Two homes in Port Waikato have been deemed unsafe due to coastal erosion. DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

New Zealand: Residents can't go back after beachfront homes at Port Waikato deemed unsafe

Coastal erosion is threatening the seaside homes of Port Waikato.

Extreme coastal erosion has forced two families out of their beachfront homes.

Wayne Green, 61, and his wife Robyn, 51, had fallen in love with their home in Port Waikato but they have watched with dread as the shoreline crept towards their back fence, threatening to take their seaside retreat into the sea.

For the last 16 years climate change and shifting sand systems have pushed the sea further inland.

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At a rate of two to three metres every year, the sea has claimed 50 metres of shore from 2002 to 2018.

Wayne could see it coming but he still wasn't prepared for the "gut wrenching" call from the Waikato District Council on September 4.

The fate of these homes is unclear.
The fate of these homes is unclear. DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

"He said we couldn't go back."

Recent storms stripped away large sections of shore making their home potentially unsafe.

The Port Waikato community hall has been officially condemned and Wayne's home is now one of two in his street adorned with a "DO NOT ENTER" sign.

A danger, keep out sign on Ocean View Rd.
A danger, keep out sign on Ocean View Rd. DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

"My biggest fear was telling my wife, she loves this place," Wayne told Stuff.

Robyn held back tears as she described the summers spent in her "sanctuary".

"I love Port Waikato, the people here, every time I cross the bridge I'm grinning from ear-to-ear."

Wayne and Robyn Green look out over the sea that's threatening their home. James Baker / Stuff

As a girl she spent many a summer at the beach with her older brother, who died from cancer 17 years ago.

"He's here, I don't want to be anywhere else."

They both say they understood the area was at risk when they purchased their home three years ago, but believed the council would provide adequate warning so they could relocate their home.

"Maybe that was being a bit too hopeful," Robyn said.

Next door, Park White, 59, said the council appeared to show "zero concern or communication until they put red tape on [his] house".

Like his neighbours he was willing to move his home away from the coastline, but financial cost for council approval made the move unfeasible, he said.

The beach car park is being eaten away.
The beach car park is being eaten away. DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

"There was no consideration that [the council] might be able to waive the fees given the circumstances or meet us halfway."

Waikato District Council civil defence controller Will Gauntlett said council sent letters to the affected properties in 2015, containing information such as erosion reports, so home owners knew what to expect.

"We have also held two well-attended community open days over the past 18 months on coastal hazards."

The view from above shows how close the erosion has come to the homes.
The view from above shows how close the erosion has come to the homes. DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

And while the red tape may be intimidating, Gauntlett said the buildings are not condemned.

These homes are among the first victims to coastal erosion in the area, but they likely won't be the last.

A 2014 council report shows the beach is predicted to continue eroding by two to five metres every year.

Shifting sands and climate change are being blamed for the erosion.
Shifting sands and climate change are being blamed for the erosion. DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

Coastal Scientist Jim Dahm has spent the last 35 years specialising in coastal management and erosion.

He said the rapid erosion seen at Port Waikato can be attributed to a combination of climate change and the shifting patterns of complex coastal sand systems.

Large masses or "clumps" of sand build up in pocketed areas as they move north from Taranaki to North Cape.

"As the sand moves along the coast it hits obstacles like headlands, estuaries and river entrances and they tend to accumulate along the side of an obstacle.

"You see many decades where the shoreline moves forward towards the sea as a clump of sand arrives, followed by decades of erosion when it picks up its feet and moves on."

This cycle of build-up and erosion can last decades, and it's impossible to accurately predict.

"But in the longer term, we are also expecting that rising sea levels will also contribute significantly to erosion on that coast."

He said there are options to hold back the creep of the shore, such as sea walls, and placing large amounts of sand at the beach edge - but these solutions are generally impractical and costly.

"In that environment, it's probably a matter of pulling their house back and hoping the erosion phase comes to an end."

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