Beaches and sand dunes are fragile, dynamic environments, easily eroded by severe storms, wave action and human impact. Native vegetation binds the soil and sand providing dune stability and a safe habitat for local fauna.
Why is coastline vegetation important?
Coastal plants, like all plants, have a function in the environment. Plant roots help to bind and hold soil and sand together and they provide shelter, homes and food for animals. The beachfront, rock platforms and cliffs are the first point of attack on our coastline by severe storms that may cause coastline erosion. Cliffs and rock platforms, while containing relatively little vegetation, are structurally equipped to resist coastal erosion. However, vegetation on rocky cliffs is still vital to preserving the long-term integrity of our coastline.
Beaches and sand dunes are particularly fragile and dynamic environments; they are easily eroded by severe storms and wave action as part of a natural cycle of erosion and sand accumulation. Studies predict that there will be a net erosion (or recession) of the coastline over the next 50-100 years.
The vegetation on sand dunes is critical to help bind sand together and stabilise sand dunes. This prevents wind action on the loose sand accelerating natural erosion rates.
Paths formed by people walking, or driving, over the vegetation on sand dunes damages dune vegetation, contributing to dune and beach erosion.
What is coastline vegetation?
In a natural coastline environment, each plant species is found in a particular zone. While these zones may overlap to some extent, they can be identified by several broad categories
Lake Macquarie’s coastline habitats and vegetation communities
Examples of the different habitats and vegetation communities that exist along Lake Macquarie’s
coastline are outlined below. For a more specific reference to plant species that typically occur along Lake Macquarie’s coastline, refer to the Lake Macquarie Coastal Planting Guide, available from Lake Macquarie City Council or at www.lakemac.com.au.
Incipient Foredune- a small bench or platform of accumulated windblown sand at the top of the beach, usually right in front of the foredune. This dune is the most dynamic dune type, growing upwards and outwards to the sea or can be completely removed by storm waves. Often it is quickly colonised by grasses such as Hairy Spinifex (Spinifex sericeus) and creepers Coast pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) and Coastal Jack Bean (Canavalia rosea).
Foredune- lies between the incipient foredune and the hind dune. It can be attacked by waves during very severe or long storm events. Woody shrubs and trees, such as Coast Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) and Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia), dominate these dunes and their size, shape and stability depends on vegetation cover.
Hind Dune- the dunal area behind the foredune and behind a depression running parallel to the shoreline, called a swale. The hind dune and swale can be vegetated by littoral rainforest, wet and dry sclerophyll forests and coastal heath communities, such as Banksia, Melaleuca and Casuarina forests.
Littoral (Coastal) Rainforest- usually found growing on sand in hind dune areas but can occur on headlands and around estuaries. Littoral rainforest contains similar species to subtropical rainforest but is usually dominated by Tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis anacardioides) and Banksias. Littoral rainforests grow in areas sheltered from the wind and salt spray where a moist ‘microclimate’ is provided by vegetation at the margins. Shelter can be provided by landforms eg. dune or headland.
Wet Sclerophyll Forest- an open, or closed, forest vegetation community where soft-leaved shrubs form a layer beneath the trees, usually Eucalypt species. These occur in more moist and sheltered areas such as along creek lines.
Dry Sclerophyll Forest- forest vegetation community where hard-leaved shrubs form a layer beneath the trees, usually Eucalypt species. Eucalypt species often grow in very exposed locations eg. on headlands where they are affected by windshear.
Heath- a vegetation community dominated by low, closely spaced shrubs which have stiff and often small leaves. Along the coastline, it can occur in both wet and dry areas and on a range of sand deposits or clay soils. Heath often grows on exposed headlands and is also affected by windshear.
Headland- defines the ends of sandy beaches by protruding varying distances into the ocean. They are often edged by rock platforms. Vegetation communities can vary greatly, from littoral rainforest in very protected areas to grassy (eg. Kangaroo Grass (Themeda australis) dominated) communities in exposed areas, with one headland sometimes supporting two or more different vegetation communities.
Estuarine Riparian- adjoins and includes the banks and associated mud and sand flats of estuaries. Littoral rainforest, coastal heath, wet and dry sclerophyll forest, dunal, mangrove and salt marsh vegetation communities may occur over a short length of the estuary margin.
Threats to coastline vegetation
- Trampling of fragile dune vegetation by people walking and mountain bikes
- compaction and uprooting by recreational vehicles such as four-wheel-drives, motor, trike and quad-bikes
- removal of vegetation by campers and fishers for fires
- smothering of vegetation by sand and soil eroded from bush tracks and trails
- removal to improve views and land values
- weed infestation – resulting from dumping garden cuttings and/or grass clippings
- arson – intentional burning
Development and works
- encroachment by urban and industrial development
- clearing adjacent to natural vegetation resulting in weed infestation
- inappropriate landscaping and planting choices
- urban rainwater runoff – increasing runoff, sediment, nutrient and pollutant loads
- disturbance from construction works such as roads, drainage, water pipes, sewer pipes, underground power, gas nd telephone lines
- clearing for bushfire risk management, including slashing/mowing
- sand extraction and mining
- natural fire
- weed invasion
- feral animals, such as rabbits
- coastline erosion
- climate change
How is coastline vegetation protected?
There are a number of regulations, policy and planning documents relating to native vegetation on public and private land. The regulations and plans that apply to coastline vegetation are summarised below. Please refer to the particular Acts and documents or specific information.
Local Government Act 1993 (NSW)
Plans of Management for Community Lands
Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979
Local Environmental Plan 2004
Development Control Plan No. 1
Significant Tree Register
Crown Lands Act 1989
Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997
and Native Vegetation Act 2003
Fisheries Management Act 1994
National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974
Noxious Weeds Act 1993
Coastal Protection Act 1979
Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979
State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs)
– SEPP 14 – Coastal Wetlands
– SEPP 19 – Urban Bushland
– SEPP 26 – Littoral Rainforest
– SEPP 71 – Coastal Protection
State Government Coastal Policy 1997
How can you help?
If you are a resident living along Lake Macquarie’s coastline, you can help by planting native species around your home. First, check which habitat or vegetation community your property would have supported prior to development.