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Beach fill gone awry in Australia

January 27 2009 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

If you're more than a couple decades old and a surfer you have no doubt heard of Kirra. If you haven't heard of Kirra, it's on the east coast of Australia and was ground zero for some of the best barreling waves on the planet. I'll stop typing... watch the video.


One of Surfrider Australia's flagship campaigns this year is Bring Back Kirra. The local site is here. The simple action requested of you is to sign the petition here.

Here's the abbreviated version of this campaign.

50,000 foot level summary.
Beaches are the natural border between land and oceans. Like all things in nature, they change with the seasons and over time. They grow as sand accumulates and recede as sand gets pulled away. Once you add coastal development into this natural mix things get screwy... this is exacerbated over time as more structures challenge nature's ebb and flow.

The wave at Kirra, like Pipeline in Oahu, Rincon in Santa Barbara and so many other famed waves, was a natural wonder. It combined a natural reef with natural sand flow. In the 1960s the first seawall was built and started the eventual decline and loss of this wave.

What are the issues?
A local river's entrance was seawalled in the 60s blocking the sand from flowing into Coolangatta Bay.

Storms amplified the issues and erosion set in. Enter "beach management" (also called "beach nourishment" or "beach fill"). The very idea of "managing" a beach seems like a fruitless effort. Nature can not be "managed". Watch the news, we don't manage nature well... anywhere on the planet. It's not because we're not smart, it's because nature can't be managed by man.

Beach management plans started, and as is usually the case, it's easy to declare victory in the short term. Even sandcastles look beautiful with a short term perspective, then the tide comes in.

Sand was pumped into the areas that had eroded, beaches grew and in this case even connected a number of breaks at Kirra and created "Superbank." I've included a photo of Superbank to the right. It illustrates how too much sand connected a number of previously seperate breaks. Superbank was, by most counts, an amazing wave... for the short lifespan it existed. The challenge with this wave was that it was a man-made, created by pumping sand from one place to another. As I mentioned above, it's hard to put ourselves into the place of "managing nature." After a few years, a tiny amount of time on a geologic watch, Superbank became Superbeach... the wave was gone and a massive beach formed over the initial reef which caused Kirra to break.

The "Bring Back Kirra" campaign is a campaign to, literally, try and bring back the famed wave of Kirra.

This will be a challenge due to the fact that the cat is out of the bag, sea walls and other permanent structures have made this... challenging. Add to this mix the fact that the Tweed River where this issue can be rectified is the border between two different jurisdictions, further complicating solutions.

What can you do?

A. Sign the petition to build international recognition regarding this issue.

B. Understand why Kirra was lost in the first place. When your local town talks about managing their beaches with "nourishment" and seawalls... a flag should be raised.

That flag should be Surfrider Foundation. It's much, much easier to protect an area from demise than trying to take permanent structures away or change government policies with the goal of returning to days gone by.

Go ahead, watch that video again.
Top photo: JOLI PHOTOS
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