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No eroding this beach town’s spirit.

The recession of Inverloch's shoreline has been rapidly eroding since 2013.

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Words: Joseph Carbone

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The Inverloch Coastal Resilience Project (ICRP) is a community volunteer group that has been monitoring and recording the significant erosion of Inverloch’s beach and sand dunes, reporting on which areas have been most affected by significant weather events and rising sea levels.

The ICRP is an offshoot of the larger South Gippsland Conservation Society (SGCS), and in the middle of the year published a report of their findings using data collected from August 2018 until June 2020. The report found that over 115,000 cubic metres of sand had been lost from the surf beach, and that much of the vegetated dune space between the beach and sections of the nearby roads had shrunk considerably.

By his own account, Philip Heath has been regularly visiting Inverloch with his family for the last twenty years. As is the same for countless beachgoers, Gippsland residents or not, Inverloch’s small-town charm and vibrant beach-loving community have been important staples of their holidaying lives. That’s why, when faced with the accelerated erosion along stretches of Inverloch’s beach, Philip felt compelled to act.

“I couldn’t stand by and watch without trying to make a contribution,” he tells me over the phone. Philip, who leads the ICRP’s small team, says that the project started in 2018, when it had become obvious that the surf beach was losing sand at an alarming rate.

“Forty metres of the width of the dunes had been washed away and infrastructure was threatened at the surf club and Cape Paterson road. There wasn’t enough being done by authorities and we wanted to raise awareness and figure out the values at risk due to the erosion.”

“I couldn’t stand by and watch without trying to make a contribution"

With assistance from the State Government under the Victorian Coastal Monitoring Program, and the assistance of researchers from Deakin and Melbourne University, the ICRP began drone and laser monitoring along the Inverloch shoreline.

Philip tells me that, while they’ve been monitoring for two years, “the actual erosion sequence has been going since 2013. So, [what’s in the August 2020 report] is in addition to what’s already been lost from the coastline.”

What’s even more worrying to Philip and the ICRP is that the rate of recession has been accelerating over time. This was a “surprise” to Philip and the team, and further highlighted the risk of losing the beach and the land beyond it.

When asked how long until we see damage to the area beyond the beach, Philip replies succinctly: “not long at all”. One of the most at-risk areas, he tells me, is near Wreck Creek, where “there’s only a metre between the creek and the ocean.”

He continues, “We’re very concerned that if that dune is washed away, it could lead to further accelerated erosion reaching Surf Parade and hitting at-risk properties within the next six months. We’ve been lucky that conditions this year haven’t been as damaging as in years past, but it’s a precarious situation.”

The dangers having become more apparent, Philip and the ICRP — in conjunction with Bass Coast Shire Council — began the process of installing protection works at vulnerable spots along the beach.

“The first installation was a ‘wet sand fence’ in front of the surf club and at Cape Paterson Road. [It’s] a timber picket fence which is installed into the sand and is designed to break up the energy of the waves as it hits the fence, protecting the coastline behind it by letting the sand deposit behind the fence. The first version of this was installed in early 2019, but proved not to be up to the task. A second, sturdier version was installed in October of this year and is still in place. Since then, a sandbag wall has been installed in front of the surf club and a rock wall at Cape Paterson road.”

He stresses that these installations (in addition to a process the ICRP has considered calling ‘dune renourishment,’ which involves importing sand back into the beach to protect the dunes from storm events), are only short-term fixes that will “hold the line” until further assessment is completed. Currently underway is a local coastal hazard assessment, which will help to indicate the best strategies for the protection of the beach moving forward. Philip mentions that artificial offshore reefs could be used to further break the energy of the waves hitting the beach, but that the findings of the hazard assessment are still some ways from being completed.

When asked about the impact of the pandemic on the ICRP’s plans for 2020, Philip says that the team “had to stop during the worst of COVID, but monitoring has still been going on... Also, due to the government’s preoccupation with the virus, it has been very difficult to get approvals through at the minute, but we’re very hopeful that it’ll get going soon. Information has been gathered and we’re hoping that the work we’ve done will be a significant factor in generating new government funding.”

“It really showed all of us how much the local community and visitors to Inverloch valued the natural dune setting of the beach."

But while the government may have been too preoccupied to continue assisting the ICRP, the local community was not. Philip, who lives in Melbourne, says he’s had a “team of spotters” who have regularly sent him photos of the beach.

In fact, the community support for the program has been a driving factor in Philip’s work with the ICRP. A successful exhibition in Inverloch in 2019 and a high response number to a community survey only further “highlighted the need for government and the council to continue consultation”.

“It really showed all of us how much the local community and visitors to Inverloch valued the natural dune setting of the beach. They were universally in support of future investigations in order to hang onto the dunes for as long as we can.”

A documentary was made in May of this year to demonstrate the reality of the situation and the work of the ICRP to a wider audience. Titled Coastline in Crisis: The Inverloch Coastal Resilience Project, it can be found on the SGCS’s YouTube channel. The documentary contains helpful interviews with team members and community representatives as well as graphics of the effect of storm events and the ICRP’s initial findings. And, if anyone wishes to read the latest report in its entirety or get up-to-date with conservation in the area, they should visit the SGCS website: www.sgcs.org.au.

To finish off our phone call, I ask Philip what it’s meant to him to be involved with the ICRP.

“It was heartbreaking to see the changes that were occurring,” he mentions. “So, it’s been very satisfying to be involved and see action get underway and create heightened awareness.

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