EROSION at Clarkes Beach in the past week has left sand dunes at risk of collapse. Byron Shire residents and visitors are being asked to stay away from the dunes. Director of infrastructure services, Phil Holloway, said the area has seen significant coastal erosion in the past week and could potentially collapse.
EROSION at Clarkes Beach in the past week has left sand dunes at risk of collapse. Byron Shire residents and visitors are being asked to stay away from the dunes. Director of infrastructure services, Phil Holloway, said the area has seen significant coastal erosion in the past week and could potentially collapse. Marc Stapelberg

Coastal dwellers 'not worried' about rising sea levels

HALF of NSW's coastal community think rising sea levels will not impact them directly, new data released by UNSW scientists shows - and 25 per cent of surveyed accommodation businesses situated close to the coast are unsure if sea level rise is even occurring.

The report described what the NSW community understands about coastal erosion and inundation, as well as the driving forces behind these hazards: sea level rise and severe coastal storms.

The My Coast NSW study took place in 2017 and 2018, surveying more than 1000 people from all over the NSW coast, across three main groups: Coastal Management Professionals (i.e. government, academics, researchers and engineers), General Coastal Users (a cross section of people who use the NSW coast), and Coastal Accommodation Businesses (owners, managers or employees of accommodation businesses situated close to the coast).

According to study author Anna Attard from UNSW Science, the survey showed that while 85 per cent of the surveyed General Coastal Users do think sea level rise is occurring, only 48 per cent of the survey participants think it will directly impact them.

"What we wanted to explore in this study was what coastal communities, people who use the coast to varying extents, think and know about the hazards of coastal erosion and coastal inundation and the driving forces of sea level rise and severe coastal storms. We wanted to know how these hazards are perceived in terms of peoples future usage of the coast. Rather than just looking at residents who live on the coast, we wanted the perspectives of all different types of coastal users," she said.

"So the rate of one in two thinking that sea level rise wont affect them is interesting, in that it shows that people may not consider the knock on effects of rising sea levels and how it will affect their coastal use."

Professor Rob Brander from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the NSW coastline is changing.

"Many locations along the NSW coast are seeing amenity loss and infrastructure damage associated with erosion and inundation - that is, the flooding of normally dry land by sea water, often caused by storms surges or king tides," he said.

"These storm events will continue in the future. Combined with anticipated sea level rise, they'll only enhance the extent and cost of coastal erosion damage and lead to greater inundation of coastal zones throughout NSW in the future, particularly in low-lying estuarine areas."

The researchers say people's understanding and perception of storms and sea level rise, and their associated impacts of erosion and inundation, can significantly influence how and whether they engage in coastal adaptation actions - often influencing the success or failure of those actions.

"That's why we wanted to find out what coastal communities understand and perceive about these hazards and how these hazards will affect their interactions with, and use of, the coast in the future," Ms Attard said .

"We think that's an important aspect of building community resiliency and preparedness to coastal erosion and inundation."