Friday, April 10, 2009

Environmental Impact at Coolangatta: Man Made vs Climate Change with Joel Parkinson.

Kirra Point is the northern limit of the fabled Coolangatta, Queensland's most southeastern town and the home of a long line of "Coolie" surfing legends such as Rabbit Bartholomew, Peter ‘PT’ Townsend, Michael ‘MP’ Peterson and the new Coolie Kids, Mick Fanning, Dean Morrison and Joel Parkinson.

On Australia’s National Day, January 26th 2009, more than 1500 surfers gathered for a protest paddle out. Their mission was to bring public awareness to the fact that the fabled Kirra Point had all but disappeared due to sand pumping from the mouth of the Tweed River just a few kilometers south.

The protesting surfers formed the outline of a map of Australia and drew media recognition from all around the world for their plight.

In days gone by a long lethal ribbon of sand was responsible for Kirra's supertube magic. Swells used to hit the sandbar at a 45-degree angle and suck their way with increasing intensity toward a small groyne off the Surf club and sometimes even past it.

When the sand was right it was literally sectionless, the barrel forming and reforming like some sort of incredible moving version of a wave machine. Large volumes of water ran down the outside rim of the sandbar, which made paddling back out a grueling proposition; many experienced Kirra surfers just got out of the water at a ride's finish and jogged back along the rim of the point to the jump-off point.

The loss of Kirra Point has been caused by an excessive build-up of sand that has been pumped and dredged into the Coolangatta Bay over the past 12 years. In this time there have been relatively low levels of storm activity and the sand has not naturally made its way north at the same speed at which it was placed in the bay.

An increase in the level of sand in the bay by 3–4 metres on average has resulted in a significant widening of the beaches, in some cases by over 150m, the loss of surf quality and an increase in rips

Currently the sand flow has moved slowly from Coolangatta Bay and into Kirra Beach, which now resembles a desert oasis and a 400-metre walk to the waters edge. After 6 years of sand pumping only 1/8 of the volume has moved north along Gold Coast beaches with the majority of sand volume lodged at Coolangatta and more so at Kirra and especially North Kirra. It’s the biggest pile-up of sand ever seen from Kirra to North Kirra, yet the sand continues to be pumped from the main outlet at Lovers Rock, Point Danger just north of D-bah beach.

This sand pumping issue is not one caused by Climate Change but a man made problem which current ASP world # 1 Joel Parkinson considers to be the main environmental issue facing his hometown beaches.

‘Sand pumping,’ says Joel, ‘they’re dammed if they do it and dammed if they don’t. We’ll never have Kirra and Snapper working at the same time while they continue to pump sand. Why are they even pumping sand?’ he asks.

The original reason sand pumping was put in place was to keep the Tweed River mouth clear of sand so that the local fishing fleet and pleasure craft could cross the sandbar safely. Despite nearly 12 years of dredging and pumping the bar has never been completely clear. Joel jokes that he saw Occy score one of the best barrels he’s ever seen ridden at the bar earlier this year.

Despite Parko considering the sand pumping as the major environmental threat to his surf breaks Climate Change has had an effect on the southern Gold Coast beaches. In late May this year a massive storm ripped apart the beaches causing some of the worst beach erosion in 40-50 years.

Gold Coast beaches from D-Bah in the south all the way to Surfers Paradise in the north suffered massive erosion. The ironic thing was that Kirra and Coolangatta had little damage and the massive sand build up from the sand pumping refused to budge. In the aftermath of the storm the local council used the Kirra sand to replenish some of the destroyed beaches.

‘It was cool they were able to use some of the excess sand to replenish the other beaches after that big storm hit, commented Parko, ‘… but I reckon at some stage they will run out of sand to pump.’

‘They’ve dumped a shit load of sand at D-bah and it hasn’t helped the erosion one little bit. It’s the worst I’ve seen it in all the time I’ve lived there.’

The May storm destroyed the bank at Snapper, exposing rocks and causing deep holes just off the beach.

‘There’s a hole the size of an Olympic swimming pool out the back of Snapper right now that will take a lot of sand to fill up,’ says Joel. ‘We wont even get Snapper back until that fills up. Climate Change is having a huge effect on our beaches and I don’t know what’s going to happen … they’re going to run out of sand to pump pretty soon. The beaches to the south of the sand pumping jetty are eroding too. What are they going to do? Pump sand south?’

As Joel said earlier there doesn’t seem to be one solution to the environmental damage being caused to the Coolangatta beaches. The authorities are dammed if the do pump sand or dammed if they don’t.

Parko reckons, ‘They just need to stop pumping for awhile and let nature settle things down, but we are either going to have Kirra or Snapper but we are never going to have both breaks at the same time.’

AS this piece was being written, during the Euro leg of the WCT world tour, Parko got news that, ‘The boys were scoring little low tide barrels behind the Rock at Snapper’. He just laughed when he heard the claim because he reckons it’ll take a long time before either bank, Kirra or Snapper is back to it’s best after the May storm.

Peter 'Joli" Wilson