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Monday Jul 08, 2013

Ballito development close to the beach 'causes environmental damage'

Surfers need to be on guard against developers fiddling around on the coastline. Some 20-odd years ago the Dolphin Coast town that this week hosted the Mr Price Pro Ballito International Surfing and Lifestyle Event could have lost its surf break, according to local coastal ecologist Simon Bundy.

While Ballito's Surfers Beach remains a good surfing break, the other ' pocket' beaches have taken a knock from human interference.

'The (old) municipality had an idea of creating an artificial reef,' he said.

The R45-million project would have seen dollosse placed offshore, creating a tidal pool out of sea immediately off the town's four small, rock-enclosed 'pocket' beaches - Bog, Bathers, Surfers and Sunrise.

Though the idea never came to fruition, others which had not been thought through did, such as the dynamiting of rocks to create space for a tidal pool and the building of walls.

What does not appear to have been taken into consideration enough was the importance of sand flow because it feeds the beaches and moves in and out of the water, contributing to making wave breaks.

'The rock wall and the blasting stopped the accumulation of sediment. The sediment was redirected out to sea, which messed things up for bathers and surfers,' explains Bundy.

'The effect was that beaches were no longer accreting. From 2005 the width of one of the beaches was 19m; in 1995 it had been 24m. Beaches need sediment to grow.'

Ballito and its beaches before development really kicked in.

The disappearance of a plant, commonly known as the 'seeplakkie', or 'umqhaphu', or Scaevola plumieri, showed what was taking place.

'It grows only where there is lots of sediment,' says Bundy. 'The plant was telling us the beach was losing sand.'

One by one, the four beaches were affected by a chain reaction of erosion, leaving only Surfers Beach - the venue of this week's event - with decent wave breaks.
'A sandbank is still in place that creates waves. This is no longer the case at the other beaches.'

Bundy's explanation of coastal development affecting surfing breaks goes further inland than the beach and further back in time than the 1970s when the government earmarked it for growth as a tourism hot spot. It goes as far back as its geological history, when the breakup of Gondwanaland left a dolerite deposit that juts out slightly into the ocean at Ballito.

It leaves Bundy puzzled that people sometimes refer to his home town as 'Ballito Bay'.

'It should be called Ballito Bulge,' he says.

When development started, the shallow depth of the soil above the hard rock made sewage management difficult.

'So they built a sewerage treatment plant and that meant people had to pay rates,' Bundy goes on to say. 'The knock-on effect was that it put pressure on development.'

Another twist was that it was easier for developers to build closer to the beach at Ballito than it would have been elsewhere because the original compensation farm on which Ballito is situated has an admiralty reserve only 12m from the high water mark whereas elsewhere it's 42.5m.
'Building here happens so much closer to the beach.'

While the Mr Price Pro brings money into Ballito, surfing has become a stronger economic force all over the world with the general profile of surfers having undergone a transformation.

'It's no longer the domain of hippies but CEOs and high fliers who travel all over the world and pay lots of money to surf,' says Bundy.

To conserve this asset, he urges surfers to 'have a good look at what developers are doing on the beachfront' and to be sceptical of their development models, which are always based on 'minimal data'.

'If you know your break, you'll know that it changes on an hourly basis.

'It is such a dynamic environment.'

The Independent on Saturday


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