Marine Matters – by Phil Coulthard
As featured in the South Western Times – 23/07/15
The impacts of storms along our coast can be devastating, especially at this time of the year when winter cold fronts combine with Antarctic swells, high tides and storm surges. Although we have yet to see a super cell smash the region, August and September always pose a significant threat and will likely deliver a few classic blows again this year. For those that live by the beach, the pre-storm preparation to secure outdoor furniture, windows and patio roofing may already be underway but for our unprotected foreshores and the wildlife that exist in and around them, the inevitable awaits. Areas that always seem to cop a battering include the dunes along Back Beach, the ‘Cut’, the Leschenault Peninsular and the ever popular Koombana Beach. Lacking any significant protection from storms and westerly swell, these stretches of our coastline continue to recede, exposing foreshore habitats as well as coastal infrastructure.
Koombana Beach in particular has seen a significant amount of dune degradation over the past few decades, especially along the eastern end from the Dolphin Discovery Centre out to Point Busaco. The loss of the dune habitat included a large number of trees and other vegetation that acted as a protective buffer for the adjacent infrastructure as well for the wildlife that lived there. The need to protect existing vegetation and reclaim lost sections of the coastal strip was recognized by the Southern Ports Authority and the construction of a 230m rock revetment wall and sand nourishment program was finally completed last week. The revetment wall and extension of beach right up to the Inner Harbour not only provides erosion protection to the Ports Lease Area and the remaining dune habitat, but also adds significant aesthetic value to an area that has high recreational and tourism value. The Port Authority, the Department of Transport and the City of Bunbury are now continuing to work together to expand their understanding of local foreshore erosion and establish a coastal management strategy that achieves an optimal outcome for both the short and long term.
The winter storms may also create problems for our marine life, destroying seagrass and reef habitats and washing ashore all kinds of marine fauna and flora. Beach walkers will often find a variety of animals either dead or stranded amongst the piles of seaweed lining our beaches and think nothing of it however a keen eye and a sense of marine stewardship could be enough to save some of our most endangered marine species. Loggerhead and Green Turtles for example will often find themselves caught up in winter storms. Although they are a tropical marine reptile, thousands of these little guys are carried south by the Leeuwin current and eventually wash ashore on our beaches cold, dehydrated and hungry with little to no hope of survival. Their only chance is to be transported to the rehabilitation unit at the Dolphin Discovery Centre where they are housed in a heated aquarium, fed and cared for by trained staff and volunteers until they are fit enough to be released back into the wild. If you do find a turtle or anything else unusual on the beach over the next few months do not attempt to return it to the ocean. They will likely need immediate care by professionals so either call the DDC (97913088) or the DPAW Wildlife Hotline (94749055) for further instructions.