Urgent action requires weighing up risks

Adaptation activities need to be informed by the best available science, but sometimes urgent action requires weighing up risks. A lack of information is no excuse for delaying action in an emergency.

This was the case at Port Fairy, 280 km west of Melbourne on the south coast of Victoria. The beach is often flooded, and erosion puts around 200 beach-front homes at risk of being undermined. Additionally, sea-level rise and erosion have exposed rusty metal, glass and asbestos from two decommissioned landfills.

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‘The most obvious climate change issue is sea-level rise,’ says Robert Gibson, the Manager of Environment and Regulatory Services at Moyne Shire Council. ‘We’re already looking at properties being inundated and roads blocked off during storm surges, with sizeable rocks being thrown up that require a front-end loader to remove. Sometimes you need to bring a lilo to the beach rather than a towel!’

He says they are fortunate to have the local community conducting monitoring and sharing information, and Council has undertaken remedial action. ‘We’ve done studies on engineering solutions to the loss of beach sand, engineering assessments of the current sea wall, and designs for its upgrading, and started implementing some of these solutions,’ he says.

Robert says research has been fundamental to the decisions being made. ‘Without knowing the limitations of the current sea wall, it would be hard to justify the funding to upgrade it. With scientific information, we know we are doing what’s required for the long-term protection of the houses and assets on the dunes.’

Conversely, he says action to address the exposed tip site has not been as thoroughly researched. ‘It was at crisis point; rubbish was emerging from the dunes, so taking action was necessary with minimal research behind it. We trialled a 125-metre wave energy dissipation structure to mitigate erosion. Within weeks of construction, the structure was tested by a storm. After the storm you could clearly see the structure was the difference between minimal rubbish falling out of the tip, and having a catastrophe.’

Robert says they took a chance, as doing nothing due to insufficient information is not an excuse. ‘You need to weigh up the risk and rewards, and get the job done.’

You can find out more at https://connect.coastadapt.com.au/discussion/297/getting-the-job-done-at-port-fairy

Scientell is working with the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) on their online discussion about coastal adaptation, CoastExchange. You can sign up and join the discussion at https://connect.coastadapt.com.au/.

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