Aerial view of the city of Busselton, the beach, and the Indian Ocean.

Parts of this WA tourist town could be underwater within a century

The family of resort owner Greg Tickle have been welcoming tourists to some of Western Australia’s most pristine coastlines for generations.

But Mr Tickle believes a projected rise in sea levels could mean his sons would see the end of the family business.

He is just one of many facing the problem in the seaside town of Busselton, a three-hour drive south of Perth, over the next century – with the rising waters of Geographe Bay.

Mr Tickle said his family had seen the beach move 30 meters in the last century, but the next 100 years would be worse.

“I don’t feel threatened, probably in my lifetime, it’s probably more something my sons will have to deal with,” Mr Tickle said.

“If we end up having to leave at the end, after a huge effort to defend him, that’s something you’ll have to deal with when the time comes.”

A man with short hair looking at the ocean.
Resort owner Greg Tickle said he would stay and defend his property for as long as possible.(ABC Southwest WA: Sam Bold)

As a result, Mr. Tickle makes different decisions about his business.

“We probably won’t invest too much in new buildings and infrastructure in the park,” he said.

His business is among other critical infrastructure such as the hospital, schools, and entire suburbs that are threatened by ocean encroachment.

A graph showing the coastline and projected sea level rise.
The Busselton Coastal Hazards Adaptation and Risk Management Planning document shows sea level projections.(Supplied: City of Busselton)

Protect or retreat?

Busselton’s low-lying nature and surrounding wetlands make it particularly vulnerable to rising seas, which raises complex planning issues.

When the Western Australian Planning Commission told all local governments on the coast to prepare for 0.9m sea level rise over the next 100 years, it provided an opportunity to focus on the ‘coming.

The City of Busselton’s Director of Planning and Development Services, Paul Needham, worked on a report called Coastal Hazard Risk Management Adaption Plan (CHRMAP), which modeled the potential effects of sea level rise.

It showed tall water pipes consuming entire suburbs.

An aerial photo of a coastline and part of a city.
The hospital and a primary school are close to the coast of Busselton.(ABC Southwest WA: Anthony Pancia)

Mr Needham said the city had to decide which parts of the coast were worth saving.

“It sets out the fundamentals in that we plan to protect most of our northern coast, where most of our vulnerable assets and coastline are,” he said.

“If we weren’t going to protect the coast, that would be a really, really big planning issue.

“But since we’ve looked at this retirement option and decided to go with the protection option, the planning issues are much less difficult to manage.”

The CHRMAP describes possible protection methods such as groynes, dykes, beach nourishment and requires houses to be built about 2 meters above sea level.

A man in a blue shirt and jacket sits in front of an image of a coastline.
Paul Needham says the council has been warning about sand shortages for about a decade.(ABC Southwest WA: Anthony Pancia)

Billion dollar problem

If this protection plan were fully realized, the billions in infrastructure costs would far exceed those of a local government like Busselton.

Mr Needham said the question of who pays was still unclear.

“We believe that the costs of funding coastal management should be shared in an equitable manner,” said Mr Needham.

“Between the landowners who are going to be important beneficiaries and the local community as a whole, but also the state and the federal government.”

Sandbags along a brick wall on a beach in Southwest WA.
A winter storm in Yallingup damages the sandbags that protect the coastline from erosion.(ABC Southwest WA: Sam Bold)

He called on all levels of government to take coastal flooding more seriously.

“The state government has been allocating funds for coastal management for some time,” Mr Needham said.

“It certainly doesn’t seem to be close enough.

“[From] the federal government as well, we have to do long-term planning.

“But if funding decisions are made on a one- or two-year basis, that won’t lead to reasonable and sustainable decision-making.”

Homes along a waterfront in Busselton, SW WA.
Busselton officials say withdrawing from the coast will cost more than protecting it from erosion.(ABC Southwest WA: Anthony Pancia)

Act now

Mr Tickle said Busselton had a chance to act to ensure the coast could be enjoyed for generations to come.

“We need to build a more collapsible style of accommodation, [that] would naturally be a more sensible way to proceed in case things turn around,” he said.

“When you add the factor of sea level rise, that’s something to be concerned about.

“My opinion is that you should make as big of a buffer as possible, while you have the chance.”

Erosion on a beach south of Perth in WA.
The city of Busselton is already putting money aside to adapt its coastline to rising sea levels.(ABC Southwest WA: Sam Bold)

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