THE NSW government has taken a critical step towards saving erosion-crippled Stockton beach, approving an exploration licence to identify suitable offshore sand for renourishment.
The Newcastle Herald can reveal that exploration work, to be carried out under strict licensing conditions, will begin off the coast of Newcastle in coming weeks as the government inches closer to green lighting an offshore dredging project.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the work would focus on a potentially suitable offshore sand source on the inner continental shelf off Stockton Bight, up to 5.5 kilometres from the coastline.
The Geological Survey of NSW, within the Department of Regional NSW, applied for the offshore exploration licence in December.
"The exploration work will get underway shortly and will involve mapping the seafloor and collecting sand samples to assess its suitability for beach nourishment," Mr Barilaro said.
"The data will also be useful for future studies, such as determining why erosion occurs locally and to gain a better understanding of the marine environment in Stockton Bight."
Work will include mapping the different types of sand on the seafloor and collecting sediment samples and shallow sediment core samples to approximately six metres deep.
There will be no dredging as part of the investigations.
Mr Barilaro said the surveys may also locate previously unknown shipwrecks and other cultural artefacts, ensuring they are protected in the future.
"The exploration work will be carried out under strict licensing conditions to ensure the environment and marine life, including whales, are protected," Mr Barilaro said.
"The licence approval brings us one step closer to replenishing Stockton Beach and I'm pleased to provide assurance to families and local businesses that we are taking real action to resolve this issue."
Under current legislation, offshore sand is classified as a mineral and its exploration and recovery from NSW coastal waters requires an exploration licence and mining licence respectively, under the Offshore Minerals Act 1999.
The exploration work will be funded from $1 million announced by the NSW government for Stockton beach in March 2020.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said the people of Stockton had stood together to rally for help to save their beach and suburb.
"I hope that this news reassures the community that work is continuing," he said.
"I remain committed to working across party lines and with the NSW government for the Stockton community, and I thank the Deputy Premier and his team for their ongoing efforts."
A City of Newcastle spokeswoman said temporary sandbags along the beach at Barrie Crescent would be replaced by 1100 rock-filled bags.
Work is underway on the ballast ground, off Fullerton St, to fill the rock bags.
"Installation of the structure is due to commence in March," she said.
"Construction of the rock-bag structure is expected to offset the need for ongoing emergency response at Barrie Crescent."
It will also replace the two planned walls, at Stone Street and Griffith Avenue, that were approved in the Stockton Coastal Management Program 2020.
For more information about the exploration licence, visit www.resourcesandgeoscience.nsw.gov.au/stockton
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