Surf reef branded a dangerous flop

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Prominent surf lifesavers say the intensity of rips have increased since construction of a $1.5 million reef three years ago. Photo / Christine Cornege
Prominent surf lifesavers say the intensity of rips have increased since construction of a $1.5 million reef three years ago. Photo / Christine Cornege

Mount Maunganui's artificial surf reef has been branded as a dangerous and expensive flop that should be removed before next summer.

Prominent surf lifesavers say the intensity of the rips at the Tay St beach have sharply increased since construction of the $1.5 million reef finished three years ago - to such an extent that itis now a focus for the Mount and Omanu surf clubs' roaming patrols.

A bitter critic of the reef, Omanu's director of lifesaving Allan Mundy, said two big rips were being produced on either side of the reef, with sand scoured out to twice the normal depth to 4.5m on the shore-facing end of the reef.

"It has been a complete flop and not delivered what it was going to deliver. No one would shed a tear if it disappeared tomorrow.

"If it is not working as per the resource consent, then get rid of it. We would definitely like it sorted by next summer - the sooner the better," Mr Mundy said.

The reef, 250m off shore, was also ignored by surfers after failing to produce the promised surf breaks.

The designer, Raglan company ASR, blames its poor performance on the reef never being completed to specification, with less than half of the 6500cu m of sand in geotextile bags ending up on the sea floor.

ASR has found itself under renewed criticism with its latest international project, the $6 million reef built off a British tourist beach at Bournemouth.

The local council has closed the reef after claims that substantial changes to the reef's shape had started to produce dangerous under-currents.

Like the Mount's reef, the English version has become a laughing stock with surfers who hardly use it because it produced the wrong sort of wave.

ASR's technical director Shaw Mead said the Boscombe reef at Bournemouth still had five bags to go before it was completed. He said it had passed four out of the five tests by the council, the fifth being that the waves needed to be longer and easier to ride - which was where the extra bags would come in.

He highlighted their reef at Kovalam on India's south-west coast which had topped up an "almost" surf break to produce a 90-m long left-hander.

Dr Mead said surfers' expectations had not been fulfilled, at the Mount and Australia's Gold Coast, and something was needed to salvage the company's reputation, although ASR had succeeded with the coastal protection purpose of the Gold Coast reef.

Mr Mundy said the rips occurred on both sides of the reef as soon as there was any sort of swell, and it was particularly obvious on big surf days.

"I would say it has been made unsafe to the unsuspecting bather ... if you go for a swim in moderate surf, you could get into strife.

Mr Mundy recalled that part of the resource consent from Environment Bay of Plenty was that if the reef did not do the job it was expected to do, then it would be removed.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council said it was arranging a meeting on the issue with what was understood to be people associated with the trust originally set up to establish the reef.

Mr Mundy said the issue had become clouded by the beach becoming much more popular in recent years, although there was no doubt the reef had contributed to the increase in rescues.

Geoff Cox, who filmed a documentary of the reef, said he was alarmed when he went snorkeling around the reef. Big bits of webbing that the bags attached to on the sea floor were flapping about - a potential death trap if someone became entangled.

He said the reef had also become a navigation hazard since three marker buoys disappeared.

Mount Surf Club life member and patrol captain Kent Jarman said lifeguards would be happy to see it gone.

"There have always been rips, but they have got worse."

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