As Port Fairy residents watch East Beach battered by rising seas and strengthening swells, a new research project may be setting course for a solution.
The beach has been an ongoing cause for concern since it was dramatically washed away in 2013, when it lost a staggering 4m of sand.
Efforts to save the beach have come from all sides, with local citizen scientists boosted by government funds to track the progress of erosion and local and state governments spending millions of dollars on sea walls and sand dredging.
But despite the time, money and sweat that's been spent, the long-term future for East Beach is uncertain at best.
Amid the gloom, a new study being led by Swinburne University professor of fluid dynamics Richard Manasseh and supported by Moyne Shire Council could offer a glimmer of hope.
The study is centred around wave energy and how it can be absorbed, deflected and captured offshore.
Usually this kind of research focuses on how to design a machine that can absorb wave energy and stand up to punishing ocean conditions. Professor Manasseh said the new Swinburne-led study came at it from a different direction.
"There are many, many designs for inventions for converting wave energy into power," he said.
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And yet there are basically no examples of wave energy generation around the world. Professor Manasseh said there were two reasons for this.
"Firstly, each invention is championed by a small start-up with limited funds. Now, that would be fine if not for the second factor, which is that you have to build something physically gigantic to test out the theory and place it in the ocean," he said.
"That requires a huge amount of money and there is plenty of potential for disaster."
Professor Manasseh said the process followed a familiar pattern. A new design is built and tested at a small scale, "but then at the commercialisation phase investors baulk and the whole thing sinks".
"Rather than asking the question that everyone seems to have a different answer to, our research is about how these machines might be placed and work together," he said.
"We're not looking at the specific designs of the machines themselves."
The first ever wave energy machine was designed in 1799 and Professor Manasseh said there were dozens of designs that could function in the ocean.
The key thing, he said, was convincing an organisation with massive amounts of funding - a government for example - to back a large-scale project that could demonstrate how a number of the machines would work as a group.
A single machine doesn't tell you much, Professor Manasseh said, but when you placed dozens in a carefully designed arrangement, the effect on the swell could be huge.
That's where East Beach comes in.
"If you think about what these machines actually do, they are harnessing the energy from waves.
"One advantage of this is turning that energy into electricity, but a second advantage is we would have the potential to control the wave energy hitting our coastline," Professor Manasseh said.
The array of machines could function almost like a breakwater, drastically reducing the powerful swell washing away vulnerable coastlines like East Beach.
Professor Manasseh said the machines could be electronically programmed to maximise electricity generation or coastal protection, depending on the area where they were being installed.
The three-year research project will cost $2 million, drawing on funding from the federal government and collaboration between Swinburne University, The University of Adelaide and UNSW.
Moyne Shire Council will also be supporting the project in the hope that one of the first sites chosen for the wave energy converters will be off the coast of East Beach.
The shire will contribute nearly $90,000 of in-kind support over the three years, hosting the researchers when they visit Port Fairy to collect data about the swell patterns and ocean conditions off the coast.
Professor Manasseh said by the end of the three-year grant he planned to have a proposal ready to pitch to the government.
"I would hope by the end of the grant we had a system that could then be tested in a specific local context."
East Beach, perhaps.
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