There are ways to attract visitors to an area, like casinos, restaurants, nightlife and adventure parks. But let’s not forget about the reason why people were attracted to the Gold Coast to begin with, before development even began. Editor-in-Chief Nicole Buckler argues for a perfect wave.
The Spit rejuvenation plan has been received with both excitement and fear by Gold Coasters. We are all worried about overdevelopment and having the area turned into a burnt-out overrun tip. I get the struggle: I am a nature lover at heart; if you come near my turtles with your straws, I will maim you with my pencil IN. YO. FACE.
That said, I am also am pro-development, as long as it is sensible. We all need jobs, and we need to keep developing our city to make sure tourists and other Australians keep coming here with their wallets. It is great living in a stunningly beautiful place, with epic weather. But reality says that we need to make it work for us so that we can make a life for ourselves here.
It’s balancing the two competing factors of protecting nature and making it work for us that separates the good mayors from the scoundrels. All we have to do is listen to environmental scientists and take their advice very seriously while creating our liveable utopias.
Several fascinating studies have come out recently which speak about how profitable natural phenomena can be to a local economy. So, let’s talk about the one that directly applies to our area: A good wave break.
A Perfect Break
A recent study has shown (to our delight) that good surf breaks create economic growth. The study analysed 5,000 surf breaks globally. Not only did they discover that a good surf break meant an immediate jump in tourism and profits – they also discovered that if the break was destroyed, that the area would decline economically almost right away.
The researchers analysed satellite images of night-time lights as a ‘proxy’ for economic growth. The lights increased after a new break was discovered and the word got out. A high-quality surf break boosted growth by 2.2 percentage points per year.
Dr Sam Wills, of the University of Sydney’s School of Economics was the researcher in question. He wanted to escape the cold and go on a surfing holiday. “I looked for somewhere warm and sunny with good waves. I settled on Taghazout in Morocco, thinking it would be quiet. Flying in at sunset over the desert I noticed that everything was dark, except for one little spot that was lit up like Pitt Street: Taghazout. Once I arrived, I realised that this previously sleepy little fishing village had been overrun by surfers, and so I wanted to figure out whether it was systematically happening around the world.”
It was. It’s well understood that natural features like rivers and fertile soil matter for economic growth, but this research shows that natural amenities are just as valuable.
Researchers also investigated two locations where surf breaks were removed and found that nearby economies shrink when this occurs. A break at Jardim do Mar, Portugal, was removed though the construction of a coastal road, while another at Mundaka, Spain, disappeared after a river mouth was dredged.
The paper suggests that building or taking care of existing surf breaks can create jobs. And in tandem, protecting environmental quality is a must. But there is a way to do both on the Gold Coast: by building artificial reefs.
As we all know by now, Palm Beach will soon be home to an artificial reef, with work starting in April. The $18.2 million project is being built primarily to protect the beach and stop the sand from being constantly washed away. But it is hoped that it will actually create more surfable weaves. Also, once established, the reef will be a haven for wildlife. Local surfers have divided opinions on wave creation: some say it will work and others doubt the possibilities. We will soon find out!
The Spit redevelopers hope to create an artificial reef using sculptures, which I for one am super-excited about. But while we are creating reefs, why not throw a few more into the mix and make the Spit a surfing haven? I would really love policy-makers to feel this idea. Reefs are often built to protect beaches, so, why not make ones that would not only stop erosion and protect infrastructure, but as an added bonus, could create consistently perfect waves?
Many perfect wave spots all over the world owe their existence to developments along coastal areas that were built without the wave breaks even in mind. “The Wedge” in California is an example: It was created after a wall was built to ensure boats could get into the harbour safely.
Artificial surfing reefs have been topical for the past few years all over the world and we can definitely have the conversation for the Spit development. The only problem is that the science hasn’t caught up to where I am in my hopes and dreams. But we are so close to cracking this nut – there are actually oceanographers working on this as we speak. Scientists definitely have a good foundation of knowledge as to how to change the ocean floors to affect a wave break.
Here’s what we do know. Standard beach waves can be unpredictable: waves can change as sandbanks move around. But waves breaking off solid, established reefs are the best going: They are consistent, and look the same 20 years ago as they do today – as long as the reef remains protected and intact.
Here’s the bad news: An artificial reef has to be huge to have any sort of effect on waves. And this makes them expensive. But let’s start seeing this as an investment, rather than a cost, because the future benefits will make them more than worth it. I’m ready to put my taxes against this uncertain utopia, how about you?