By MICK ROBERTS
COASTAL wattle is swallowing up northern Illawarra’s beaches, causing erosion problems, lost beach amenity and unsafe swimming conditions, claims Sandon Point’s Michael Zaracostas.
Mr Zaracostas says under the banner of “dune stabilisation”, uncontrolled plant invasion is impractical and dangerous. He is heading a campaign to completely clear plantings, which, he says breaches NSW Planning guidelines.
The guidelines contained in the publication, Coastal Dune Management, he says, state an adequate beach berm width must be maintained to permit normal coastal processes, especially at high water levels during storms.
“This beach berm storm width at Woonona goes to the back beach fence at times, so according to the NSW Planning Guidelines there should be no plants on Woonona Beach at all and on other beaches to this high water storm mark,” Mr Zaracostas said.
Plants should be entirely removed from beaches to bring them back to compliance with NSW Planning Guidelines, he said. Mr Zaracostas said coastal wattle (Acacia Sopharae) was the biggest contributor to the problem, especially at Woonona, Bulli, Wollongong City, Port Kembla, Towradgi, Fairy Meadow and East Corrimal.
“It’s a native that was planted but is too successful and has been called the equivalent of Bitou Bush in South Africa and is now causing problems in South East Australia as it overtakes everything, including other native plants, in its path,” he said.
Mr Zaracostas, in a submission to council, says the problem with sand blowing on roads should be dealt with in a way that doesn’t destroy beach amenity.
“By removing the plants from all beaches as per the guidelines, sand could be allowed to blow naturally to the back of the beach against a barrier,” he told The Bulli Times.
“It could then be captured and recycled to renourish beaches that are lacking sand. This would maintain the safe natural beach gradient to exist allowing natural coastal processes and restore safe swimming conditions.”
Mr Zaracostas said dune vegetation stops sand blowing to the back of the beach where sand reserves can provide the most protection.
“The shoreward spreading plants don’t allow the sand to blow naturally. Woonona’s sand dunes have no protective dune height at the back of the beach where it should have, due to sand being blocked by the non-complying plants. The dune height simply grows towards the shoreline where storms can easily remove it leaving the back beach vulnerable.”
Mr Zaracostas said there is no vegetation on North Beach, Thirroul (in front of the pool), and Austinmer and there are never any problems.
“Every vegetated beach has problems with unintended erosion, lost beach amenity, snakes, rabbits and rats, unsafe swimming conditions such as rips and deep gutters,” he said.
Mr Zaracostas claims council’s duty of care to lifeguards and life savers and swimmers is compromised as a result of the plantings, which cause “sand cliffing” that cannot be safely patrolled.
The Bulli Times asked Wollongong City Council whether dune plantings were breaching NSW Planning Guidelines.
A council spokesperson said vegetation at Woonona beach was established in 1986.
“This work was undertaken by Council in consultation with officers from the NSW Soil Conservation Service and the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation,” the spokesperson said.
“The purpose of the dune planting work undertaken along beaches such as Woonona and City Beach in Wollongong was to re-establish dunes to reduce the large volumes of sand that that was being blown onto roads and parks and to provide a sand buffer to protect assets such as surf clubs whose foundations had been undermined during previous major storms.”
Council acknowledged that the current extent of vegetation on Woonona beach and other Wollongong beaches such as City Beach has extended seaward beyond the extent of the original planting and that ongoing management of the vegetation is required.
“One of the actions identified in the draft Coastal Zone Management Plan is to prepare and implement a city-wide dune management strategy. Council has obtained funding to prepare this Strategy which will provide the basis for ongoing dune management work on Wollongong beaches.” The spokesperson told The Bulli Times that Council is preparing a brief to engage a consultant to prepare the strategy.
“The strategy will consider issues such as the types and appropriateness of vegetation currently occurring in the dunes, the lateral distribution of vegetation across the dunes, weed management, and sightline issues with the surf life saving clubs due to the presence of vegetation.”
Mr Zaracostas has started a Facebook page (Sand on beaches).