Concern is building over vehicles and motorbikes driving on the sand dunes along Goolwa Beach by the Murray Mouth, with the local Coastcare co-ordinator saying the environmental damage being done is a “disgrace”.
Goolwa residents have suggested that a fee to drive onto the beach should be enforced and that if the illegal activity cannot be stopped, the only solution may be to cease vehicle access to the beach.
Vehicles are prohibited from driving onto, in and over the dunes. Signs and fencing have been erected at the dunes and along Goolwa Beach in an attempt to stop vehicles from accessing the area. The speed limit on the beach is 40 kilometres per hour.
Goolwa Coastcare co-ordinator Ben Simon said the group is often contacted with concerns over the damage to the dunes.
Mr Simon said unnatural erosion, disturbance of wildlife, encouragement of weeds and loss of sensitive native vegetation that can be hard to replace are among environmental concerns associated with vehicle activity on the dunes.
“This area is an internationally, nationally and locally important dune system ecologically and for tourism, fishing and recreation,” Mr Simon said.
“It’s a disgrace that this sort of damage is occurring right under our noses and in full view of visitors, many able to look over from Sugars Beach, Murray Mouth lookout on Hindmarsh Island on any given day, and see how South Australia looks after this Ramsar-listed system.”
Ramsar is a treaty that works with member countries to maintain the ecological character of wetlands of international importance.
Mr Simon said measures to stop or deter vehicles from driving on the dunes could include introducing a fee to drive onto the beach.
“This may make joyriders think twice before going on the beach,” he said.
Mr Simon raised options such as fencing off the dunes, clearer and more prevalent signage, heavy fines, impoundment of vehicles, removal of references to the area as a four-wheel-drive destination from websites, and making the area part of the Coorong National Park.
SA Water is responsible for the day-to-day management of Sir Richard Peninsula, that forms the western barrier of the Murray Mouth and extends upstream towards Goolwa, on behalf of the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).
The area is patrolled by SA Water staff on a weekly basis and Goolwa-based Great Southern Security is employed to patrol the beach on weekends.
Peter Schirmer of Great Southern Security has been patrolling the beach for two-and-a-half years. He said during this time about 2000 vehicles have been reported for driving in the dunes.
When a vehicle is caught on the dunes, Great Southern Security officers speak to the driver and ask whether he or her has a lawful excuse for their actions. Security officers then take photographs of the vehicle and registration, and send them to SA Water in a weekly report, after which it is decided if court action should be pursued.
“It would be nice to have the authority to hand out on the spot fines,” Mr Schirmer said.
Mr Schirmer said vehicle traffic on the beach has tripled over the past three years, with between 400 and 800 vehicles driving on Goolwa Beach each weekend. He said the issues are more complex than just damage to the dunes. He said large amounts of rubbish left on the beach and safety issues arise with vehicles speeding on the beach as children and dogs are in close vicinity.
“Vehicles have to stop going into the dunes, people need to take their rubbish and respect other beach users.”
Mr Schirmer supports the idea of a fee imposed for vehicles to access the beach. He said a pass could be bought from local businesses and during the patrols, security officers could check vehicles had purchased it.
He said information booklets on the beach rules could also be issued with the passes, with the money raised injected back to the community.
“Looking into the future, SA Water, Alexandrina Council, the MDBA, fisheries and other interested parties need to have an open discussion into ways this environment can be better protected.”
Alexandrina councillor and Goolwa resident Keith Parkes said his main concerns were the environmental damage and the desecration of the sites of the Ngarrindjeri people.
Mr Parkes said a consequence of this illegal behaviour could be the removal vehicular access to the beach.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that.
“It’s the last thing we want.
“But eventually that could be the outcome.”
Mr Parkes said this would affect locals who drive onto the beach for picnics and to go fishing, as well as tourism in the area.
“There are more and more four-wheel drives making a hell of a mess,” Mr Parkes said.
Mr Parkes agreed with the idea of asking for a fee to drive onto the beach.
Minister for Environment, Ian Hunter said the state government is extremely disappointed that some drivers are putting the environment at risk by driving onto the dunes.
“Barriers and signage indicating that driving onto the sand dunes is prohibited are in place,” Mr Hunter told The Times.
“While it seems to be only a minority of people who visit the region that disobey the rules, the state government is considering what other measures may be needed to prevent the damage by these ignorant few.”
Alexandrina Council chief executive officer Peter Dinning said managing the long-term environmental sustainability of the region’s natural assets is a priority of the council.
“The current beach access crosses land under the care and control of both council and the minister for infrastructure,” Mr Dinning said.
“Closure of access to Goolwa Beach to vehicles is not currently being considered.
“Fees to access the beach and Sir Richard Peninsula could be considered in the future to assist with the management of vehicle movements on the peninsula and to raise funds for community and environmental projects.”