Trench wars in Mallacoota as tourists attempt to open river mouth

Locals fill in the tourist made trench at Betka beach, Mallacoota. Photo: Rachel Mounsey
Locals fill in the tourist made trench at Betka beach, Mallacoota. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

A trench being dug at the popular Betka Beach over the summer holidays has sparked fury between Mallacoota locals and visiting holiday makers.

Tourists had been digging the ditch in hope of creating a flow through effect between Betka Beach estuary and the ocean. It has been reported the tourists had been digging since around January 3. 

Around 7pm Monday night, January 7, concerned locals took to their shovels and covered the ditch back over, leaving the holiday makers disappointed.

According to locals, the estuary will open naturally when the time is right. They believed digging a trench would force the water to drain out prematurely threatening the ecosystem of the estuary and killing the fish within. 

 "Now is not the time." A group of locals fill in a tourist made trench at Betka beach. Photo Rachel Mounsey

"Now is not the time." A group of locals fill in a tourist made trench at Betka beach. Photo Rachel Mounsey

“We arrived just in time, they’d almost got through, the results could have  been disastrous,” one local replacing sand into the trench said.

Tourists watched on from the other side of the water as the group of locals banded together to fill in the ditch.

A regular summer visitor who preferred not to be named said he believed the estuary being closed would detract people from visiting the swimming spot. 

 “I’ve been coming here for around 20 years. This used to be a great clean place, safe for little kids to swim in. Now look at it – it’s dirty, it needs to be opened. People just won’t visit if it stays like this.”

The Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) Regional Manager Land and Built Environment Programs, Carole Macmillan said, “There are Estuary Opening Protocols for Gippsland and no approvals have been issued by DELWP for the mouth of the Betka River to be opened. 

“Where possible, the preference for the opening of river mouths is via the natural process, unless certain triggers are reached and there are environmental impacts occurring on private property and around townships. Opening of estuaries at inappropriate times, can cause detrimental environmental impacts, such as fish deaths.” 

 “If an artificial opening of an estuary is required, several environmental factors are considered, followed by various approvals from multiple agencies before any intervention is undertaken by the relevant land manager consistent with the Estuary Opening Protocols for Gippsland”, Ms Macmillian said.  

It is believed the Betka River was last opened in 2017.

However whether the opening was natural is still to be confirmed. According to one local it had opened and closed within three weeks. 

Bega River opened, May 2017

Manually opening lakes and estuaries to the sea is a debatable decision up and down the coast. It has been a sore point in the Bega Valley Shire as well, with the council there reminding everyone that it is a criminal offence for non-authorised people to open a lake, lagoon or river entrance.

DELWP have confirmed the attempt to open the river mouth is an illegal activity and an investigation is underway. 

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