Sand dunes littered with toilet paper, kids swimming in a contaminated lagoon, rubbish, recklessness and four-wheel drive vehicles stirring up mounds of rehabilitated land anytime of the day or night.
That’s the scene that the Save our Beach lobby group says confronts beachgoers at Lake Macquarie’s Nine Mile Beach, the coastline between Redhead and Blacksmiths, every summer.
The stretch of beach just south of what is colloquially known as Third Creek, but is in fact Crokers Creek, has become a haven for countless four-wheel drive vehicles over the years.
Beach camping, which is not permitted under the current plan of management, is now responsible for causing untold damage to the dunes and sensitive areas of the Belmont Wetlands State Park, say fed up locals.
The sheer volume of rubbish left behind after the vehicles have departed has even warranted the formation of a volunteer beach clean-up group.
“There have been instances where up to 500 vehicles have been camping on the beach,” group member Andre Joanisse says.
“This is not surprising when a very rapid extension of permit numbers into the park has been allowed.
“As of 29 December 2021 there were 38,578 annual beach permits for sale.”
The Belmont Wetlands State Park has approximately 4.5 kilometres of beach front and around 240 hectares of wetlands.
An annual beach permit that allows unlimited 4wd access to the area costs $88, on K’gari Island (Fraser Island) the same permit costs $274.00 and bookings are required.
Mr Joanisse says the wetlands also has infrequent ranger supervision which does not extend after hours, yet access is available 24 hours a day.
“The consequences of this poorly enforced plan are obvious,” he said.
“An overcrowded 4WD park causing rapid degradation and damage of the sensitive coastal dunes, escalating, unchecked anti-social behaviour and safety issues for other users of the beach and wetlands.
“Many campers do not take their rubbish with them. Some campers light fires on the sand leaving hot embers after they have left, along with broken bottles etcetera, both hazards for other users.”
For Redhead father-of-three Shaun Tamplin the recent addition of two toilet blocks on the site only highlights the need for immediate action.
“They’re almost 1.5km from where the nominated “off- beach camping” zone is set up. You can tell by the amount of toilet paper in the dunes that they’re too far away for regular visits, and that the most available private spots are being used as an alternative.”
Mr Tamplin, a former geologist, has raised his environmental concerns with authorities in the past.
In October 2021 he even set up a Go Fund Me Page seeking community support to have sampling of the creek water done.
“It was pretty frightening what we found,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“Levels that were tested showed high levels of contamination.”
Despite the findings the Save our Beach group insists the focus is on proper, sustainable and safe use of the park.
What they are seeking, they say, is “balanced usage”.
On 17 January the Belmont Wetlands State Park administrator launched a survey.
The Save our Beach community have launched a website and independent survey to allow the community to express their opinions on the future of what they refer to as a “natural jewel” at www.saveourbeach2.com.
“This is an opportunity for community members to have their say and we encourage them to fill in both surveys”
This opportunity comes on the eve of a review of the plan of management of the Belmont Wetlands State Park.
The list of issues they seek to be addressed is to ensure there is no beach camping permitted, the introduction of limits on 4WD access to the beach, a dedicated 24/7 ranger and the establishment of an independent community consultation group and process.
“We need a respectful management plan,” Mr Tamplin says.
“If history is a window to the future, we need a more proactive approach rather than reactive.”
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