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Castles In The Sand: The Beachfront Homes Fighting The Tide

Who is responsible for the protection of coastal communities?

08/06/2016 8:33 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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Drone footage shows coastal erosion in Collaroy.

Like sandcastles built by frolicking children, Collaroy's beachfront homes sit precariously close to the churning ocean.

The weekend's king tide coincided with the worst storm in 30 years, and now swimming pools and fences are strewn below a cliff of sand where a beach once was.

Some homes have lost more than 10m of garden, not to mention the structural damage they have sustained.

Dean Lewins / AAPIMAGE / Fairfax Media
High tide begins to impact on damaged beachfront homes along Pittwater Road at Collaroy.

Some residents have returned home, but around 50 people have been told it's too dangerous to even look at their properties. And other coastal communities around Australia are watching.

They know the issues affecting Collaroy could also affect them and want to know, who is responsible when coastal infrastructure is destroyed?

Threats To Our Coastline

Long before the weekend's storm was a speck on the radar, the Australian Coastal Councils Association has been calling for a national approach on coastal management ahead of the federal election.

Executive director Alan Stokes said threats like coastal erosion, storm surges and sea-level rise were predicted to become more frequent but councils had no federal guidelines to determine how to protect homes, or development application approvals.

Getty Images
Gold Coast beaches in Queensland are notoriously affected by coastal erosion.

"Each council comes up with its own approach," Stokes said.

"When you think about the potential scale of this issue -- 85 percent of the population lives on the coast -- councils aren't adequately resourced to carry out adaptation works and address the risks associated with coastal erosion.

"We need the federal, state and local governments to sit down and take responsibility.

"It's not a problem that's going to go away."

AFP/Getty Images
In Old Bar Beach, NSW councils tried draping felt to slow coastal erosion.

On the Gold Coast, coastal erosion is slowed by a multi-million-dollar sand-replacement scheme that pumps sand to replenish a beach.

In some parts of NSW, felt fabric has been used to slow coastal erosion. Stokes said councils or state governments shouldn't be left to determine the best course of action themselves.

"Scientists tell us pressures are mounting -- if we're to expect more severe storms due to warming ocean temperatures as well a sea level rise, there will be areas without doubt that are too vulnerable for people to live in.

"It's happening already."

Buying And Building In A Precarious Spot

Two of the properties affected at Collaroy beach were reportedly being prepared to go to auction, with the anticipated sale prices more than $3 million.

Not council nor seller nor state would have been obliged to let potential buyers know about the well-known risk of coastal erosion in the region.

Northern Beaches Council
Collaroy coastal erosion in 1967.

What's more, the Insurance Council of Australia representative Campbell Fuller said many insurance policies did not cover 'actions of the sea'.

"Damage caused by actions of the sea, such as coastal erosion, king tides or storm surges are rarely covered by home insurance policies," Fuller said.

Climate Council spokesman Will Steffen told HuffPost Australia insurance was linked to viability.

"If a property cannot be insured at a reasonable rate, people will think twice and it might change cultural attitudes to that Australian dream of owning a beach house," Steffen said.

"Properties on the absolute waterfront will be less desirable because they'll be less viable."

Northern Beaches Council
By 1988 a partial rock wall had been built on Collaroy Beach to slow erosion.

Stokes said the onus was on the homeowner to study potential risks before buying.

"There are a number of cases where legal action has been taken against councils for property being damaged but generally speaking,anyone buying a property in an area close to the water needs to make very comprehensive enquiries," Stokes said.

Stokes said a federal or state-run register flagging a warning on a title search could potentially alert homeowners to risks.

"What we need most though, is reliable information about how sea-level rise will affect coastal communities, and a federal approach to protecting them."

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