Wooli Beach Coastwatcher Feb 2012

The sand beach and sand dune are a dynamic system that ultimately affords protection to the Wooli township. While the width of the beach is important for this protection from the effects of wave and tidal surge, the main structure affording protection is the dune itself. If the dune were to go, then beach front homes would be claimed by the sea, and the town subject to inundation as the sea breaks through and joins with the river. The beach is a mobile system that comes and goes with actions of the sea, and wind. Since we have limited ability to influence these natural events that affect the width of the beach, our measures must focus on the protection, stabilization, and regeneration of the dune.

Do readers realize the Clarence Valley Council (CVC) in 2005 adopted their “Dune Rehabilitation Plan” which outlined best practice of the day and contained all the working material for the protection of the dunal system at Wooli? If the Council had followed their own plan we would not be in the situation we are in today, with loss of at least three metres of dune top since 2009; nor would the Council have needed to push the doctrine of “Retreat”, as if to cover the sins of their own omissions and neglect. Copies of this management plan are available from roger@eyesight.net.au. Private individuals have made significant investments in Wooli property based on this and other accepted codes of responsible action by Councils to protect property; however, in the hands of the Clarence Valley Council, at best, beach front property owners faced neglect. Matters worsened considerably in 2010 with the promulgation by the Council of the “Retreat Policy”. When coupled with the Frank Sartor legislation (“Coastal Protection and other Legislation Amendment “), property owners were faced with their properties being condemned, as has happened at Taree Old Bar, and as the Byron Shire Council is currently attempting to do at Belongil Beach. The Sartor legislation remains on the books, and has not been undone by the new State Government who despite their pre election assurances now with their “committee approach” seem to be vacillating on the subject of protection for coastal communities.

Some newsy items:

The floods of Christmas 2010 brought deposition of logs and other material (even a dead cow!) onto the Wooli Beach; this material was bulldozed up towards the base of the dune, without any movement of sand (another lost opportunity by CVC as this material could have been used as the foundation of a new fore dune, then covered with sand). Where this material remains (unfortunately much has been removed to for bonfires) there has been further aggregation of sand and support for dune vegetation. As well, bulk physical material may impede erosion of the base of the dune, the critical area, in the event of storm-tidal surge as happened in March, 2008 when at least 3 meters was lost from the top of the dune. It has been a blessing for Wooli beach that this material arrived when it did. As previously noted, far more money has been spent inland dealing with the aftermath of these and recent severe floods, than has ever been spent to assist repair of the dunes at Wooli. This point should be appreciated by those city and inland taxpayers who do not want to contribute to repairs at Wooli; the rates system is not by location, it is “all in” and Wooli rate payers all contributed to saving Grafton.

Recently repaired access
Recently repaired access

On Tuesday, January 11, 2012, a tracked front loader-excavator vehicle was on the beach for about 5 hours; some repair works were undertaken to two beach accesses, with pushing up and packing of sand. Beach scraping was undertaken and by all accounts, the driver did a neat job with minimal impact on the level of the beach. Apparently this was in response to letters of complaint to CVC. Photo shows  an area of repair, without sand bag reinforcement. Unfortunately, other areas of sand bag access were not fixed, although CVC has been asked to do this. With a rough guesstimate of costs, 5 hours plus travel time, half the cost was involved in just getting the equipment here, when a more thorough job is needed. We are however fortunate that some works have been undertaken, and there is now clear precedent for putting mechanized scrapers on the beach. The community can see the benefit of sand works with safer beach access, as well as the role of sand relocation to preserve and protect the main dune. The works areas shown do have bare sand, which needs to be planted and stabilized so it does not blow away.

Wooli beach sandbag access needing maintenance
Sandbag access needing maintenance

I would like to share some further observations and thoughts:

Walking along the beach one can see different areas of dune topography and vegetation cover. South of the houses there is a lower dune that is generally well covered with Spinfex grass, and other natives, which in turn are travelling seaward along the beach, and thereby helping to aggregate blown sand, which in turn will create a stringy buffer to wave and tidal surge. Walking northward, in front of the houses, it is another story: there is much variation in dune “health”. Photographs taken January, 22, 2012.

Mixed vegetation with Bitou on right and plant rubbish on left. Healthy dunegrass foreground

Bitou bush. There are numerous areas of Bitou Bush Chrysanthemoides. monilifera ssp. rotundata. Bitou is a fast growing plant introduced from South Africa which overtakes our native dune plants. Native plants are considered to have greater sand retention properties, and for this reason there is a coast-wide campaign to control bitou bush. The Byron Shire Council has undertaken to spray dune areas from helicopters with the plant poison Glycosate, overriding the objections of its citizens who do not want to be contaminated with a toxic chemical. In 2010, I attended a public meeting in Byron to protest Heli-spraying. Volunteer Dune Care workers have now got stuck in and along several beach areas are pulling out the Bitou by hand. In areas where the bitou has been sprayed, dead zones result. Sand can easily be blown away from these dead zones. And, based on experience at New Brighton, NSW, the killing of Bitou with Glycosate herbicide, leads to death of other plants due to persisting action by herbicide residual in the sand/soil. Best management, as practiced by Wooli Dune Care, requires hand pulling of Bitou, and replacement with natives, done as a gradual replacement process.

Deposition of rubbish, garden clippings, palm fronds, and so on is advocated by some as a long established practice to stop the sand blowing away. We need to have a re think about this. The best way to stop sand from blowing away is to have vigorous growth of native plants. Residents are asked not to dump stuff on the dune face, and where this has occured, to undertake plantings, using the material as shelter while the plants get established.

