Climate change leads to first management plan for Great Lakes coastline

One Mile and Burgess Beach. Photo courtesy of MidCoast Council. All of the beaches in the Great Lakes region have been labelled at high risk to erosion by 2100 following accepted climate change projections.

One Mile and Burgess Beach. Photo courtesy of MidCoast Council. All of the beaches in the Great Lakes region have been labelled at high risk to erosion by 2100 following accepted climate change projections.

If worst case scenario sea level rises move from projections into reality, up to 133 private homes and countless council owned assets across the Great Lakes will be at high risk of erosion or wave run-up by the year 2100.

The projections include globally accepted sea level rises of almost a metre by the year 2100 and an increasing number of severe storm events – all leading to proactive planning by councils along the coast.

In a local first, the projections and subsequent management options and plans are currently sitting before the NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes. The document formalising how we manage our coastline in the Great Lakes in response to global warming is awaiting final approval. 

Related content: Expert gives plan thumbs up

MidCoast Council’s Engineering and Infrastructure director Ron Hartley said staff worked with the Office of Environment and Heritage to finalise the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) now before the minister.

“It sets out specifically what council’s view of the coastal situation is. It enables what steps are needed for council to manage the coastal risk now and into the future,” he said, emphasising the risks were based on projections rather than predictions. 

“It projects our current knowledge into the future but it doesn’t predict that it will definitely happen.”

The CZMP outlines actions for the next five to 10 years for areas identified as coastal risks and cites 200 online public submissions and a further 65 submissions.

Assets have been identified at Extreme or High Risk from Coastal Erosion or Recession, and include anything from beach access, car parks, reserves, stormwater or sewerage drains, to surf clubs and homes. Implications could include development controls such as using piers or relocatable buildings, beach nourishment, seawall construction (with nourishment); or accepting impacts, involving the purchase of private properties, relocation of public assets (roads, stormwater,sewer, water) and accepting impacts (loss) of public foreshore land.

Or a combination of any of the above.

All of the beaches in the Great Lakes region have been labelled at high risk to erosion.

“That doesn’t mean that assets will be inundated, It just means that beaches will be subject to erosion,” clarified Mr Hartley, citing the example of Tuncurry Beach.

"There’s no private infrastructure in the coastal area there, so it means development would be prevented from occurring within that development area. The plan provides a planning framework.”

Pacific Palms to Seal Rocks Coast. Photo courtesy of MidCoast Council.

Pacific Palms to Seal Rocks Coast. Photo courtesy of MidCoast Council.

Using existing research (some hotly contested, such as for Boomerang and Blueys Beaches), by the year 2100, local private homes at risk from either erosion or wave run-up will have risen from 65 (today) to 133, across Blueys Beach, Forster Main Beach and One Mile. Jimmys Beach, Wallis Lake, Myall Lakes and Smiths Lake are not included in this plan. 

The plan notes that in many existing assets may not be at risk until well into the future and monitoring to record the response of beaches to storms may be all that is necessary for now.

It advises avoiding the costly and disruptive impacts on major public assets such as stormwater pipes or roads by flagging what’s at risk and how to manage it taking into account the costs so that the plan can be activated when the asset is being replaced.

Trigger points are also outlined to warn if a coastal risk begins to threaten before the item is due to be replaced.There are generally two approaches, either to “accept” the impact and loss of land or “protect” the asset at risk, with beach nourishment, seawalls or other structures. This will be determined with community consultation.

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