The access way to Baylys Beach would have been prey to erosion and slips without emergency sandbagging, which was installed using naturally degradable bags in 2015

Plastic pollution fears ‘misplaced’

by Andy Bryenton

Recent fears of plastic pollution from the breakdown of disaster-prevention sandbagging work exposed by storm action on Baylys beach are unfounded, according to the man who had them produced and helped pay for their installation.

When the sandy bluff at the entrance to the popular west coast beach was threatened by slips and visible cracking in 2014, Maurice Weatherall was chair of the Baylys Beach Society. He recalled seeing flood abatement bagging projects overseas and worked to bring the technology here.

The bags were manufactured from similar ‘oxy-photo-degradable’ materials to those used in biodegradable shopping bags, specifically because they were to be used in a beachfront context, he says. It means that when exposed to sun and oxygen, the fibres the bags are made of, break right down to a molecular level, leaving no microplastics behind as PVC bags would. Professional reports by companies Opus and GHD have been produced for the Kaipara District Council to discuss options for a permanent solution, supporting Mr Weatherall’s position that the initial sandbagging work was of an emergency and temporary nature. In one of the more recent of these reports, experts agree that if nothing had been done in 2015, there would have been losses of road access and land.

Options, including the replacement of the existing bags with more advanced and robust versions of the same or even a breakwater out at sea in front of the beach access, have all been presented to council and await further action to secure a long-term solution.