WA coastal erosion study puts focus on climate emergency

Image shows a beach at Esperance, Western Australia

Erosion at 55 coastal locations across Western Australia will damage roads, buildings and other assets, and managed retreat may be required within 25 years, a new study has found.

Causes of erosion include man-made structures that change natural sand movements, and rising sea levels due to climate change, the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage report said.

The estimated cost of managing the 55 hotspots could add up to $110m over the next five years, with more money needed over the long term, said WA Premier, Mark McGowan.

He planned to raise erosion during the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Cairns today.

“This is not a problem exclusive to WA, it’s a national problem that needs a national response,” Premier McGowan said.

“Managing coastal erosion should not just fall onto the lap of Local and State Governments, especially given the negative impact climate change is having on our coastlines.

“The Commonwealth response to climate change needs to prioritise coastal action and I look forward to discussing this further with my Federal and State counterparts.”

Affected locations stretched from Esperance in southern WA to Broome in the northwest, with the most pressing being Port Beach and South Thomson’s Bay in Rottnest Island, which will need management within the next five years.

“Protection is currently the main strategy used by coastal managers to manage coastal erosion,” the study said.

“While this is expected to continue over the next five years, it is not always a complete solution due to erosion transfer and the potential loss of socio-economic values of the beach.

“Over the next five to 25 years, planned or managed retreat – which includes relocation of assets, removal of assets and landward movement of a reserve boundary – becomes a more important adaptation measure.”

The study’s recommended actions include that the State Government “provide integrated coastal planning and engineering support to local coastal managers”, the latter should prepare detailed Coastal Hazard Risk Management and Adaptation Plans for public and private assets.

Another recommendation is to “review and clarify management arrangements and responsibilities for all hotspots containing unallocated Crown land.”

Additional actions include reviewing the “demand for, cost and availability of, basic raw materials for coastal protection, including coarse sand for renourishment and rock for construction of erosion mitigation structures.”

The WA Government also announced $1.5m toward 39 coastal management and planning projects, including money for a groyne, replenishing sand, and a school program to rehabilitate land and stabilize sand dunes.

The WA Local Government Association said member Councils would welcome the State following their lead in committing to redress the effects of climate change.

“Our coastline is a national asset that drives our tourism economy and supports many businesses, as well as being a much-loved amenity for all Australians,” WALGA President, Cr Lynne Craigie, said.

“To lose our local beaches as they currently are would have a huge impact, not only on our individual lifestyles and the social and cultural impacts that would bring, but also to our economy and the tourist appeal that these iconic beaches provide.”

The new report will allow Councils to plan and act, Cr Craigie said, adding she was pleased the Premier confirmed all three levels of government shared responsibility for coastal management, and he would raise it at COAG.

While the WA Government’s $1.5m toward coastal management projects was welcomed, the study highlighted the need for funding commensurate with the risks being faced, which will mean far more money, Cr Craigie said.

“At a minimum, we need a detailed, agreed and consistent methodology to look at the economic impact of management options for each of these hotspot locations,” she said.

“Whether we like it or not, we are in a climate emergency.

“This report highlights the imperative for all levels of Government to work in partnership on planning for, and managing, our coast and Local Government looks forward to working with both the State and Commonwealth to agree an effective strategy with appropriate funding.”

Image: A beach in Esperance, Western Australia, one of 55 areas facing erosion. Credit: fctdolas/Wikipedia