Main and Clarkes Beach Dune Recovery Project

Machinery undertaking dune restoration beach scraping works on shoreline of Clarkes Beach Byron Bay

The dunes of Main and Clarkes Beach, Byron Bay were significantly eroded in 2020 to 2021.

In November 2022, we started a project to help speed up the recovery process. Read more about this project and outcomes below.

What caused the beach erosion?

The beach erosion was caused by:

  • Storms.
  • Higher than normal tides.
  • Natural cycle of reduced amounts of sand moving into the bay.

The erosion resulted in:

  • The exposure of clay and coffee rock.
  • Damage to paths and accessways.

In September 2021, the sand started to return. It continues to build up although it will take many years for the dunes to recover. 

What does dune recovery involve?

In November 2022 Council, with funding from the NSW Government, started a project to help speed up the recovery process.  This involved:

  • Beach scraping.
  • Fencing.
  • Revegetation. 

The project assisted in:

  • more sand on the beaches
  • rehabilitating and restoring the dunes
  • improving the community's beach safety, access and amenity. 

The project outcomes tell us beach scraping is a viable strategy for the future management of Main and Clarkes beaches. So, more beach scraping and dune restoration may be carried out.

Beach Scraping

For one week in late November 2022, heavy equipment moved sand from the tidal zone, up the beach, to reform the dunes.

This process is called beach scraping, or sand harvesting. It is a proven, low-cost, effective way to rebuild erosion damaged dunes.

It’s scientifically regarded as having low impact on the beach and marine environments. But it is not a long-term or permanent solution to beach erosion.

Beach scraping has been done successfully at New Brighton Beach three times. The last scraping was in 2017 and the dunes are covered in vegetation.


Fencing and revegetation

Sand dunes are important as a buffer for waves during storms and important habitat for plants and animals.

The newly formed dunes were planted with appropriate native species and fences were put up.

New beach access paths and signage were also installed.

The purpose of this is to keep beachgoers off the dunes to allow for the long-term stabilisation of the dunes and to protect plants and animals.

A Vegetation Management Plan(PDF, 11MB) has been developed which includes follow up maintenance for 12 months. Soon after the beach scaping there were signs of new plant growth.

Structure of sand dunes

The scraping work has recreated the natural dune shape, improving the front face of the foredune, and creating a new 'incipient' dune.

The dip in sand between the incipient dune and the foredune is called the ‘swale’. This more natural dune formation creates a wind trap for sand to fall into during northerly winds. It also creates an environment to encourage plants to grow. 

This diagram illustrates the dune structure(PDF, 251KB) and the image below shows the swale at Main Beach Byron Bay, during the beach scaping works.

View of Cape Byron from Main beach. Machinery in the background, completeing beach scraping works which has been completed in the foreground with a dune swale shown by the dip between dune peaks created.

Impact on other beaches

The beach scraping at Main and Clarkes beaches is not expected to have long or short-term impacts on Belongil and Cavvanbah beaches because:
  • only small sand volumes were moved,
  • significant amounts of sand have returned to the embayment, and
  • the beaches are naturally rebuilding.

Belongil and Cavvanbah beaches, are also badly affected by erosion, resulting in the exposure of coffee rock, steep dune faces and fallen trees. Council is monitoring the erosion. With more sand now moving north from Cape Byron it is expected that this will help Belongil Beach and Cavvanbah Beach rebuild naturally. Beach scraping and dune restoration work may be done in the future when sand starts to build up again.

Long term coastal management strategies

Council has also started preparing long-term strategies to guide us and other stakeholders in the management of the coast, such as: