21 Feb 2018

The communities being eaten by the sea

From Checkpoint, 5:34 pm on 21 February 2018

All along the West Coast are tiny communities slowly being eaten by the sea.

Every time a storm hits, strong winds, heavy swells and storm surges destroy more of the coastline. Some communities are just a dozen metres from where the ocean stops, for now. 

Brent Dyhrberg was evacuated last night, when ex-Cyclone Gita was approaching the small town of Hector, 30km north of Westport. He loves the town, but a few months ago his home was 40m from the sea, and now it's 35m away.

“It’s paradise to us," he told John Campbell.

"We don’t really want to leave, but we were just discussing before we’ve probably given it another three to five years, and we may have to seriously consider leaving. It’s inundating our property.”

Buller Mayor Garry Howard says coastal erosion is a continual problem: "A one way track."

"Those properties are going to continually be threatened, sandwiched between the sea and the state highway. What is the answer?”

Local councils can't necessarily afford to buy out properties, or protect homes. That's a conversation that has to be held with central government, he says.

“Some of those tough discussions are going to have to take place. How do we fund it and where is that going to lie?”

Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi agrees.

While Mr Dyhrberg waits for more formal conversations and decisions, he watches the sea get closer and wonders what's to come. Can the Tasman be kept out, can their homes be moved back, will they be bought out and asked to move?