The need for the Stockton project

Stockton Beach is subject to significant sand erosion, shoreline recession, coastal and tidal inundation and slope instability, which is significantly impacting communities and businesses in the area.

The NSW Government has established the Stockton Erosion Taskforce, chaired by the NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, to work with local stakeholders and the community to address these issues. The government has also committed $1 million in funding to tackle the problem.

An assessment of management options conducted by City of Newcastle Council in May 2020 concluded renourishment of the sand on Stockton Beach is necessary to address the erosion issues.

Further studies carried out by the Department of Regional NSW show the sands of the Newcastle inner shelf sand sheet on the floor of Stockton Bight appear suitable for this renourishment exercise, however further exploration is required.

Exploration activities

In February 2021, an Offshore Exploration Licence was approved permitting the Department of Regional NSW to carry out exploration activities in a specific area of the Stockton Bight.

The main activities include:

  • mapping the different types of sand on the seafloor using multi-beam echo sounding, magnetometer technology and sub-bottom profiling
  • collecting samples of sediment from the seafloor
  • collecting shallow sediment core samples (to approximately six metres deep).

Once collected, the data will be analysed and provided to City of Newcastle Council to inform the next steps for remediation/rehabilitation of Stockton Beach.

There will be no dredging carried out as part of the exploration.

Location

The exploration activities will be conducted across a broad area extending the length of Stockton Beach out to the limit of State Waters (three nautical miles from the coast).

View an expandable map of the area to be explored below.

Click to enlarge.

Stockton Bight Map showing exploration blocks and units

Impact assessments

Impact assessments have been conducted to assess the potential impact of the proposed exploration activities on marine life.

As part of this, the following species groups were assessed:

  • marine mammals and cetaceans
  • marine reptiles
  • sharks and fish
  • syngnathids (seahorses, pipefishes, and seadragons)
  • marine and shorebirds (migratory and resident).

All species assessed were considered unlikely to be significantly impacted by the survey activities. Where potential impacts were identified, mitigation measures have been put in place such as conducting the survey outside of whale migratory periods.

Any heritage items, including Aboriginal artefacts, found during these activities will be documented and reported to the appropriate bodies.

Frequently Asked Questions

A - The Stockton Beach coastal area is subject to significant sand erosion, shoreline recession, coastal and tidal inundation and slope instability. These factors are significantly impacting beach amenity and are putting public assets at immediate risk and private assets at risk over the longer term.
Through an assessment of management options carried out by City of Newcastle Council, sand renourishment has been identified as necessary to address these issues and help protect the area.
Subsequent assessments have also showed sourcing the sand from offshore presents the most environmentally and socially responsible, and economical way of obtaining the amount of sand needed to renourish the area.
In 2020 the Stockton Erosion Taskforce, chaired by the NSW Deputy Premier, asked the Department of Regional NSW to carry out a desktop study to identify marine sand resources suitable for beach renourishment.
The study concluded the sands of the Newcastle inner shelf sand sheet on the floor of Stockton Bight appear to be suitable for beach renourishment and represent the largest potential sand resource.
However, the extent, thickness and continuity of the sand sheet is unclear and further exploration is required to confirm its suitability.

A - In NSW, exploration and mining activities must be carried out under an approved title.

An Offshore Exploration Licence Application was made by an applicant, in this case the NSW Government, to obtain an Offshore Exploration Licence to explore for a certain mineral or mineral group within a designated area.

Under its Offshore Exploration Licence Application, the NSW Government sought to explore for suitable sand resources to replenish the Stockton Beach coastal area within a designated area of the Stockton Bight.

A - An Offshore Exploration Licence gives a titleholder the exclusive rights to explore for a specific mineral or mineral group within a designated offshore area.

In this case, the Offshore Exploration Licence granted to the NSW Government (EL9040) allows it to explore for suitable sand resources to replenish the Stockton Beach coastal area within a designated area of Stockton Bight.

A - No. The Offshore Exploration Licence granted to the NSW Government (EL9040) does not permit it to start dredging/mining, nor does it guarantee a future approval to do so.

If suitable sand resources are identified through this exploration process, further technical and environmental assessments will need to be conducted and additional approvals gained before any dredging activities could take place.

A - The survey activities will only commence once the relevant conditions of the licence have been met, including community consultation.

The survey activities are set to begin in early March 2021 and will run until mid-April 2021, weather permitting.

A - The survey will be conducted across a broad area extending the length of Stockton Beach out to the limit of State Waters (three nautical miles from the coast). It is anticipated most of the survey effort will focus on an area up to 7.5 nautical miles from Stockton.

View a map of the area to be explored.

A - The survey activities to be carried out include:
  • geological mapping of the different types of sand on the floor of Stockton Bight using multi-beam echo sounding, magnetometer and sub-bottom profiling
  • collecting samples of sediment on the sea floor to characterise the sand (about 50-100 samples)
  • collecting shallow sediment cores of about 6 metres deep, to assess the thickness of the sand layers under the sea floor (30-70 samples)

The types of exploration activities proposed will be conducted under strict licence conditions.

