Fragile sand dunes are deteriorating due to an increase in illegal access, threatening coastal environments and posing safety risks to beachgoers.
Dune systems are being left exposed to high winds, tides and rainfall as vegetation as they continue to be trampled by beachgoers leaving designated tracks and ignoring signs.
In particular, the popular pastimes of boogie boarding down the dune face and ‘dune running’ for fitness are having devastating impacts on fragile ecosystems.
Great Ocean Road Coast Committee (GORCC) Conservation Supervisor Georgie Beale said accessing dunes damaged fragile habitats that are home to a large array of native flora and fauna.
“Dunes that are stripped of native vegetation can develop ‘blow-outs’, or large gullies of wind-blown sand, and over time these gullies become larger and are extremely difficulty to rehabilitate.
“The frontal dunes are a very fragile environment which provides important habitats for flora and fauna and acts as wind and erosion barriers for towns.”
Ms Beale said beachgoer safety was also a concern.
“Walking or playing in the dunes can also be dangerous for beachgoers as it is common for objects like sharp sticks, stones, wire and glass to lurk amongst the soft dune sand,” she said.
GORCC Environmental Projects Coordinator Alex MacDonald said that protection and enhancement of the natural environment was at the core of GORCC’s work.
“GORCC’s Coastal Management Plan (CMP) identifies management priorities and provides direction for the sustainable management for 37km of coastal Crown land reserves between Torquay and Lorne.
“The CMP identifies dune protection as a critical component of environmental protection along with weed eradication and feral animal control.
“Damage to sand dune vegetation causes erosion which in turn causes irreversible damage to coastal habitats,” she said.
Sand dunes also play an important role in protecting coastal towns from high winds, tides and erosion.
Ms Beale urged beachgoers to adhere to coastal signs and said it was imperative that everyone used official, designated beach access points.
“Once one person accesses a dune illegally, a track starts to form and other people follow, so it’s important that we all lead by example, allowing damage to be repaired and ensuring we don’t encourage the bad habits of others,” she said.
The Surf Coast Shire establishes and enforces a range of local laws and regulations pertaining to people’s behaviour on the coast.
Access outside of designated tracks and paths on the coast is prohibited, with laws applying to both fenced and unfenced sand dune areas.
Where an area is unfenced, the ban applies to the entire sand dune starting from the bottom part closest to the sea.
Those not keeping to designated paths and tracks can receive a $148 on the spot fine.
For more information on how you can take small steps to protect the coast you love, visit our website.
What are your favourite pastimes that don’t harm our coast? Share them in the comments below!