Breaking of Bribie Island sparks asbestos and erosion fears, threatens to landlock Coast Guard

The breaking of Bribie Island has turned a deepwater passage into a treacherous maze of sandbars, unearthed tiny fibres of a deadly material, and has begun eating away a popular Sunshine Coast foreshore.

Waves first crossed a narrow sliver at the northern end of the island in December 2021, but there was hope that it was a one-off.

But in January last year, swells powered by ex-Tropical Cyclone Seth created a very thin passage – only a metre or two – through the sand.

It was a change not expected by authorities until at least 2040.

That once-tiny slice is now a recognised crossing almost a kilometre wide and is creating issues for rescuers, residents and businesses.

A uniformed man standing next to a small rescue boat.
Jerry Jurczak says the splitting of Bribie Island had made nearby waterways more treacherous.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Caloundra Coast Guard deputy flotilla commander Jerry Jurczak said he could not have imagined how quickly the water would change. 

“Within a matter of months, I’d say eight months, all of a sudden we had a deepwater passage,” he said.

“We had boats, jetskis going through it, to everyone’s amazement going, ‘That’s just not what we expected.'”

An aerial view of an island being divided in two by the ocean.
Doug Bazley and his son Clinton captured this image of the big swells breaking through the island’s northern end in January 2022.(Supplied: Doug Bazley, Blueys Photography)

Before last year, Coast Guard volunteers would launch their boats from the Golden Beach base and head directly to sea.

That route is now a puzzle of changing sandbars.

An aerial view of an island with a channel running through it.
The path to the ocean over the Caloundra bar has become a treacherous and sandy maze.(Supplied, Cade Mooney, CADE Media)

The volunteers drive the rescue boats by road to a ramp about 10 minutes south to avoid the worst of the shifting conditions.

The largest of its vessels is permanently moored at a nearby canal.

“It’s treacherous to navigate the old bar at low tide,” Mr Jurczak said.

“Every month there’s a sandbank that’s appeared that wasn’t there a month ago.”

A uniformed man stands next to a rescue boat.
Jerry Jurczak with the Coast Guard’s newest rescue boat, which is designed for use in shallow water.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Erosion unearths asbestos

The loss of landmass on Bribie has made the Golden Beach foreshore more vulnerable to swell and higher tides.

With the shoreline and parklands being eaten away, dangerous material has been unearthed.

Asbestos warning signs at a beach.
Parts of Golden Beach are fenced off after asbestos was found along the foreshore.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Locals found small pieces of asbestos on the water’s edge last week, prompting a response from the state and council, which has closed some beach entries, rolled out double fencing, and put up warning tape.

Authorities say the fencing and closures are a precaution and that the asbestos is not considered a major public health issue.

A man leaning on a bench at a beachside cafe. He is wearing a baseball cap and t-shirt.
Chill Cafe 89 owner David Deambrogio says some people are unaware there is no public health risk.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Nearby cafe owner David Deambrogio said it was hard to explain to customers that they were safe when the signs and tape seemed to indicate otherwise.

“People were coming here getting scared, they saw yellow signs and it’s saying asbestos dust is in the air,” he said.

“If it needs to be covered up, rocked over and cemented, let’s do it.”

A blonde woman in dark exercise clothing stands next to a warning sign at a beach.
Jacquie Rose says the community has been given little detail about the asbestos situation.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Jacquie Rose has lived in the area for a decade and is not concerned.

“I’ve never heard of asbestos at a beach,” she said.

Ms Rose said there was little information reaching the public, but plenty of rumours.

“Some people are saying that it’s only a bit of asbestos the size of your palm, and then you talk to someone else, and they say, ‘Oh it’s buried asbestos’ — nobody really knows what this is all about.

“I’d just like more information.”

An aerial view of an island with a channel running through it.
The Coast Guard could become landlocked if sand continues to build up in what was formerly the deepwater passage.(Supplied: Cade Mooney, CADE Media)

Risk minor despite signs

Councillor Terry Landsberg said experts were examining the area, but people did not need to worry.

“All the asbestos is obviously moist and damp,” he said.

“The actual issue is if you breathe [the fibres] in, so it’s quite safe at this stage.”

The politics of finding toxic material on a shoreline is complicated — everything on the land side is under council control, but the waterway is handled by the state.

Each say they are working well together to find a solution.

A man with short, dark hair, wearing a business shirt, stands in front of a fence with a warning sign attached to it.
MP Jason Hunt hopes the signs show that the issue being taken seriously.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Owen Jacques)

Caloundra MP Jason Hunt said there was funding to rebuild foreshore around the naval cadets’ building near where the asbestos was found.

He said the warning signs and fences were intrusive, but he hoped they provided some comfort.

“Anything that involves asbestos has to be treated with the utmost of caution,” Mr Hunt said.

“You want to give people that level of assurance, to say this has been discovered and people are aware of it and steps are being taken right now to mitigate what’s going on.”

Cr Landsberg hoped that the erosion and the discovery of asbestos would be addressed regardless of what course of action was decided on.

“It may need a small rock wall, or maybe concreting, or maybe it can be sealed with a certain type of wrap,” he said.

There was no word on how long it would take to make a decision, particularly because of the issues caused by the breaking of Bribie.

After watching the island and waterways change for the past year, Mr Jurczak said his team of volunteers wondered what the new normal would look like.

“For us to be landlocked, all we need is for the northern bar to close,” he said.

“Then, literally, we’re living in a pond.”

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