Beach erosion making St Clair too dangerous

Beach erosion making St Clair too dangerous

Dunedin surfers and lifeguards are calling for urgent council action to save St Clair beach.

The call comes as the city prepares to host the National Surf Championships next week.

The problem is there's currently no beach to walk on.

It makes for a great photo opportunity but the crashing waves have made St Clair a dangerous proposition for surfers.

Mark Stevenson, a former president of South Coast Boardriders, says St Clair was probably New Zealand's most consistent wave.

"Now we can't surf it at high tide, it's just all backwash," he says. "It just pushes you up and just makes it unsurfable and dangerous."

Beach erosion has been a problem at St Clair for more than a century. Waves hitting the sea wall bounce off with more energy than those washing back from a regular beach.

"What is natural is sand coming and going," says Richard Egan of the St Clair Action Group. "But actually it's the human intervention that's exacerbated the sand going, and it's not coming back as much as it used to."

Mr Egan says the problems increased after the council rebuilt the sea wall and esplanade 12 years ago.

Extensions to the road, moving the wall further out to sea and filling in more than 30 metres of rock have all changed the way waves break.

"They encroached probably 12 or 13 metres further into the sea, so into the high tide mark," Mr Egan says. "That creates a huge amount of swell action directly up against the sea wall."

That created massive sinkholes along the esplanade in 2013, resulting in urgent remedial work by the council to shore up the sea wall.

The loss of the beach has forced surf lifesavers to move their patrolling area to a temporary location, away from the visibility of their actual clubhouse.

"Our ability to perform rescues – certainly the timeframe in terms of how quickly we can do that – has extended out," says St Clair Surf Lifesaving chairman James Coombes. "Particularly now with the current state of the beach, we actually have a lot of difficulty actually even launching the rescue boat."

More sand sausages are being installed to try and protect the dunes, but beach users say rather than wasting hundreds of thousands each year on temporary fixes, the council needs to work towards a long-term solution.

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