Storm brewing over beach dune plantings


Woonona beach showing the dune plantings. Photo courtesy of Sand on Beaches Facebook Page.

AN Illawarra environmentalist has slammed calls to remove vegetation from Illawarra beaches, saying the plantings stabilise the dunal systems and protects the coastline from erosion.

Former Greens Federal MP for Cunningham Michael Organ said dune stabilisation is a vital part of coastal protection, and the work of previous councils and government instrumentalities in the northern suburbs has meant that erosion has in many instances been stalled and the public has be able to continue to enjoy local beaches.

Mr Organ, who grew up on Bulli’s beaches, said tree plantings, removal of weeds and dune stabilisation needs to be expanded along our coastline due to the imminent threats of sea level rises and severe storm events.

“If this is not done, we can see the loss of sand on our beaches and the inevitable imposition of concrete walls and rocks in wire cages in efforts to hold back the ocean and stop incursions,” he told The Bulli Times.

“Natural revegetation is the best method of dealing with Mother Nature’s fury.”

The Bulli Times reported on April 15 Michael Zaracostas’ campaign for the removal of all coastal vegetation on Illawarra’s beaches.

Mr Zaracostas says under the banner of “dune stabilisation”, uncontrolled plant invasion is impractical and dangerous. He says the plantings breach 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.

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 said.

“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.”

A Wollongong City Council spoksperson told The Bulli Times that the purpose of the dune plantings was 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 beaches like Woonona had extended seaward beyond the extent of the original planting and that ongoing management of the vegetation is required.

Council has obtained funding to prepare a draft Coastal Zone Management Plan. The spokesperson said 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.

About Mick Roberts

A journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of Australian pubs and associated industries for over 30 years. He is working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick managed several community newspapers. He has been editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), the Sydney city newspaper, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW.


3 thoughts on “Storm brewing over beach dune plantings

  1. Readers, I ask you to make up your own mind on whether WCC should plant vegetation on our beaches when considering the following?

    Compare these two groups of Beaches as they are now;

    1. Coledale, Little Austi’, Austinmer, Thirroul, McCauleys, Sandon Point, Sharkies (Nth Bulli), Nth Wollongong

    2. Bulli, Woonona, Bellambi, Corrimal, Towradgi, Fairy Meadow, Wollongong City, Port Kembla

    Group 1 are pristine beaches with no obvious beach erosion problems and have not undergone vegetation planting by council.

    Group 2 are beaches with severe erosion problems to a point where some (Woonona) cannot be used by SLSC ‘nippers’ or the public at high tide, have snake & rabbit infestation problems, are unsafe and have undergone vegetation planting by council.

    Why the debate? Nature, it’s a wonderful thing really!


    Posted by Troy Johnson | April 19, 2012, 3:06 am
    • Well said Troy, studies have shown beach re-vegetation will not protect against rising sea levels anyway as it is only on sand that will be undermined by waves. The attempts to push the land into the sea is only problematic and a folly and does not conform to NSW Planning Guidelines anyway. Beach vegetation is a total disregard to natural intertidal coastal processes. This intertidal zone is protected Crown land it is Councils responsibility to conserve this zone, not stop destroy purpose.
      Like you said, the un-vegetated beaches will give years of pleasure while the vegetated beaches will give years of grief. I challenge any beach plant supporter to take responsibility now, for future possible deaths from the possibility of artificially raised shoreline sand-cliff collapse which happens, swimming dangers such as increased rips and deep shoreline gutters caused by shoreline disfigurement from plants and the inability for a mass rescue due to the line of sight of potential rescuers being blocked by plants on the beach or anyone swept into the sea whilst trying to walk along a narrow or non existing beach at high tide and being taken out by a wave.
      Who will step up and compensate the families of potential victims? Who will explain to a grieving mum that the death of their child could have been avoided and was caused by beach vegetation?


      Posted by Michael Zaracostas | April 19, 2012, 7:33 am
      • Response to Michael Organ,

        We are talking about one of the most sensitive and complex systems in nature. To say that the beaches should be covered in plants against NSW Planning guidelines and destroy natural coastal processes that occur on the intertidal zone which covers the whole of Woonona Beach is pretty dodgy and shows a lack of understanding of this coastal system, in my opinion. I am concerned about asset protection but destroying the beaches by covering every available area of sand which occurs now, is probably not the way to go to retain our $400 million beach tourism revenue and retain useable beach amenity which residents cherish so much. You say beach re-vegetation has saved many beaches for people to enjoy.
        Michael did you research this!
        Don’t you know?

        Lifeguards are having a difficult and dangerous job of patrolling beaches with line of sight severely affected by high plants and heightened shoreline sand, putting lives at risk, Nippers have no useable sand area at Woonona where huge surf carnivals used to be held due to the dense plants that have totally covered the beach sand. Woonona Surf Club Life member, Troy Johnson says, due to the lack of beach space Woonona Nippers have to sometimes use the beach north of Woonona and the Rock Platform pool for their training. He said after rain children have to lie in water to carry out their flag training. Why, because introduced plants have overtaken usual training areas on the beach.

