Collaroy nightmare

Collaroy beach 1

Collaroy Beach impacts after storm (pc: SMH, 2016)

Watching the homeowner who lost her pool, mother’s ashes and dream of living along the beach at Collaroy hysterically in tears on Channel 7 Sunrise yesterday was hard to watch. As my coastal brother, Griffith University PhD student, Dan Ware, brilliantly sums it up, it’s the love, fear and truth of the coast that sandwiches decisions wedged with conflict and complexity. No one likes sand in their sandwich, just like no one likes conflict.

Last weekend the east coast of Australia experienced a long weekend of perfect storms. Strong swells, high winds and king tides caused havoc, ripping beaches apart and undermining coastal infrastructure, and flooding and the loss of life. The storm surge was the biggest cause of the coastal impacts with seawalls and pathways cracked by the 7m+ pounding waves.

The coastal experts say that the intensity of the storm has caused more damage than the 1974 storms, which at the time resulted in a turning point for coastal management with peak investment in coastal research and engineering. Because the politicians of the day knew they couldn’t continue to let developers develop in coastal hazard zones and they needed answers to their coastal problems. But over the years, the lack of storms has made some decision makers forget that we do get bad beach days, and when they are bad, they can get worse and turn into coastal nightmares.

However, for better or for worse we continue to love the coast and want to live so close, sometimes too close. Goodness knows why, other than uninterrupted views and an endless horizon to stare at, and then the sunsets and sunrises.

Would you redevelop along the beachfront if you lost almost everything, including your pool, mother’s ashes and dream of living along some of Sydney’s best beachfront real estate? I am not in that position so I don’t know. All I know is that I almost forgot about the storm and felt bad immediately when I posted an Instagram pic on Sunday, quoting “what storm?” – because it was a damn good beach day on Sunday. How could I have forgotten that my beach looked incredibly different only the day before…

In the meantime, new footage of Collaroy is coming in and it’s scary stuff. Powerlines, wheelie bins, pathways, and other debris now blankets a once already coastal-squeezed beach. The beach is gone for now and it will come back, but we must not forget ‘30 years of doing nothing’ is not a good place to stand. Fortunately, the coastal experts and advocates of NSW finally convinced their State Government to fund $83million to beef-up their new coastal management act only weeks ago. It’ll be interesting to see how that funding is now directed, hopefully not splurged on the clean up, but instead some good adaptation measures to help mitigate future impacts.

So, what about Queensland? It is left to coastal councils to fund coastal management and where I live, the Gold Coast, we have a mandate to do something. Standing on the edge of an eroding dune wondering what to do next is not the place we want to be in – some might say we still do, where is the local law on seawalls beachfront owners want? But since ex TC Oswald decision-makers have become ‘more’ comfortable to make decisions. Now we need real decisions to sink more funding into coastal research and management, because the more we know, the more we can do.

I literally just got a call from a local journalist from the my local paper asking me what I thought about Palm Beach on the Gold Coast – one of the Gold Coast’s most exposed vulnerable strips of beachfront development, not as bad as Collaroy but it could be comparable if we didn’t mandate seawalls. But now we have seawalls, we have little to no dunes and now we need an artificial reef. It’s the coastal conundrum my NSW counterparts and their communities want to avoid.

“Should the Palm Beach artificial reef be built?”, the journalist asked.

“Yes”, I simply replied.

Why? We need to get off the fence and make some real decisions and sink some real cash into coastal management. Because the $300 million of  insurance claims so far from this storm clearly outweighs the $20million or so needed to build the reef. And, at the same time encourage all beachfront residents to ensure they have a certified seawall, perhaps an incentive scheme to shore-up and protect public and private assets. And, to stop irresponsible development along the beachfront, from the contested Oceanway to highrises and concrete promenades. And, to get local, State and Federal governments to unite and move forward on a long awaited National Coastal Policy.

We need every grain of sand to help build up the beach and dunes because you never know when your beach might turn into a Collaroy nightmare.

These are my thoughts and my thoughts only with the objective to stimulate discussion. They do not reflect professional associations and positions I may hold.

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