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Award-winning dune recovery project enriches Byron Bay coastal environment

Coastal erosion has challenged the Byron Shire community for decades. Cyclones and east coast lows extensively damaged the coastline throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and in 2009. After a period of relative calm, coastal erosion on Clarkes and Main Beach in Byron Bay returned and continued to increase from 2019, with sand eroded from the beach and dune system. 

The effects of storm events and high tides were compounded due to a lack of sand moving around Cape Byron, causing ongoing erosion even during relatively normal conditions. In the short time between April 2020 and July 2021, the dune eroded at some locations up to 45 meters landward. This resulted in the loss of high-value dune vegetation, forming an unstable dune scarp and damaging beach accessways and infrastructure.

As there were significant volumes of sand lost from the dune system, natural recovery would have taken years, if not decades. To speed recovery, Byron Shire Council and the Department of Planning and Environment jointly funded the Main and Clarkes Beach Dune Recovery Project. The project was funded through the Climate Change Fund as part of the Coastal and Estuary Grants Program. 

Earthmoving machinery on sand dunes
Photo: Zoe Immisch

The project used soft dune construction and stabilisation techniques including 'beach scraping' and 'dune reprofiling' to accelerate beach recovery, to rebuild an incipient foredune and swale (the low-lying area between the dune crests). This created a low wind environment which acts as a natural sand trap and encourages dune vegetation to recolonise - stabilising the dune. Benefits of the project include reduction of erosion risk to land and vegetation, restored safe beach access, improved beach amenity, restoration of environmental values and protection of cultural heritage.

Chloe Dowsett, Byron Shire Council’s Coast and Biodiversity Coordinator explains that this sort of sand scraping mimics the work done by nature, but much more quickly. The impact on the dunes has been very positive, with native vegetation growing, wildlife returning, and the dune system continuing to rebuild.

The restoration techniques adopted by the project have been well recognised, with Byron Shire Council winning the Environmental Leadership award in the 2023 Local Government Professional awards. 

Earthmoving machinery on sand dunes
Photo: Zoe Immisch

The project’s success is attributed to extensive stakeholder engagement and the positive collaboration between Byron Shire Council, NSW Government agencies, Traditional Owners, and the broader community under the NSW Coastal Management Framework. Engaging and collaborating with land managers, Traditional Owners, public authorities, tourism operators and community groups allowed the team to identify effective project solutions and build trust and support for the project. This inclusive approach resulted in well-received dune restoration outcomes that benefit the environmental, social, and cultural values of the Byron Shire coastal zone.

Photo in header: Nearmap