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Thursday Jul 18, 2013

Destruction of Hout Bay dunefields offers hard lesson for city planners

Older Capetonians will remember the Hout Bay dunes as they used to be, and probably many remember sandboarding and beach-buggying on what was once the most prominent dunefield on the peninsula.

This undated photograph shows the former extent of the Hout Bay dunefields which were destroyed by urban development. The long-term effect is likely to be no more sandy beach at Sandy Bay.

The dunes, known to geologists as the Hout Bay headland bypass dunefields, once stretched from Hout Bay to Sandy Bay, as this old photograph shows, and were a functioning natural system. In the summer, dry sand deposited on the beach in Hout Bay would be blown across the nek to Sandy Bay. They were always on the move.

The destruction of this naturally functioning system began in the 1950s with the development of Hout Bay. Buildings and roads were constructed and these, with the encroachment of alien vegetation, effectively destroyed the functioning of the dunefield.

Geomorphologist Peter Holmes has predicted that Sandy Bay, starved of a wind-blown sand supply to nourish its beach, could revert to a boulder beach in time.

When the council grassed the dunes on Hout Bay beach this century, further problems were created, as the grass trapped sand and the dunes grew, spawning another set of dunes behind them.

These are now engulfing buildings, including a substation, guest house, offices and the road to the harbour.

The council has acknowledged that the problem has to be managed and will truck away 30 000 cubic metres of sand from these new back dunes. Instead of dumping it in a landfill, they have decided to dump it on the nek in the hopes that it will blow down to Sandy Bay, thus putting back some of the sand that Sandy Bay has been starved of now that the old dunes that fed the beach have all but gone.

The head of the city's environmental policy and strategy, Gregg Oelofse, has said the main purpose of moving the sand is not to nourish Sandy Bay, but to get rid of the sand from Hout Bay where it is engulfing infrastructure. Putting it near Sandy Bay is a spin-off.

He has also said that what has happened to the dunefields is a lesson to be borne in mind with new developments on the coast.

Cape Times

 
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