A survey of the ocean floor will begin today to determine whether sand can be taken from a 60 square kilometre patch of seabed off the coast of Newcastle to replenish the erosion-plagued Stockton beach and save the ailing stretch of coastline.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro will announce the three-week operation is beginning today, labelling it "the most significant step yet" in the fight to save Stockton beach.
The crew of contractors - experienced sailors, scientists and a marine mammal observer - spent yesterday making their final preparations before they were expected to head offshore at first light this morning to start collecting data.
Their findings will be given to City of Newcastle to inform the next steps in the rescue effort.
The crew will analyse the seabed up to 5.5km off Stockton Bight on the inner continental shelf.
They will map the different types of sand and collect sediment from the sea floor, as well as take sediment core samples at about six metres deep.
The sediment analysis will help determine how thick sand deposits are and whether the grains are the right size to stop them from washing away if shifted to the troubled zone.
No dredging will take place as part of the investigation.
"Today is the most significant step yet in our efforts to restore Stockton beach and the scientific data will help determine if the sand in Stockton Bight is a suitable source and ensure we fully understand any impacts that could result from its removal," said Mr Barilaro, who chairs the Stockton Beach Task Force.
"I know the local community has waited a long time for their beach to be restored to its former glory, and this survey work demonstrates the NSW government's commitment to make this happen while also ensuring marine life and the environment is protected."
It comes after the Newcastle Herald reported last month that the government had approved an exploration licence - with strict conditions - to search for sand to help solve the Stockton coastline's long-running and serious erosion problem, with possible offshore dredging in mind for the future.
The Department of Regional NSW's geological division applied for the licence last December.
The Geological Survey of NSW released a report last year identifying the survey area as the largest local offshore sand resource.
The investigation will end before whale migration season begins and a marine animal expert will be with the crew to observe wildlife and ensure they are not affected by the work.
University of Newcastle School of Environmental and Life Sciences conjoint associate professor Ron Boyd has previously conducted sediment studies in the area in question.
"It is important to locate any objects on the sea floor such as wrecks, rocky outcrops or cultural artefacts and identify any areas of environmental significance to make sure the seabed ecology is not affected," he said.
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