Time running out before lighthouse plunges into the sea

Erected in 1979, the Richards Bay Lighthouse once stood 200m from the edge of the seacliff. As seen Tuesday this week, its present situation is close to a final descent onto the beach below Photo: Dave Savides

WITH each storm surge that hits the coast, the Richards Bay Lighthouse is nearer to toppling over the brink and into the ocean.

It is now just five metres from a spectacular plunge down the dune face.

At the time it was built, the lighthouse stood 200 metres from the edge of the cliff.

Commissioned in 1979, the 11m high concrete tower lighthouse has a range of 25 sea miles, alertingshipping that approaches the coastline.

As far back as 2010, plans were being made for the relocation of the lighthouse, and in 2013 the City of uMhlathuze council announced a new site on the border between Mzingazi and the Meerensee Equestrian Club (Erf 5333), once the necessary property transfer had been finalised with Transnet National Ports Authority.

However, in 2015, negotiations stalled for trades of land with TNPA as the city wanted to safeguard the future of the John Ross Parkway against planned port expansion.

Time may already have run out, either for construction of a new lighthouse or repositioning of the existing one – something that has been done successfully at other erosion-hit coastal sites in America.

This photo was taken in October last year, during a visit by geological sciences researchers
Photo: Dave Savides

ALSO READ: Coastal alert

Inevitable collapse

Dr Alan Smith, research associate at UKZN School of Geological Sciences and director of Alan Smith Consulting, has for a number of years been documenting coastal erosion related among other factors to rising ocean levels.

‘The Richards Bay Lighthouse coastline has retreated about 60m since March 2004 and the lighthouse is now only some five metres from the seacliff edge.

‘The big losses came during high seas in 2007 and 2011, with further losses occurring during high swell events in 2014, 2016 and this year,’ said Smith.

‘The toe of the seacliff has been undermined by the sea, making it unstable and vulnerable to rain-related collapse as in this latest case.

‘Although this coastline is referred to as coastal dunes it is not. It comprises the Port Durnford Formation, which is a semi-consolidated sediment (very weak rock).

‘This comprises a seacliff which is undergoing retreat and cannot repair itself.

‘There are dunes on top but they rest on the weak Port Durnford Formation foundation.

‘Coastal erosion is not new and has been ongoing for nearly two decades.

‘Either they move the Richards Bay Lighthouse, or it falls – assuming they can still move it, as the present position is extremely precarious.’

TNPA responds

‘TNPA’s Lighthouse and Navigational Systems (LNS) business unit is currently working with the City of uMhlathuze to put the necessary services in place for a new lighthouse on a new site in Richards Bay,’ said David Gordon, LNS Executive Manager.

‘Construction of the structure is expected to begin next year.

‘The recent slippage at the current Richards Bay Lighthouse site is of great concern.

‘The South African Maritime Safety Authority has been informed and a navigational warning will be issued.

‘A temporary structure will be erected on the current site, at a safe distance from the cliff edge, as soon as possible.

‘It is expected that the present lighthouse will be decommissioned.’

 

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  AUTHOR
Dave Savides
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