The erosion of the sand dunes at Wilderness Dunes has galvanised environmentalists into action. Photos: Pauline Lourens
GEORGE NEWS - After viewing the erosion at Wilderness Dunes, Eden District Municipality's Environmental Officer Vernon Gibbs-Halls called for an emergency meeting to be held with beach house owners and local role players on Monday 12 October so that steps can be taken and the road forward planned.
For many years the authorities have been warning developers against building on the prime dunes as this destabilises the integrity of the dune environment. However, these warnings, regulations and setback lines are being blatantly ignored. For many areas on the South African coast the dune vegetation has been destroyed - bulldozed to claim beach
The results of environmentally unfriendly practices can be witnessed at Wilderness Dunes as well as Glentana. Beach houses in Glentana were saved in the eleventh hour some years ago, after retaining walls were erected to keep out the tide. Over the past fortnight Wilderness Dunes took a hammering during the high seas combined with the spring tide in September. This resulted in sections of the dune collapsing.
Not crying wolf
The results were shocking to Wilderness resident Ingrid Becker, who has been keeping a close watch on our shores and the front row of beach homes in Wilderness Dunes.
Last week she contacted the George Herald. "These homeowners still have to weather the full moon tides of October," said Becker.
She explained why she has become an advocate for change, and why she currently goes around warning homeowners to stabilise the dunes in front of their homes. "The high seas eroded the dunes by several meters. I felt I have to warn local homeowners not to delay, but to take drastic steps to prevent their homes from being claimed by the sea."
In October 2011 her business, the Nostra Restaurant and Pub in Struisbaai, collapsed, taking her livelihood with it, after many years of high tide erosion. "For four years I watched as my restaurant's foundations became unstable. We desperately tried to save the building by bringing in tons of sandbags, but this was in vain. I lost over R2-million plus my income, as I was not insured," said Becker. The premises and the bottom section belonged to Struisbaai Municipality.
Acknowledging that coastlines are very dynamic by nature, and change all the time, Becker nonetheless believes that she was the victim of climate change and that the ocean had risen by several millimetres.
"You will be surprised how much difference that makes when there is a spring tide," said Becker, who now lives in Wilderness and has a business in George. She is hoping that her message will reach landowners who are contemplating developing against the sea in order to make more money. While local experts do not agree on whether we are feeling the effect of climate change, they do agree on one thing:
"It is shortsighted to build on the dunes. These should be left intact as it will protect the structures behind it from the relentless pounding of the sea."
In October 2011 Ingrid Becker's business, the Nostra Restaurant and Pub in Struisbaai, collapsed, taking her livelihood with it. She now lives in Wilderness and sees the same thing happening to homes there.
One of the Dunes homeowners has placed iron cages filled with stones on the beach in an attempt to halt the erosion.