Huge change considered for iconic beach after 'vandalism disgrace'

It's the second beach in the WA pondering the controversial move.

An iconic West Australian beach known for its four-wheel driving is considering restricting vehicle access on the sand, just weeks after another of the state's famous beach towns proposed a similar ban.

Esperance, in WA's south, is contemplating banning cars on the sand after an area of revegetation was completely destroyed by four-wheel drivers. The plan comes just two weeks after Lancelin, 127 kilometres north of Perth, proposed a similar idea in response to the threat of coastal erosion, linked to dune driving.

Authorities in Esperance say the revegetation area at Wharton Beach, east of Cape Le Grand National Park, was decimated after a group of four-wheel drivers broke through a fence and tore across the dunes — the second time recently such an act has occurred — destroying the young seedlings and shrubs, which had been planted by volunteer students, parents and teachers.

The vegetation rehabilitation area is see vandalised at Esperance.
The vegetation rehabilitation area that was vandalised at Esperance after a car drove through it. Source: Shire of Esperance/Facebook.

'Disappointed is an understatement'

The estimated cost of damages to the taxpayer is expected to exceed $20,000, according to the Shire of Esperance council. It's prompted officials to consider options when it comes to protecting the site, planted in the first place to repair erosion damages caused by driving and large swells.

"Disappointed is an understatement, for Shire staff, school students and groups that worked on this project," the council wrote in a statement titled 'Wharton vandalism disgrace'.

"Your Shire of Esperance puts hours of planning into ways to protect our beautiful coastline, actively allowing and growing recreational use. Much of this work is done collaboratively with local schools and groups.

"The Wharton Beach Rejuvenation Project aims to revegetate sand dunes and parts of the coast damaged by four-wheel-drive owners. Once established this will generate coastline resilience to the effects of erosion caused by the winter swells."

The vegetation rehabilitation area is see vandalised at Esperance.
The revegetation area was established to protect the dunes from erosion. Source: Shire of Esperance / Facebook.

Total car ban not needed, expert says

According to University of WA's Professor of Coastal Oceanography, Charitha Pattiaratchi, a total car ban isn't completely necessary at either of the tourist hotspots, instead he said people need to be "better educated".

"So driving on the beach, per se, doesn't contribute to coastal erosion," Professor Pattiaratchi told Yahoo News Australia.

"One of the things that councils are doing is trying to set up a dune right at the back of the beach as a protection measure, they've tried to vegetate that, so if the water gets up there, there's some protection to whatever is behind.

Cape Le Grand National Park in Esperance.
Wharton Beach, Cape Le Grand National Park in Esperance. Source: Explore Parks WA.

Minority spoiling fun for all

Professor Pattiaratchi said driving closer to the water's edge, as opposed to on the dunes, has a minimal impact on the environment as only roughly the top 10cm of sand is penetrated.

He said that when drivers — either trying to "take short cuts" or plainly behaving inconsiderately — veer across dunes, that's when there's trouble.

"The biggest impact of dune erosion is not coastal erosion, it's wind," Professor Pattiaratchi said. "They've tried to stabilise the dune to protect it from the wind by growing vegetation on it.

"Mostly four-wheel drivers are driving on the beach. At the back, you'll only see erosion if the water actually gets there, which is usually as a result of an extreme event. It's basically vandalism that's occurring on the dunes — ruining what they're trying to plant — that's the problem.

"If people behave properly there shouldn't be a problem, it is a minority spoiling for a majority."

Erosion still a major problem

Though driving on the sand may not be a major factor when talking about coastal erosion in general, it's still a major problem that's only going to progress as time goes on, Professor Pattiaratchi explained.

"Because we have built so much, we have interfered so much with the coast, and with rising sea levels, it's going to get worse," he said. "There will come a time where we we actually have to move away from the beach."

Yahoo News has sought comment from the Shire of Esperance council.

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