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Big surf flips boulders across road in Port Fairy, reigniting climate change, coastal erosion concerns

Monday April 12, 2021 - 10:54 EST
ABC image
Huge rocks swept up to 30 metres from the seawall. - ABC

Wild surf has battered Victoria's south-west coast, sweeping large boulders onto roads and trapping a family on an island off Port Fairy.


Emergency services rescued the family from Griffiths Island on Sunday after large waves and a high tide left them stranded, unable to access the narrow pedestrian walkway that would link them to the mainland.


Port Fairy-based shire councillor Jordan Lockett said the force of the ocean was incredible and roads were strewn with seaweed and large boulders.


"Some of the boulders would take literally four strong people to lift and the ocean has just flipped it across the road, so there's a huge might there," he said.


Locals reported some rocks had been moved up to 20 or 30 metres from the sea wall, which lined a road along the town's South Beach precinct.


Cr Lockett said the impact of climate change on the shire's "vulnerable coastline" would continue and worsen over the years to come.


The Victorian government has already instructed councils to plan for a 0.8-metre sea level rise by 2100.


But updated data released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted sea level rises of up to 1.1m.


Climate change impacts swell patterns


Speaking to the ABC last year, coastal geomorphologist David Kennedy from the University of Melbourne said Victorian coastal areas were under threat from changes to swell patterns as a consequence of climate change.


"The effect of that on Victoria is we're going to get bigger waves that might be coming from a different direction," Professor Kennedy said.


Friends of the Earth climate activist Leigh Ewbank said the "startling" images of displaced boulders at Port Fairy were "a sign of things to come".


"It raises the question, if this is what Port Fairy is seeing today, how will this community cope with sea level rises of 10, 20 centimetres ? let alone a metre of sea level rise," he said.


Mr Ewbank said other Victorian towns, such as Apollo Bay and Inverloch, had already sounded the alarm about the issue.


"It was only a matter of time before the Port Fairy community started connecting the dots," he said.


But some Port Fairy locals are already involved in a citizen-science program gathering data about coastal erosion and monitoring changes to the coastline.


The group formed after 4m of coastline was lost to coastal erosion in 2013 and threatened to expose an old rubbish site.


'Weak' penguins rescued, at risk


The wild weather over the weekend also impacted local penguin populations.


Tracey Wilson has been running a wildlife centre near Warrnambool and said she rescued three penguins that washed up on nearby beaches.


"The seas down here were absolutely horrendous," she said.


"When we get them they're often so weak they can't stand up."


Ms Wilson is urging anyone who sees a penguin on the beach to contact wildlife rescuers.


"Please don't ignore a penguin that's on the beach, if it's still alive please get it help," she said.


"If you can approach them, they're in a lot of trouble and just shouldn't be there at all."







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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