Annette Painter always dreamt of retiring by the sea with her husband Luke, so when they found a waterfront home overlooking Queensland’s idyllic coastline, they were thrilled.
- Under projections adopted by the state government, sea levels are expected to rise by 0.8 metres by 2100
- More than 500 properties across the Fraser Coast region are deemed “at risk” of coastal erosion or sea level rises by 2100
- Researchers say council’s along Queensland’s coastline must act now to protect beachside communities
But while the small beachside haven is everything she’d hoped for, Ms Painter fears she will be the last person to live in the picturesque spot at Poona, an hour south of Hervey Bay.
“In a few generations time people won’t be able to be living where I’m living and I think that is just such a shame,” she said.
The local council has identified parts of her township as being at “high or extreme risk” from sea level rises and erosion by the year 2100.
Ms Painter’s house is raised and sits on concrete pillars but over the past five years, she has watched as parts of her coastal backyard and beloved frangipani tree were swallowed up by a pulsating king tide.
“It really is quite scary. It does concern me because when we moved here people said it would happen maybe once in 10 years,” she said.
“If it’s happening more frequently, is it going to be higher?
“People further up are losing all their beach in the front. It’s the erosion I think that’s the concern.
“Hopefully it [the beach] still remains in our lifetime, but you don’t know.”
Combating the tide
The impacts of storm tide inundation, steadily rising sea levels and coastal erosion weigh heavily on communities along Queensland’s coastline.
Under current projections adopted by the state government, sea levels are expected to rise by 0.8 metres by the year 2100. How to best protect coastal communities is a dilemma that many councils face.
The Fraser Coast Regional Council adopted a Coastal Futures Strategy last year, mapping zones that could be impacted by coastal hazards and detailing its action plan to prepare and respond to risks.
More than 500 parcels of land across the Fraser Coast region were outlined as “at risk” of coastal erosion or sea level rises by 2100.
Council’s director of development and community, Gerard Carlyon, said infrastructure in the region would be impacted.
“We do have some areas where we are going to have challenges, a lot of that though is not necessarily around the private properties but it’s some of the things like roadways,” he said.
“Some properties may not be inundated but they may well be inaccessible.
“We’ve got some long-term planning to do, but thankfully we’re doing this project 80 years ahead of those impacts happening.”
Fight or flight
University of the Sunshine Coast professor of sustainability Tim Smith said coastal councils across Australia were facing similar scenarios and would need to make hard and potentially costly choices.
“We can either protect the coast, we can try and accommodate episodic or occasional impacts through raising levels of houses or we can retreat from the coast,” he said.
“We might get an instance where we get a storm surge combined with a high tide combined with coastal flooding.
“I think all councils are struggling with how we might deal with these sorts of things.”
Professor Smith said local governments would have to grapple with difficult scenarios.
“There is no doubt that we don’t have the resources to protect all places on the coast,” he said.
“There will be areas and small towns that will be affected that we might not be able to defend, nor would we want to necessarily defend because we would lose all the amenity and beauty of those places.
“Do we really want a future where we have rock walls covering all our beautiful beaches?
“I think we need to think quite strategically about this.”
No retreat from coastline
On the Fraser Coast, many small coastal towns including Poona, Maaroom and Tuan have been identified as having areas of “extreme risk” from erosion by 2100.
But the local council remains optimistic it can mitigate coastal hazards by incorporating sea walls, rebuilding dunes, lifting properties and roadways, and creating additional drainage paths.
“We have kilometres and kilometres of beautiful beachfront and we’re going to have to potentially use it differently,” Mr Carlyon said.
“We’re going to have to build different things in those areas and we’re going to have sacrificial infrastructure in some places if we get a big cyclone or storm.
“It’s going to be a place-based approach and economics are going to play a big part in making decisions.
“But there won’t be a retreat from the coastline.”
Where new homes are being built, constructing them to better withstand natural disasters is becoming more of a focus for all levels of government.
In May, the Queensland government opened a $741 million Resilient Homes Fund for flood victims to access grants to raise, repair, retrofit or have their home voluntarily bought back.
CSIRO research leader in bushfire adaptation Justin Leonard said it was important that prospective home owners considered not only the design of their home but the location.
“Virtually every location across Australia doesn’t necessarily face just one type of hazard and it’s really important to consider the range of hazards you could face. It might be in one place fire and flood,” he said.
“The design solutions for those are available when you do your research.”
Queensland’s Reconstruction Authority also encouraged residents to build climate-resistant homes.
It suggested opting for polished concrete or tiles on lower levels that are more likely to be inundated, installing louvres in lower levels to allow the water to flow through, and widening stairs so furniture can be easily moved to a higher level or out of the house.
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