Heavy rains and massive tides have caused dramatic erosion along Illawarra beaches, posing safety risks to beachgoers.
The erosion is known as scarping and is often compounded by deep-rooted beach vegetation holding sand together. These pictures of Sandon Point Beach and surf club show the effects of scarping, up to the very foundation of the surf club.
‘‘I haven’t seen it like this in my 17 years at Sandon Point,’’ said Ken Holloway of Sandon Point Surf Club.
‘‘It’s quite extraordinary.’’
Similar scenes across the region have thrown the spotlight on Wollongong City Council’s draft dune management strategy, a key component of which is management of vegetation, which lifesavers say creates line of sight problems and safety issues.
The strategy outlines three key areas – sightlines, beach access and recreational amenity – and ranks each of the region’s 17 patrolled beaches. Wollongong City Beach and Towradgi Beach were both rated as having ‘‘severe’’ issues.
David Grubb, of beach advocacy group Beach Care Illawarra, said coastal vegetation must be controlled, to reduce the problems associated with scarping.
‘‘The plants help the sand work as a dune, but it’s a solid dune down to the water edge with these cliff faces,’’ he said.
Council introduced vegetation to many Illawarra beaches in dune stabilisation works through the 1980s. Mr Grubb said plants such as bitou bush and coastal wattle had grown well past the original boundaries set out by council policy, and grown ‘‘feral’’ in many areas.
‘‘We want [vegetation] taken back to the fence line and planted with appropriate plants like low spinifex grasses,’’ he said.
Council manager for Environment and Strategic Planning, Renee Campbell, said the dune management strategy sought to strike a balance between controlling vegetation and stabilising dunes.
‘‘Vegetation spread seawards can increase the frequency and severity of scarping in some locations, ’’she said.
‘‘The solution is not complete removal of the vegetation, as a vegetated dune has a crucial role in coastal protection.’’
The strategy states vegetation control is a top option for many beaches, but also that vegetation is vital in protecting coastal assets.
‘‘It plays an important role in protecting the infrastructure behind our beaches, such as surf clubs, cycleways and roads. The removal of vegetation could place this infrastructure at greater risk of being affected by coastal hazards,’’ Ms Campbell said.
As reported in the Mercury last week, the strategy proposes purchasing taller lifeguard towers – at a cost of up to $150,000 each – so lifesavers can see over tall vegetation at beaches including Woonona, Thirroul and Wollongong. Beach Care Illawarra called this an ‘‘expensive Band-aid proposal’’.
Submissions to Wollongong City Council’s draft dune management strategy:
• Unintended erosion and presence of unstable dune system which wouldn’t have happened if council followed the Coastal Dune Management manual. Scarps remain present for months even after moderate swell, not just storms.
• Lifesavers can’t see the beach from most club houses.
• Risk of someone walking onto beach and entering the water and not being seen by lifeguards.
• Deep-rooted vegetation which has been planted along our beaches is causing erosion.
• Loss of beach between Flagstaff Hill and Bank Street, Wollongong, where current dune management is taking place compared with the large amount of beach/sand along Coniston Beach between Bank Street and the coal loader breakwater, which has never received dune management or planted vegetation.
• Vegetation has prevented natural movement of sand and made safe swimming locations dangerous.
• Our-award winning beaches are compromised by excessive and uncontrolled vegetation growth.
• The plants should be maintained within the fenced areas, not the fences moved as the vegetation encroaches.
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