Mar 06 2015

The beach disappeared while I wasn’t looking!

20150305_083726There’s nothing like a coastal road trip to make you think about climate change. Or is that just me?

Doc and I camped at Sawtell a few years ago. I can’t remember where we were going to or coming from, but I do remember our night in Sawtell. The camping area is right by the creek & the beach, with a boardwalk along the rocks. The main street is wide, with gorgeous fig trees and gardens along the middle, and the cafes make great coffee. And there’s a long beach with soft white sand.

So when a friend asked me if I wanted to come away to Sawtell for a few days I jumped at the chance. I didn’t even need the inducement of free luxury accommodation, though it certainly helped. As did its location on the north coast of NSW so the weather is a bit warmer than in Sydney.

DSC_0200So we’re here, and as photographers do whenever we go to a beach facing east, I got up this morning to photograph the sunrise. Sadly, there was too much cloud so no sunrise to speak of. But, I was there, so I went for a walk along the beach and just as I got to the end the sun peeped through some clouds, beautifully positioned behind the rocks. What else could I do? I got the camera out and took a few quick shots. Then I changed positions and took some more, and then a few more.

Then I turned around, and the beach was gone!

Well, it was still there, but it was now underwater.

20150306_104244And yes, I had noticed the water coming in around my ankles but the ocean does that. What I hadn’t realised was that every time a wave washed in, it covered the whole beach. And the tide was still rising. By the time I got back to the surf club the only place to lie on the beach was up in the dunes, and that was only just wide enough to spread a towel.

Which is where the thoughts about climate change came in. It really wouldn’t take much of a rise in sea levels for the beach to disappear completely, even at low tide. There must be a lot of other beaches that will have the same problem, and what will that do to Australia’s tourism industry, or our lifestyles? How do you have a beach culture, if the beaches disappear?

DSC_0216Over 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coast, and “the beach” is a big holiday destination. Like many coastal towns, Sawtell is a magnet for baby boomer retirees and for holidaymakers. The beach and the beach lifestyle is the big attraction. It’s not only central to a sense of community, it’s also central to the economy. A lot of the housing here is holiday rentals, and there are motels, caravan parks and resorts. Visitors eat at the cafes and restaurants, and visit the RSL and bowling clubs. Without the beach I don’t know if those businesses would survive.

When I got to the beach this morning it was still dark, and there was already a group exercise class working out. As it got lighter more people arrived, to walk or run along the beach. Some even brought their dogs. After their walk, more than a few of them went to a café for coffee or to meet up with friends.

So please, can we stop pretending climate change doesn’t exist or isn’t important. And can we bite the bullet and do something about it – even if it does add a few dollars to our electricity prices!

I don’t want to see our beaches, and the Australian way of life, disappear.

Permanent link to this article: http://kathswinbourne.com.au/the-beach-disappeared-while-i-wasnt-looking/