘hybrid’ approaches) provide the best protection as well as other benefits such as public recreation, public access, and economic value.

With regard to continuing to modify and reconstruct our current seawall in the centre of Main Beach, the science is clear and indisputable.

A seawall and any engineered hard revetment between the carpark and the beach will not stop the natural retreat of the shoreline. The beach will continue to erode until it simply disappears in front of the seawall – as we now see periodically at Main Beach.

While calls to provide protection for private property and infrastructure grow louder as the coast is threatened, the impacts of bad decisions, like building more seawalls and other bulwarks, will become even more severe.

Sand is to the coast as water is to the desert. You cannot allow it to go unmanaged and you cannot allow individuals or localities to seal off, as residents are now doing at Belongil, sand that was destined for the benefit of all.

I urge this community and this Council to pursue policies that reduce risk along the oceanfront by truly avoiding the hazards, not blocking them with brute force engineering and other frivolous and superficial infrastructure.

Firstly, remove the groynes and secondly, invest in ‘managed realignment’ using a variety of both natural and hybrid approaches. Both strategies are cost-effective and sustainable.

Jan Hackett, Byron Bay

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