PORT Fairy residents are joining forces with the big guns of academia in a bid to save the town's much-loved East Beach.
Deakin University has offered the townspeople support and expertise as it enters a new phase in the fight against dune erosion.
Campaigner and former Catchment Management Authority executive Matt Hayes is spearheading a push for the long-held belief that an opened South West Passage and an artificial reef would naturally restore the eroded beach wall.
Mr Hayes, who is forming a community group to save the beach, met yesterday with environment experts and concerned community leaders at Belfast Coastal Reserve, where pounding ocean swells and tides have created sand cliffs more than four metres high.
The stair walkway to the sand recently became unsafe and was removed, despite being extended three times in the past few years to accommodate the sinking level of the dune to the foreshore.
Mr Hayes said Deakin University would begin researching the South West Passage to determine how it could be opened in a major step to naturally rebuild the dunes.
However, the restoration could still take decades and he suggested a reef system might be the first necessary step to help return sand to East Beach.
Port Fairy's world-famous image as the south-west's coastal playground could be enhanced further if the group is able to turn the problem into a positive with some creative thinking, Mr Hayes said.
"We could put in sandbags to make a reef system, or we could sink old ships and make a diving industry here," he said.
"We could even design that system to make some good breaking surf waves.
"The council has a tendency to think of it as a problem and put it in the hard basket, but I think of it as an opportunity."
Mr Hayes said the eroding sand dune could cause serious problems for the community as Port Fairy's last line of defence.
"The idea is to do everything we can to stabilise the situation before it becomes an emergency operation.
"As soon as the rock wall collapses the sea can go straight through to the lock and wash in and out, eroding the dune and making the opening bigger and bigger until the dune is gone altogether."
While a $340,000 Moyne Shire Council project will repair part of the beach's rock wall, he said it was a short-term and ineffective solution.
"For the better part of 100 years people had been wanting to open the passage.
"The academics are saying they can monitor the sand and what's going on to design an effective solution."
Mr Hayes has 72 expressions of interest from Port Fairy residents supporting a new community group, which he hopes will do more than environmental conservation.
"We're going to have a whole lot of new problems here and Port Fairy will be a vulnerable place when it comes to climate change.
"We need to create a resilient community, and by starting this group we can make solving these problem part of their daily life and a joy to them."
The group's first meeting will be next Tuesday at the Lecture Hall on Sackville Street for the public to discuss the cause with representatives from environmental agencies.
Mr Hayes said one of the issues which would be discussed was the push for the Moyne Shire Council to prepare a risk assessment for a dune breach at East Beach.
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