Popular Adelaide beach disappearing under review tide

Sand is rapidly disappearing from popular Henley Beach as a government review stalls replenishment action, with Henley Surf Life Saving Club forced to shovel sand to safely drive rescue vehicles across its access ramp.

Feb 23, 2023, updated Feb 23, 2023
Sand is rapidly being washed away at Henley Beach. Photo: Tony Lewis

Sand is rapidly being washed away at Henley Beach. Photo: Tony Lewis

Numerous access staircases were closed last year as sand fell away to create a dangerous drop from bottom steps, while some days there is no beach left in some sections for walkers or dogs.

Henley Surf Life Saving Club vice president Lennie Hitch said some life members have never seen their beachfront so depleted, with sand washed away from the sea wall now exposing the old Henley pool’s footings and blue paint.

“This year there has been tremendous erosion of the sand out the front of the Henley Surf Life Saving Club, to the point that the ramp we use to get emergency vehicles on to the beach often has a deep drop at the end of it that our volunteers physically need to fill in,” Hitch said.

“Besides not being able to easily patrol the beach, the lack of sand has also exposed the old footing of the ocean pool that was beside the club, posing a danger to people walking along the beach as well as our Nippers who train there.”

When the State Government was elected last year it scrapped a $38.9 million sand replenishment pipeline plan designed to return long-shore sand drift from northern beaches like Semaphore and Largs Bay, back to Henley Beach South, Henley Beach and West Beach.

Port Adelaide MP and Environment Minister Susan Close declared a conflict of interest after a new scientific review of options was announced, and the review is now being overseen by Attorney-General Kyam Maher.

Hitch called for urgent action to replenish sand while the review is underway, fearing the stretch of beach could be lost.

“We are worried that if no sand replenishment happens while we await the outcome of yet another review into the problem then the beach, which is now unusable at normal high tides, will totally disappear over the coming winter,” Hitch said.

“The lack of sand isn’t an environmental problem. It stems from the boat ramps and breakwaters built to the south of us that interrupt the natural flow of water.

“This is an engineered problem that can’t be rectified, it can only be managed by replenishing sand along the coast north of Glenelg, like they do on the beaches to the south of Glenelg.”

Decades of reviews have been conducted about the drift of sand at Adelaide beaches, with an underground pipeline operating since 2013 between Kingston Park and Glenelg to recycle sand to rebuild southern Adelaide beaches and dunes.

Charles Sturt ward councillor and local resident Kenzie van den Nieuwelaar said a groundswell of concerned locals are calling on the State Government to take urgent action as it conducts “yet another review that could mean two years until something happens”.

She said some days there is barely any dry beach for “morning walkers (or dogs) to enjoy” and this “is a moment in time that if we don’t do something now it’s going to be too late”.

Some days there is barely enough beach sand left for walkers and dogs. Photo: Kenzie van den Nieuwelaar

“Just do something, do something in the meantime… in the absence of a long-term solution we need short-term replenishment and nourishment,” she said.

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“We have a lot of passionate, concerned, knowledgeable people living down here who are seeing what’s happening,” van den Nieuwelaar said, adding that she has lived in the area for 30 years and never seen the beach so depleted.

Colton Liberal MP Matt Cowdrey has more than 1000 signatures on a petition calling for immediate action to “rectify the unsafe access issues at Henley South and Henley Beach, and to outline and fund a long-term plan for beach management”.

He said a pipeline to deliver a slurry of sand to depleted beaches worked at Noosa and the Gold Coast in Queensland and there was previously a funded plan to install the same to rectify the current problem by the former Liberal Government.

“This issue has been going on for nearly 20 years, we’ve had review after review after review, there was a solution in place,” Cowdrey said, adding that the problem was again in limbo and he is not wedded to a particular solution.

“If it isn’t dealt with it is going to get worse, and worse quickly.

“It’s not just the impact it will have on local residents it’s the economic impact on that stretch of beach on local traders on one of our most popular beaches.”

Department for Environment and Water Coast and Marine Manager Murray Townsend said the State Government’s autumn beach replenishment program will include Henley Beach and that “numerous minor storms during winter took sand off Henley Beach. Some of that sand returned from the nearshore sand bars over summer”.

“The SA Government has committed to matching the rate of sand drift from West Beach while the independent review of Adelaide’s managed beaches is conducted. This averages 100,000 cubic metres per year,” he said.

“The department replenished West Beach with 50,000 cubic metres of sand in spring 2022 and will add another 50,000 cubic metres in autumn 2023 to meet the commitment. This will happen during autumn to minimise disruption to beachgoers during the busy summer period and to nesting shorebirds at the Torrens Outlet.”

Henley Beach South last night. Photo: Ben Kelly

Townsend said the Independent Advisory Panel established in November last year has six members and met for the first time in December 2022, the scientific review is due to be completed by the end of 2023 and its recommendations sent to the Attorney-General for consideration.

The Coast Protection Board and South Australian Government have been actively managing Adelaide’s beaches, including replenishing areas with sand from other parts of the beach and external sources for 50 years, he said.

This has included trucking sand along the beach or via roads, or from other parts of the coastline, Townsend said, adding that structures have been built where replenishment would not manage the issue.

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