Coastal Hazards and Emergency Management


Our coastline and beaches are important from an environmental and economic point of view, and as a place for Byron Shire’s 30,000 residents and 2.1 million annual visitors to enjoy.

Our coastline and beaches are dynamic and subject to constant change. This can be as a result of long-term coastal processes or short-term events such as storms, king tides and extreme weather. These events can cause various coastal hazards, including beach erosion, wave over-topping and coastal inundation.

We encourage you to use this web page to find out more about coastal hazards and risks.

Coastal Hazards: The Basics

Byron Shire is located in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia. Our beaches are some of the best in the world. But some of our beaches are sometimes prone to beach erosion, wave over-topping and coastal inundation.

Beaches provide an interface between the ocean and the land. Beach erosion is the loss of beach and dune material because of changing wave and water conditions.

Why do beach erosion, wave overtopping and coastal inundation happen?

Beach erosion is commonly caused by increased wave height and energy, higher than usual tides, a storm surge (or elevated water levels as a result of barometric pressure and wind), or a combination of all three. Sometimes these factors do not need to be particularly intense to cause beach erosion which can occur over a period of days, weeks or months.

Often associated with beach erosion are  wave over-topping and coastal inundation. Wave over-topping occurs when waves reach over the crest of the dune and into the back beach area or hind dune. Wave over-topping may lead to coastal or oceanic inundation, when water from the ocean breaches the dunes and drains into low lying areas adjacent to the coast.

There are a number of weather events which can cause these coastal hazards to occur. The most likely weather events include:

East coast low

An east coast low is an intense low pressure system which commonly occurs several times a year off the eastern coast of Australia. They are said to generate the strongest winds, heaviest rainfall and largest waves off the NSW coast. They tend to generate waves from south to south-east directions and are most prevalent during autumn and winter months.

Tropical cyclone

Tropical cyclones develop over warm tropical waters and may track southwards offshore from Queensland. They may generate large east-north-east to east waves and are most prevalent from November to May.

Heavy swell

Ground swell formed at a distance may impact the coastline with little or no warning and can create damaging surf, producing large-scale erosion.

Depleted beach profile

This occurs when beach erosion has already lowered the beach profile and a low or moderate swell, often coinciding with a high tide, further erodes the beach and dunes.

What you can do to manage the risks from coastal hazards 

If appropriate safety measures are undertaken by beach goers, the impacts of beach erosion can be managed. These measures are detailed in the Byron Shire Emergency Assist card(PDF, 1MB) and associated information which beach goers are encouraged to read and become familiar with.  Also see our pages on emergency management during flood events.


Byron Shire Coastline Emergency Action Sub Plan

Council has prepared a long-term management strategy for managing coastal hazards which outlines the emergency actions it intends to undertake in the event of a beach erosion emergency. This plan is called the draft Byron Shire Coastline Emergency Action Sub Plan(PDF, 9MB).

Under the plan, Council, during coastal hazard events, may work with emergency service providers such as the State Emergency Service (SES) in the event of a declared beach erosion emergency or an emergency caused by severe weather.