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Climate damage starting to hit us where it hurts – on the beach

At nearby Anderson Inlet, also in Inverloch, the coastline has crept landwards by about 85 metres between 2006 and 2020.

Bass Coast Shire Council is part of a coalition of local councils in Melbourne’s south-east and regional areas urging the state government to take stronger action on climate action and sea level rise after experiencing significant erosion and storm damage.

Erosion next to the Kilcunda rail trail bike path

Erosion next to the Kilcunda rail trail bike path

All this upheaval is expensive. In this financial year, Bass Coast Shire Council will spend $100,000 and pour 3000 cubic metres of sand onto a single area of beach at Inverloch. Next year, they’re budgeting for 4000 cubic metres.

And this is not limited to Inverloch, says the council, which is calling for greater state and federal support.

In a single year the coastline in front of the popular rail trail at Kilcunda, about 25 kilometres from Inverloch, has moved landwards by 14 metres, and the council has had to temporarily relocate this section of the trail further inland.

At Cowes East, on Phillip Island’s north shore, the sea has been kept at bay by regular top-ups of sand.

This year the council will build a 300-metre rock wall and eight timber barriers to secure the shoreline.

It has contributed $1.7 million and secured federal funding of $1.1 million, but it’s still about $1.6 million short and wants the state government to step in.

Simon Woodland, Bass Council’s manager for sustainable environment, says the area’s 40 kilometres of sandy coastline have always been dynamic, but climate change is ratcheting up the storm intensity that drives sand movement and the baseline sea level that underpins it.

“We often talk about climate change in terms of impacts on future generations but what we need to get our heads around is that we are the future generations, dealing with the consequences of decisions that were made for us decades ago,” he said.

“We’ve developed to the coastline in so many places and local councils are on the front line, facing ever-escalating challenges with the least resources of any tier of government.”

The sea level is projected to rise about 24 centimetres across Victoria by the 2050s. Geomorphologist David Kennedy, from the University of Melbourne, says climate change is also causing more intense storms, ocean surges and wind.

Victoria has also experienced a change in wind direction, meaning waves are, on average, travelling 2 or 3 degrees in a more westerly direction, which is starting to shift the sand on the state’s beaches, he says.

Planning for sea level rise needs an integrated, statewide approach or Victoria will end up with a highly-engineered coastline like Japan, Associate Professor Kennedy says. “We live in a dynamic zone, and it will become more dynamic in the future.”

Erosion at Cowes East

Erosion at Cowes East

Bayside, which takes in Black Rock, Hampton and Sandringham, has one of the more thorough plans for addressing climate change. It plans to build a sea wall at Brighton and use fencing, sandbags and path closures to address erosion along its coastline, including protecting its iconic beachboxes.

“In the absence of broader leadership, councils, and the communities they represent, are at the frontline of dealing with climate change impacts,” says Bayside mayor Laurence Evans.

Mr Woodland says coastal councils across Victoria will be forced to have difficult conversations with residents about which developments are “defendable” against inevitable sea level change over decades.

“A lot of focus goes to protecting the built assets like roads and buildings behind the foreshore, but the foreshore itself holds all sorts of values, from wildlife habitat to culturally significant sites that date back thousands of years.”

A spokesperson for the Victorian government said it had invested more than $60 million in marine and coastal projects since 2014.

“We continue to work with local councils on coastal adaptation plans which help protect Crown land and critical infrastructure from the impacts of storm surge, wave attack and rising sea levels.”

The state government is developing a Cape to Cape Resilience Project, which will study the impact of rising sea levels and changing wind and wave climates on the coastal area between Cape Paterson and Cape Liptrap.

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