A VOLUNTEER junior surf lifesaver has been badly injured, locals have resorted to wearing ‘booties’ into the water and Sunday nippers has to be moved as Newcastle City Council’s temporary rockwall on Stockton beach continues to ‘crumble’.
Large, sharp rocks from the seawall, designed as a temporary solution to the suburb’s worsening erosion problem, litter the beach from the carpark to the water - right in front of the lifeguard tower.
On the opening weekend of the volunteer surf lifesaving season late last month, a 14-year-old boy on patrol was hospitalised after falling on a large rock.
He suffered a deep laceration to the knee that partially severed the patellar tendon. The injury required surgery and he is still on crutches.
The boy’s mother, who was also on patrol when the accident happened, said the rock was disguised just below the sand.
She said it could have been “so much worse”.
“It was extremely sharp, I don’t want to even think about what would have happened if someone hit their head on it,” she said.
“There was no indication it was even there.”
Stockton Surf Life Saving Club member and retired senior Newcastle council lifeguard Noel Burns described the situation as “absolutely unbelievable”.
Mr Burns said rocks from the seawall appeared to be “breaking up” and rolling down the beach towards the shoreline.
He said the surf club had repeatedly asked Newcastle council to do something about the safety concern, but nothing had been done.
“Even when you are chest deep in the water you can feel the rocks underfoot, they are really decent sized,” he said.
“To say it is a safety issue is an understatement.”
The rockwall, that stretches along the main entrance of the beach from the surf club to the caravan park, was part of a $3 million beach restoration program by Newcastle council.
It followed extreme storm surges in June 2016 that stripped Stockton beach to a thin ribbon of sand and threatened the surf club.
A council spokesman said building the rockwall was the only way to protect the surf club and the next scheduled rock removal was after the school holidays.
He said “unfortunately” the existence of submerged rocks was a “reality” while ever erosion threatened the beach.
“It was literally a case of building the rockwall or allowing the surf club to fall into the sea from erosion,” he said.
“In terms of what can be done to make the beach safer, there is no simple solution. Sand nourishment can only occur at certain times of the year. And heavy machine can only be safely used when there are few people on the beach. This is typically the period before and after school holidays.”
The Herald reported in March last year that large rocks from the wall were scattered along the beach.
At the time, council’s spokesman said an “ongoing sand nourishment and rock-screening process” was in place to ensure the beach was safe.
Fast forward 18 months and hundreds of Stockton Surf Life Saving Club nippers are set to gather ready for their weekly Sunday morning competition starting next week.
Mr Burns said the competition would have to be moved up or down the beach, away from the club facilities, to ensure no-one was hurt.
“You’ve really got to be careful with the kids on the beach the way it is,” he said. “We’re wondering if it is a problem with the type of rocks they used to build the wall. They seem to be breaking up into sharp, smaller pieces as the wall crumbles.
“Before they built the wall there were sandbags in place for more than 20 years and we never had this type of problem. That could be a fix for this in the short term.”
Since the installation of the wall the club’s volunteer lifesavers have seen a significant increase in injuries.
Stockton’s fragile shoreline is disappearing at the alarming rate of a metre each year. Erosion caused by the breakwater has caused long-term sand loss of more than 10 million cubic metres and the seabed has dropped seven metres. With no long-term solution to halt the erosion, the coastline is being stripped annually of more than 370,000 cubic metres of sand each year.
Mr Burns said he went to Nobbys beach last week where there was a “bucket load” of sand that had been had been nicely groomed. “It’s almost as if they forget about this side,” he said. “A couple of guys have bought booties to walk into the water, it’s come to that.”