Time is Running Out for our Coastal Communities

Inverloch Beach (BCP)

In an article ‘Time is running out’ by Philip Heath published in the Bass Coast Post the dire predicament of the Inverloch surf beach was examined in detail. Heath claims that the “next few months are critical in the fight to save the Inverloch surf beach” and “at the current rate, the dunes will be gone in four years. Once the dunes are gone, we will lose the beach, as the dunes are a reserve supply of sand for the beach.”

Philip noted “Our research indicates the main contributing factors for the rapid changes are increases in the frequency and intensity of erosion-inducing storms and bigger ocean swells, combined with rising sea levels. Storms are now occurring so frequently that the dunes don’t have time to recover, as may have occurred previously. In addition, sand eroded from the surf beach has been pushed into Andersons Inlet, where it cannot assist with surf beach replenishment.”

And “These factors are very likely linked to climate change, which we expect will be confirmed by the current Victorian Government Coastal Hazard Assessment, due to report in early 2022. The Assessment is important work that will form the basis of a long-term adaptation strategy for Inverloch and adjoining sections of coastline. However, the report will not be released until at least the end of March 2022. Meanwhile, the surf beach dunes have eroded a further 10 metres since the announcement.”

Philip Heath is calling for a number of short-term solutions including “proposing dune renourishment over the Wreck Creek and Flat Rocks sections of coastline, importing a total of around 17,500 tonnes of sand to restore the dune profile to what existed in 2018. The renourishment needs to be completed in early 2022, before the onset of the autumn and winter.

I have a lot of sympathy with these proposals but recognise the conflict between short and long-term solutions. Inertia in the climate system means sea levels will continue rising for many years (see here and here). The rapid collapse of the ‘Doomsday’ glacier in Antarctica is predicted to give up to 60cm of sea level rise in a relatively short time. This spells disaster for coastal communities such as Inverloch and the energy expended (and money spent) on short-term solutions is probably wasted.

Philip Heath is aware of this conundrum and noted that over “the past decade, up to 70 metres of the vegetated dunes that existed behind the 2-kilometre-long Inverloch Surf Beach in 2012 have been swept away. This is the most rapid change recorded along the Victorian coastline in European historical times.” This almost certainly will be a continuing and worsening battle along our coasts. In the long-term, it will involve a retreat from the coast and in the case of Inverloch substantial property and infrastructure loss. Time has already run out for us to counter our rising seas.