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It is one of Anglesea’s most famous landscapes, but the reason for its beauty is that it is now a no-go.
A two-kilometer section of Anglesey’s coastline called Demons Bluff was temporarily closed in March, but the danger to human life from the inevitable landslide has led the Great Ocean Road Authority (GORA) to make the closure permanent.
The cliff line at Demons Bluff has eroded over tens of millions of years, creating the sandy beach below and the towering red cliff face.
Beachgoers are restricted from 100 meters north of the Anglesea Family Caravan Park beach access ramp to 300 meters after the popular surf break at Grinders Point.
GORA Director Paul Gein said the decision was not easy.
But after three years of watching a cliff crack grow from my hairline into a crevice, the stakes were too great to keep the beach open.
While he hoped the public would stay away, Mr. Jain said the authority would impose fines if people continued to make their way to the beach.
“We definitely don’t want to do that, we want to take an approach where we inform the community, acknowledge the risks and make sure people stay away from the area for their safety,” he said.
Over the past 12 months, he said, there have been some significant crashes, but a bigger crash was approaching.
“Because he is standing, there is a rift that extends for about 60 meters below the cliff, so if we fail, anyone under that cliff could be in great danger,” said Mr. Jin.
The crack was discovered by 10 local citizen scientists who had been monitoring the cliff with drones for three years.
David Kennedy is an associate professor of environmental programs at the University of Melbourne who led the citizen science project and said erosion is what made Demons Bluff so “amazing”.
“The rock itself is about 20 to 30 million years old and is true to what we might call a boulder; it has enough strength to lift a sloping face but it is not difficult to build anything out of it,” he said.
“It’s really a soft material and because of that it wears out very quickly.”
And this erosion is what created the sandy beach below.
The cliffs at Anglesea are strong enough to stand vertically, but once the waves erode the base, they can’t hold the top edge for long.
But Professor Kennedy said that erosion on the slopes does not happen centimeter by centimeter.
“It’s one big event.”
This is why cliffs pose such a danger to people walking under them.
Dr. Kennedy said that over the past few years, citizen scientists have seen a crack about 10 centimeters wide up to 70 centimeters wide, and that part of the escarpment is “on the verge of collapse.”
The piece measures about 30 meters by five metres, and has a size equivalent to two Olympic-sized swimming pools.
“Water is falling in those cracks and the runoff is going towards low tide,” he said.
“I don’t want to walk in there myself now. It will fall as a pile of rubble and that rubble will run out down to low tide, so if anyone is there when they go they will either be buried or bumped into a pile of rubble.”
Blow up the shelf looking
Paul Jean of GORA said other solutions were considered before the decision to close the beach was made.
Netting was considered, similar to the nets covering parts of a cliff along the Great Ocean Road.
But Damons Bluff’s soft, almost sand-like boulder would fall through the nets, so she was left out, said Mr. Jane.
The next idea was a “mechanical malfunction” – blow up the cliff to get the falls and you’re done.
But the soft rocks of the cliffs extend all the way into town, so the blasting may have pushed erosion near roads and buildings.
“We got expert advice and figured out we wouldn’t know where it would stop, it would be mechanical failure and failure and failure,” said Mr. Jin.
The last option considered was to block the space under the cliff with “some kind of structure”.
“But we didn’t want to do that. The structure should be important to keeping people coming back and it certainly wouldn’t add to beach luxury.”
Mr. Jain said local feedback has been mostly positive and new signs will be placed on the beach to clarify the beach closure.
“People understand the risks and understand that measures are in place to protect them.”
While walking on the sand is prohibited, people can still kayak along the water and surf, as long as they don’t enter the water at Demons Bluff.
Mr. Jain said that as the citizen science project continues, there may come a time when the beach will open up again.
“If the cliff fails and avoids danger, they can open the area again.”
Climate change could worsen erosion within 50 years
While climate change doesn’t play a big role in erosion right now, Dr. Kennedy said sea level rise could increase energy in waves hitting the base of cliffs, creating larger cracks at the top.
“But the biggest impact is precipitation,” he said.
“So in the next 10 to 20 years there won’t be much impact of climate change but as we reach the 50 to 70 year mark there will be a sudden spike in erosion rates.
“As the waters warm in the tropics, the intensity of this energy resonates higher up the slopes with every wave that hits it.”
Eventually, the town of Anglesey would begin to erode.
But not in the near future.
“In a few hundred years, the cliff will eventually return,” he said.
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