Stockton beach disappearing
MILLIONS of tonnes of sand have been stripped from the Hunter’s iconic Stockton Beach in recent months resulting in the most dramatic change to its shape in four decades.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service is considering introducing camping restrictions over summer to protect visitors from high tides that now reach several hundred metres into the rear dune area.
A barrage of fierce storms since June has destroyed most of the frontal dune on the 22 kilometre beach that stretches from Stockton to Birubi.
‘‘The beach is lower and steeper now,’’ National Parks and Wildlife Service regional manager Robert Quirk said yesterday.
‘‘The fundamental change for people driving on the beach is that for two hours either side of high tide you can’t traverse the beach. So when we get the king tides in summer it’s going to be really challenging.’’
The southerly that hit the beach in June is estimated to have done equivalent damage to the beach as the famous 1974 Sygna storm.
Several follow-ups have prevented the beach from rebuilding itself.
‘‘We were really lucky in the June storm because no one was camped on the beach. One of the hut owners in Tin City actually woke up with the waves breaking on his hut,’’ Mr Quirk said.
He said access to camping areas, which are presently closed, was under review for the summer holiday period. ‘‘Last weekend it was a 3 metre sea on a 1.6 metre tide and it broke through the frontal dune in about 25 places, he said.
‘‘They are all the places where more recently people have had tents pitched.’’
The storms have also exposed a large area of remnant soil containing Aboriginal cultural material.
National Parks and Wildlife Service officers are working with Worimi Aboriginal owners and archaeologists to protect the sites.
University of NSW coastal geomorphologist Dr Rob Brander said the Stockton Beach erosion was symptomatic of La Nina, which has been the dominant weather cycle for the past five years.
‘‘When you have the frequency of storms we have had in the last few years it [erosion] just gets exacerbated,’’ he said.
‘‘We are entering into a El Nino event where we tend to get less storms and beaches tend to enter into a recovery phase.’’
Dr Brander said the breakwalls on either side of the entrance to the Hunter River had made Stockton particularly susceptible to erosion.
‘‘Stockton has suffered because of the large trading walls coming out of the Hunter River,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s a reason why Nobbys Beach exists; all of that sand should have been heading up the coast.’’