A - Results from this exploration work will be provided to City of Newcastle Council at no cost to inform next steps concerning the potential renourishment of the Stockton Beach coastal area.

A - The project will be managed by the Department of Regional NSW’s Geological Survey. Specialised contractors will carry out the exploration activities.

A – Similar to depth sounders found on most maritime vessels, multi-beam echo sounders emit sound waves in a fan shape beneath the ship’s hull. These sound waves are received as they return (or echo) from the seabed and are converted to water depth to produce bathymetric (underwater topographic) maps of the seafloor. The received signals are also analysed to help map the type of sediment (i.e. gravel, sand and silt) lying on the seafloor.

A - A magnetometer is a scientific instrument, similar in concept to a metal detector, which is used to measure the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. For this project, the magnetometer will be used to map the location of any metallic objects, such as shipwrecks, on or beneath the seafloor.

A – Acoustic Sub-Bottom Profiling (SBP) systems are used to image or see below the seafloor. They are widely used by marine researchers because they can collect data quickly and non-intrusively. They work by sending a pulse of sound into the shallow sub-seafloor sediments. The sound pulse bounces off the buried sediment layers and returns to the vessel where it is recorded. The data is processed to create a view of the sub-seafloor showing the depth and thickness of the different layers present, which might be sand, gravel, clay or rock. This data is vital in assessing the most appropriate locations for sediment sampling activities.

A - Possible sand sources for beach nourishment on the seafloor will be collected for analysis, using a grab sampler.

One of the most common methods of retrieving samples from the seafloor, these devices take a sample of the topmost layer of the seabed.

It is anticipated about 50-100 sediment samples will be collected using this technique during this survey.

Sediment core samples will be collected using vibracoring, a well-established and minimal impact technique that works well in areas of high sand/sediment content.

This involves sending a thin-walled core tube into the seafloor, with a vibrating head at the top, which allows the tube to penetrate the seafloor to collect the sample. The vibracorer will be mounted in a tower which is lowered to the seafloor from the survey vessel.

It is anticipated between 30 to 70 vibracores extending up to six metres in depth will be collected during the exploration program, however it is possible that additional cores may be required.

A - No, under EL9040 the NSW Government can only explore for suitable sand resources for the specific purpose of nourishing the Stockton Beach coastal area.

Furthermore, the equipment to be used during the exploration program will be optimised to explore for suitable shallow sand resources down to six metres under the seafloor so will be unable to detect any petroleum resources deep under the surface.

A - Impact assessments have been carried out to assess the impact on marine life considered likely to be within the survey area. These were undertaken in accordance with relevant State and Commonwealth environmental legislation.

The following species groups were assessed:

  • marine mammals and cetaceans
  • marine reptiles
  • sharks and fish
  • syngnathids (seahorses, pipefishes, and seadragons).
  • marine and shorebirds (migratory and resident).

All species assessed were considered unlikely to be significantly impacted by the survey activities.

It was noted in the assessment that some sea mammals (i.e. whales and dolphins) could potentially be affected by the multi-beam echo sounding and sub-bottom profiling activities.

To mitigate impacts on marine mammals there is an Environmental Management Plan in place and the multi-beam echo sounding and sub-bottom profiling activities will be conducted prior to the start of the whale migration season. Dedicated observers will also be on the survey vessels to identify if any whales or dolphins are nearby, and ensure mitigation measures are implemented as required.

A - To date stakeholder consultation has been primarily with government agencies seeking the appropriate approvals for the exploration activities to proceed. With the grant of the exploration licence consultation with the wider community, including Local Aboriginal Land Councils, commercial fishers, recreational users of Stockton Bight and Stockton residents will commence.

A - Any heritage items, including Aboriginal artefacts, found during the survey activities will be documented, securely stored and reported to the relevant government agency and Local Aboriginal Land Council.

A - Yes. The community will be able to use the beach while the exploration activities are taking place. The activities will be conducted offshore and will not impact the beach itself.

A – Exploration activities may lead to interactions with other vessels including recreational and commercial fishers.

Any vessels undertaking exploration activities will follow all relevant rules covering maritime traffic. If any impacts on other vessels do occur these will be minimal and temporary.

No disruption to surfers will occur as the vessels will not be entering the surf zone of Stockton Beach.

A - No. The multi-beam echo sounding and magnetometer survey will help to locate any shipwrecks in the area and these will be avoided when sediment samples are taken.

A - Members of the community seeking additional information on the survey activities should email stockton.sand@regional.nsw.gov.au with their details and the topic they wish to discuss, and a representative from the Department of Regional NSW will contact them directly.

More information

Members of the community seeking additional information on the survey activities should email stockton.sand@regional.nsw.gov.au with their contact details and the topic they wish to discuss, and a representative from the Department of Regional NSW will contact them directly.