The large objects studded with sharp metal are believed to be tank traps from WWII. Picture: Simon Jones
The large objects studded with sharp metal are believed to be tank traps from WWII. Picture: Simon Jones

‘Could’ve been impaled’: Horror beach find

STOCKTON Beach resident Simon Jones was taking a Sunday stroll along what's left of his town's beach when he noticed something highly unusual sticking out of the sand.

His community just north of Newcastle has already had their beach almost entirely washed away after a blitz of heavy surf slammed the coast in September, but what he saw emerging from the waves over the weekend has given locals a new cause for concern.

The large man-made blocks he saw embedded with sharp, twisted metal points are understood to be remnants of "tank traps" laid along the NSW coastline during World War II.

They had been dismantled and, over time, buried underneath the sand, but the devastating recent erosion - which has crippled a huge stretch of the coastline - has left them exposed where the waves break.

The dangerous chunks of metal and concrete at Stockton Beach. Picture: Simon Jones
The dangerous chunks of metal and concrete at Stockton Beach. Picture: Simon Jones

"Because of the way the beach has evolved, that section (the beach's north end where the objects are) is where most people surf," Mr Jones told news.com.au.

"Not long ago someone on a paddleboard was washed over them and had his board badly smashed up, but it could have been a lot worse. He could have been impaled.

"It's a pretty significant hazard for someone who doesn't know they're there. If you came from out of town with a surfboard and jumped in, you'd be in a bit of trouble."

The community has been left reeling since five weeks of unprecedented coastal erosion wreaked havoc in September - forcing the permanent closure of the town's only childcare centre.

"It's a crisis, a complete crisis," Lucas Gresham, a local of five generations, told news.com.au after heavy surf ripped 2.5 metres of sand height from the beach in just five hours.

"We've lost our suburb because that beach is part of who we are. Going for a walk along the beach before you go to work or after you've finished work is a thing that makes you feel grounded and closer to nature."

Two months later, the beach is still submerged and out of action.

On Monday, NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock announced $175,000 of funding for City of Newcastle to lay roughly 5500 tonnes of sand onto Stockton Beach in time for the Christmas school holidays.

Large parts of the coastline are still out of action. Picture: Simon Jones
Large parts of the coastline are still out of action. Picture: Simon Jones

Mr Jones - who heads a grassroots campaign called Save Stockton Beach - says locals welcome the move but adds it's just a "drop in the ocean" when it comes to fixing the beach.

"We're happy to see some sand put in place, but I think everybody acknowledges that this is just a temporary measure," he said.

It's estimated about 500,000 cubic metres of sand - equivalent to 50,000 truck loads - would be needed to replace what has been lost from the beach.

And locals want to see a long-term solution for the environmental crisis.

Mr Jones says locals want to see a ban on offshore sand dredging lifted to combat the erosion crisis.

It's now almost impossible to get a licence for offshore dredging in NSW - the only state to impose such a ban.

"Offshore dredging is the well-accepted method of replenishing beaches around the world, and we need the opportunity to explore it," Mr Jones said. "If there's an environmental reason for it not to be used in Stockton then we'll accept that."

Massive swells battered the beach in September. Picture: Save Stockton Beach Facebook
Massive swells battered the beach in September. Picture: Save Stockton Beach Facebook

Now there's a glimmer of hope for those wanting offshore dredging, as NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has said he supports an investigation into offshore sand dredging as a potential solution to address the crisis.

Expert on coastal erosion and local resident Ron Boyd says the level of damage to Stockton Beach is man-made.

He says infrastructure at the Port of Newcastle - sold off to a Chinese consortium for $1.75 billion in 2014 - has caused Stockton to lose too much sand for it to recover.

He says breakwaters and a deep water channel, allowing ships to access the port, have disrupted wave patterns and stopped any new sand being brought onto the beach.

Now he says the missing sand is being dumped at Newcastle Beach and Nobbys Beach.

The town’s surf lifesaving club is under threat.
The town’s surf lifesaving club is under threat.

"The severe sand erosion problem at Stockton can only be remediated by sand replenishment," he said in a City of Newcastle council meeting in June.

Port of Newcastle, the private company that has a long-term lease of the port from the NSW Government, said in a statement it shared the community's interest in "finding an appropriate solution" to the Stockton erosion issue, and it had been working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage since its lease began in 2014.

"Our assistance has included providing approximately 25,000 cubic metres of suitable sand annually. This sand is dredged from the shipping channel entrance and placed at Stockton in an area designated by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to assist with beach renourishment," the statement read.

"Port of Newcastle's responsibility is to ensure safe navigation, including maintaining the channel and the breakwalls. We take this responsibility seriously."

They’ve been exposed after coastal erosion devastated the beach. Picture: Simon Jones
They’ve been exposed after coastal erosion devastated the beach. Picture: Simon Jones
The town’s childcare centre was forced to close permanently. Picture: Simon Jones
The town’s childcare centre was forced to close permanently. Picture: Simon Jones

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