OPINION: Extra care now will pay off in the future

THE recent interest in access to Stockton Bight has been a great opportunity to help raise discussion on the importance of the Worimi Conservation Lands.

This spectacular coastal landscape was formally returned to its Worimi traditional owners in 2007.

Aboriginal cultural connections with these lands have always been strong, and continue today.

In negotiating the joint management agreement with government that led to the creation of the national park, the local Worimi traditional owners committed to sustainable public access to Stockton Bight, while also ensuring the long-term protection of their cultural sites.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service jointly manages these lands with its traditional Aboriginal owners through a Board of Management, with the board setting the goal of protecting the area’s unique cultural landscape while continuing to provide opportunities for the community to enjoy a range of recreational opportunities.

Given its wonderful landscape, increased rates of four-wheel-drive ownership, along with improved access, better information and the fact that approximately five million people live within 2 hours drive, the large and growing popularity of the park is not surprising.

During busy weekends and summer holidays, it is common for hundreds of four-wheel drives to enter the park via the beach entrances at Williamtown and Anna Bay.

While the board has been working hard to facilitate this, it is inevitable that this increasing use will need to be managed if our children are to have the same opportunities in the future that we cherish now.

The beach and dune system at the Worimi Conservation Lands is dynamic. A highly mobile and complex system, it includes the beachfront, sparsely vegetated frontal dunes, and the towering dunes we all associate with the area.

Between the frontal dune and the mobile dunes is the lower undulating area with more vegetation, including wetland plants depending on rain, ground water levels and wind-blown sand. All of these areas contain an extraordinary diversity of Aboriginal sites and cultural material, evidence of the past 6000 years of occupation by the Worimi.

As the weather moves sand around, some sites are exposed, while others are buried.

These Aboriginal sites and the frontal dune itself are susceptible to damage from vehicles, and the board needs to be very careful in all of the decisions it makes to ensure these values are managed.

In early June 2012, a low-pressure system hit Stockton Bight during one of the biggest high tides of the year.

The extreme tide combined with strong southerly winds and the swell had a big impact on the park, with seawater pushing through the frontal dune causing extensive flooding and erosion, swamping camping areas.

Damage from this storm was exacerbated by years of vehicles crossing the frontal dune, which had cut gaps or blowouts through the dune, compromising its function as a barrier to seawater.

The resulting storm surge caused damage right through to the base of the high dunes, with extensive damage to dunes, vegetation and Aboriginal sites. The Worimi Conservation Lands were temporarily closed after the storm. The beachfront and the recreation vehicle area were re-opened to vehicles shortly thereafter.

While there has been some natural recovery of the beach and dune system, progress is slow.

As a result, the camping areas in the dunes remain closed, and the redevelopment of camping areas is being considered in the draft plan of management.

The board and the traditional owners remain committed to trying to provide safe and sustainable camping opportunities, and are working towards this outcome.

After two years of community consultation, the draft plan of management for the area is nearing completion.

The plan will address visitor access, including four-wheel driving and camping.

It will be on public exhibition for at least 90 days, when anyone interested is invited to make a submission.

I encourage people to register their interest in the draft plan of management through www.worimiconservationlands苏州美睫培训 and stay involved in the discussion.

Robert Quirk is the Lower North Coast Region manager for the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service.

CONSERVE: The Worimi Conservation Lands at Stockton Beach have traditional and recreational value.