Sea rise threatens Australia 'paradise'

2012-07-27 13:48

Old Bar - When Elaine Pearce left Sydney for the seaside peace of Old Bar 12 years ago she was assured her new house was a solid investment, with a century's worth of frontage to guard against erosion.

But three neighbours have already lost their homes to the rising ocean and there are scores more at risk as roaring seas batter the idyllic beachside town, ploughing through 40m of fore dune in just eight years.

"I wanted water frontage, and frontage I'm going to get," Pearce joked.

Property values have dived along her once exclusive cul-de-sac, with homes once worth A$1.5m or A$2m ($1.5m or $2m) now abandoned and offered for A$300 000. Weathered "For Sale" signs dot the sidewalk.

Insurers will not cover homes for erosion and long-time local resident Allan Willan said the banks were even struggling to sell off the land on which the repossessed homes stand.

Worst erosion sites

"They can't even give it away," said Willan, who estimates that another 5m of frontage could "easily" be lost in the next storm period.

"If it continues at this rate in seven years it's going to be at the front door."

Old Bar is the most rapidly eroding and at-risk piece of coast in populous New South Wales state, losing an average 1m of seafront every year and far outstripping other areas in terms of property at risk.

Andrew Short, director of Sydney University's coastal studies unit and a government planning advisor, said the 4 000-person town was among the worst erosion sites in Australia, with huge volumes of sand routinely lost in storms.

Currently there are 14 similar "hot-spots" along the densely populated NSW coast - a region home to some 5.8 million Australians - with about 100 properties at risk.

But Short said "many hundreds of properties, if not thousands" would be at risk in the next 50 - 100 years as sea levels rise due to climate change, with planning authorities factoring in a one-metre increase over the next century.

Australia's government estimates that more than A$226bn in commercial, industrial and residential property and road and rail infrastructure is at risk from erosion and inundation by 2100.

Storm surges

That forecast includes 274 000 homes.

Old Bar has been in the grip of an unprecedented storm period, in terms of both frequency and strength, and University of New South Wales oceanographer Matthew England said it was a trend likely to intensify.

"The sea level rise is one thing, but we're expecting storms to become more intense and storm surges are what really hits these low-lying coastal communities," said England.

England said a 1m sea level rise could "really quickly" become 4m during a wild weather event, bringing "a really incredible rise of water right up the coast that just can do huge amounts of damage".

Even with a 50cm sea-level rise the government has warned that severe weather events currently considered to be once in a century, such as the major flooding of Brisbane in 2010, would happen several times a year by 2100.

More than 30 people died and tens of thousands of homes were swamped in the floods that swept across northern Australia and peaked in Brisbane, forcing Australia's third-largest city to a standstill for several days.

Major cities were expected to face profound challenges from erosion and inundation, with the government warning in a 2009 report that Sydney's airport faced closure in the next 100 years due to its low-lying waterfront location.


Ports, hospitals, power stations and other critical infrastructure were also deemed to be at risk.

Short said the issue was at a "tipping point" in the public's consciousness, with new local planning guidelines showing future sea level projections and requiring people to take measures such as elevating their property.

In the longer term, authorities faced a mammoth task to counter the problem, with roads, drainage systems and other infrastructure also needing lifting, he added.

England said Australia "certainly stands to be hit with massive increased costs" from sea level rise, with 85% of its population living near the coast and insurance and liability battles already looming in the courts.

"We've seen some properties already across the New South Wales coast being devalued by as much as 50% because of their vulnerability to storm surges," he said.

"And we're only at the very start of the projected trend from human-induced climate change."

The residents of Old Bar are banking on a government lifeline to help them build a A$10m artificial reef offshore to protect their dwindling beach.

For her part, Pearce has little doubt about the cause: "Climate change. It's worldwide, isn't it?"

  • robin.stobbs.9 - 2012-07-27 14:48

    Something doesn't add up here! 'What is most interesting in the paper by Dutton & Lambeck is that under conditions very close to today's the seas were much higher. This, of course, implies that there would be nothing unnatural or unprecedented about the oceans rising several meters before the climate begins its long, slow slide back into glacial continuations'. Nils-Axel Mörner, the world's top sea level scientist, has written extensively on how sea levels are not increasing at any significant rate and, indeed, in many instances it is sinking land and not rising sea that leads to shoreline problems. Sea levels are indeed rising but by a matter of a few centimetres per century - one can experience far more "sea level rise" in just a mild storm! And BTW, Brisbane's problems in 2010 were the result of RAIN, not changing sea levels!!

      ernst.j.joubert - 2012-07-27 15:42

      @Robin: Please see: 1) Nils-Axel Mörner is wrong about sea level rise.

      ernst.j.joubert - 2012-07-27 15:48

      @Robin: Maybe you would also like to see the following: In 2004 Mörner misrepresented his professional position in a presentation to the Russian Academy of Sciences: "It has come to my attention that Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner gave presentations at the seminar on climate change organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences at the request of President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. Dr. Mörner attacked the science of climate change, while claiming that he is President of the Commission on Sea Level Change of INQUA. I am writing to inform you that Dr. Mörner has misrepresented his position with INQUA. Dr. Mörner was President of the Commission on Sea Level Change until July 2003, but the commission........" Read more at:

      robin.stobbs.9 - 2012-07-27 16:23

      @Ernst: So that seems to put him in the same boat as Michael Mann, James Hansen et al doesn't it? So it all boils down to the fact that nobody seems to know what they're talking about, especially as even the IPCC has started to retract many of it's alarmist statements!

      ernst.j.joubert - 2012-07-28 11:27

      @Robin: Robin, Michael mann et al are some of the worlds top climate scientists and they have been vindicated by 9 independent academic investigations. In a nutshell: Climategate is a fake scandal and smear campaign that was conducted by special interest groups to attack and intimidate scientists for speaking the truth and to delay action on manmade global warming.

      robin.stobbs.9 - 2012-07-28 13:54

      @Ernst - I'm about to die laughing at your naivete! You might try reading: “The Hockey Stick Illusion” by Montford and”Climategate” by Brian Sussman. And while you’re about it try these (a quick ‘grab’ from my database: See also: “Taken by Storm: the troubled science, policy and politics of global warming” by Christopher Essex and Ross McKitrick, and “Unstoppable Global Warming” by Fred Singer and Dennis Avery. Mann has certainly not been exonerated other than by his cronies!

      ernst.j.joubert - 2012-07-30 10:58

      @Robin: Robin, spreading misinformation (based on discredited arguments and scientists) just so that you can feel better about yourself only serves your delusions. You read only what you want to hear and you block everything else out. Not very scientific is it. Michael mann has been vindicted by 9 inedependent investigations. See below links. and as far as Singer is concerned:

  • david.t.apel.1 - 2012-07-27 16:07

    Stop building your houses on sand dunes close to the ocean front, ruining all chances of vegetation stabilising the ground..its as simple as that

      robin.stobbs.9 - 2012-07-27 16:54

      Right! The Old Bar region is a shallow sandy slope coast so one should expect periodic erosion - just as they might also further south at Collaroy and Narrabeen. The same happens here at places along the Natal coast, East Cape (Cannon Rocks) or Port Elizabeth where the sea removes millions of cubic metres of sand but eventually brings it all back again (sometimes with added interest!)

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