Wooli Beach Early stage planting Pigface
Early stage planting Pigface

Plantings. A key focus of Dune Care activities is the planting of native plants to help stabilize and grow the dunes. All residents are reminded that CVC has funded via DuneCare native plants which can be obtain from Minnie Waters Nursery, phone: (02) 6649 7993. I strongly suggest you take the opportunity to speak with Mr. Dennis Milne, for information and guidance on plantings. Mr. Milne is a truly dedicated man; it is worth the trip up there if only to make his acquaintance. This is a fantastic initiative and should be well supported by all residents. Get your free allocation, then tip in and buy some more to support a good cause. The key plants are: beach grasses, Kangaroo grass, Themeda triandra, and Spinifex sericeus for the flat areas at the base of the dune and onto the beach; Sesuvium portulaca-astium where the dune face starts to curve up; and Pigface, Carpobrotus glaucescens, into the face of the dune. See photo of plantings undertaken under the auspices of Dune Care, which show new plants nestled in pockets in the existing old cuttings for protection while they get established. As they grow up, the dead cuttings will be removed. Pandanus may have a role down on the beach, but I am not sure what the experts think about this. I have established a Pandanus nursery at New Brighton and would be pleased to provide baby plants in pots at no charge, just return the pot so I can grow more from seed. (Please contact me via: roger@eyesight.net.au ). Native wattle is recommended for dune top as an alternative to Bitou, and will grow to a height of up to one metre when exposed to prevailing winds, so dune top residents can be reassured that these plants they will not detract from their dune top views. Trees such as Shioke, planted into the dune face, are not as effective as ground clinging plants; indeed, when they are eroded, their shallow root system can pull away the dune as the weight of the tree topples it over; there is a concentration of these trees on the dune in front of the School where interestingly, there is remarkably little in the way of incipient dune build up. The dune face in front of the school appears to have more of a vertical configuration, and thus is probably at more risk of collapse than other areas.

Wooli beach sand fence after one year
Sand fence after one year

Sand fences. Photos show sand aggregation from sand fences. Dune Care is now on its “third generation” fence with serial improvements to design and construction. Special acknowledgement to CVC for making funds available for materials, and great work by our hardy band of Dune Care volunteers. As the workers will confirm, a cold beer tastes even better when it is enjoyed immediately after building a new sand fence! A key design feature is the gauge of mesh, large enough to let the wind through, but small enough that precious grains of sand, are stopped in flight, and drop to the base of the fence. Sand fences built just over one year ago are nearly buried, so at least a metre of sand has built up; and recent work pre Christmas 2011 along the southern beach already shows sand accumulation. The fences appear to capture sand blown from both a northerly and southerly direction. Plantings of Spinifex grasses further compound the positive benefits of sand aggregation. Some people say that due to climate change waterfront properties are doomed; but sand accumulation does help to provide a “Sand Bank” that will lessen the effects of storm and tidal surge, which is the real problem we have seen at Wooli over many years. Then effects of putative sea level rise are not only hard to quantify, but probably at the present time of lesser significance to Wooli Beach. Other methods of sand banking are being explored, to create a buffer between the ocean and the base of the dune. Protect the base of the dune, you will protect the whole dune, thus also protect the properties, and the town.

Sand fence constructed late 2011 showing sand buildup
Constructed late 2011; showing sand buildup

Dune base gutter. In some areas a dune base gutter has formed. In the event of waves reaching the dune toe, these gutters would channel water along the base of the dune, scour out the base of the dune, and lead to dune fall in as the vertical dune re shapes to a graded contour of some 30 degrees.Some form of filler/buffer is needed here; perhaps sand bags placed along the dune base as a back stop measure, then covered with sand, and where there is bare sand, planting over the top. Again the role and value of plantings to stabilize sand as crucial to the whole process of dune refurbishment and stabilization. More work is needed in this critical area of dune toe reinforcement.

 Vehicular access to the beach. Given the potentially unstable nature of the dunal system, I personally believe that recreational four wheel drive vehicles should not go onto the Wooli Beach, at least opposite the houses. Disregarding the Hoon element, the vehicle tracks can cut into the beach. I enjoy driving my old truck on the beach up to Sandon, part of the great Aussie experience, but there are no houses on that stretch of beach. For the fishermen, there are multiple walking access points to the beach opposite the houses and south towards the seaway. Could we call for a voluntary moratorium on driving on Wooli Beach? Although we are over signed, perhaps a suitably worded sign at the access roads, asking for consideration and voluntary limitation. Similarly, driving of vehicles along the dune top in front of the houses is to be discouraged.

Wooli Beach Shoreline looking north
Wooli Beach Shoreline looking north – note tyre tracks

As we come to appreciate the benefits of current efforts, we realize there is more still to be done,especially the construction of sand fences moving north along the beach, and planting of natives to stabilize the dune. I would propose a simple report card to beach front property owners, with recommendations on clearing of bitou, removal of rubbish, and appropriate plantings and will explore this with our local Dune Care organization. Thanks to everyones’ efforts including local residents, and Dune Care, with the support of CVC, we are certainly kicking some goals. Please get behind your Wooli Dune Care. Call Len 02 6649 7486 or see Bruce Bird at the Wooli Post Office, and join up.

Author: Dr Roger Welch

Print Friendly

Have your say!