        Swimmer’s are being put at greater risk as according to a letter from a professional Wollongong lifeguard as there are stronger rips and deep gutters due to the changed plant bound shoreline. There is no longer a gentle beach gradient at the shoreline but drop offs that cause backwash, At Woonona Beach, one of the worlds best surf breaks has been destroyed as a direct result of the plants unnaturally interfering with natural sand flow patterns, would you rip up the grass at Win Stadium before a game. There is no difference to what has happened to our waves. Changing sand patterns is never a good idea.
        There is now no beach at high tide making it impossible to walk along most planted beaches which, could result in drowning, if people, especially children, run the gauntlet and get carried away in the deep gutters formed by the plant bound shoreline. There is no available sand at Woonona and other beaches, at most tides especially post storms for people to sit on what used to be a wide beautiful beaches. Huge surf carnivals were the norm but there is almost no room for a rubber duckie on most plant affected beaches. The thick impenetrable bush is infested with rats, rabbits and snakes that have been seen crawling on the floor of the surf club during a meeting according to Troy Johnson.
        The water is much deeper where flags normally are situated making it necessary for lifeguards and lifeguards to place them much further away to find shallower and safer sand banks if they can. There are 2-6 m shoreline sand-cliffs after large swells on plant-affected beaches that could bury children, which has happened, in other places. This will be an ongoing hazard forever with plants on the beaches. Who will keep watch over these deadly vertical sand-cliffs that collapse without warning? There is a changed shoreline current on all vegetated beaches that direct stronger wave action to the northern end of beaches in a large swell that causes erosion at the end of the beaches. This unintended erosion affecting the headlands, it could cost millions in the future to repair damage. Creeks now have high sand cliffs along their banks after heavy rain due to raised beach dune levels which is another hazard that will need to be managed. If we have a large storm, plant matter will be taken out to sea halting boating, swimming, fishing and surfing and the beach will have broken tree matter everywhere with a huge clean up bill.
        The main offending plant that has destroyed Woonona Beach, Acacia Sophorae, (Coastal Wattle) is spreading at McCauleys beach and when the shoreline is affected there will be huge erosion problems at the northern end of the beach due to redirected wave energy. I have been monitoring the spread of these plants and the spread rate of one test plant was 120mm in 5 days. That’s alarming as this means the sandy beach will be totally covered in a very short time.

        Michael, is this what you want to tell the people of the Illawarra, That we should have no sandy beaches left for people to enjoy and the beaches should be covered by impenetrable bushes and trees like the present Woonona, with the dangerous conditions and inconveniences I have outlined above as a constant worry? This is what your beach vegetation support promotes. It exists already you want it expanded!
        The Accidently Formed Sand dunes due to no maintenance of the plants at Woonona could actually encourage asset flooding as they are higher at the shoreline and get lower towards the back beach to no height at all as the plants stopped the dune building at the back-beach where the protection is needed.

        This was an accident not meant to happen caused by plant spread stopping sand blowing to where it is needed, at the back-beach. The huge swells will wash away the front dunes and water will roll down the backward sloping dune toward the houses trapping water trying to get to the sea from the streets which could causing increased flooding. Wave action in storms is magnified as the steep shorelines caused by plants, reflects sand off the beaches and the dangerous deep gutters seen at high tide are testimony of this.

        Offshore sand-banks have been reduced so there is more wave power at the shoreline now thanks to the effects of plants on the shoreline locking up sand. This could increase damage to assets and not protect them. Changing the offshore sand patterns actually promotes the loss of sand from a beach or embayment, so dune revegetation on beaches is counter productive. Your report of death and destruction of beaches hold little water as after the March high tide storm, Austinmere, Thirroull and North Beach all had more sand on them than before the storm and guess what Michael, they have no plants. In fact no unplanted beaches suffered any adversity after that storm which was the regions strongest in years.
        Do you want to cover these unplanted beaches with plants so they are unusable in the near future also? Why, did they not suffer, because they follow NSW Planning Guidelines, Page 44 4.2.2. Position. Quote, “an adequate beach berm width must be maintained to permit normal coastal processes, especially at elevated high water levels during storms”. BEACHES HAVE A SELF-REPAIR SYSTEM THAT CAN ONLY EXIST BY LETTING WAVE SAND INTERACTION EXISTS.

        Every planted beach suffered in this storm, as the power of the waves was directed to the northern ends of the beaches. Just watch with future storms, this is where we will prematurely start loosing the beaches, we have created a weak point at he northern ends of the beaches where the sand meets the rocks where erosion will occur and I predicted this last year and it is now actually happening.
        The stopping of the natural self-repair of beaches could see every planted beach eaten away faster as the sand needed to repair itself is washed away during storms. You should go to my Facebook “Page Sand On Beaches” and see the photos I have put up and watch the 2 videos showing the unintended erosion at Woonona caused by the planted beach.

        Michael, you call your self a conservationist, but you seem to show no interest in conserving the sensitive coastal processes environment called the intertidal zone, or you have no knowledge it even exists.
        Planting on beaches over the intertidal zone is a direct disregard to NSW Planning and Environmental Laws and has obvious negative dangerous results I have outlined. I think a better more sustainable way of asset management should be implemented than wiping out our beaches and the necessary important active processes that happen there.

        Michael this information is the result of many hours of responsible research into both Planning Laws and input from beach users and traveling and recording effects of dune vegetation over some thousands of klms of our coastline by my colleague Ken MacDougall and myself.

        I don’t open my mouth for the sake of it. I think of all of the people affected by our non-complying Dune Vegetation Situation. I have seen the destruction of beaches and the destruction of beaches to come.

        If you like I would be happy to meet with you and show you first hand the problems that exist and introduce you to the affected people I have mentioned. Maybe you can show me what’s good about these dangerous problems that exist on our plant-affected beaches I have mentioned. I sincerely extend this invitation to you.
        Michael Zaracostas. 19/04/12


        Posted by Michael Zaracostas | April 19, 2012, 8:13 am

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