It's Alive! Fraser Island's coast is expanding

The Bundaberg-based RACQ CareFlight Rescue crew flew Orchid Beach to help a man who had fallen about 4m from a tree.
The Bundaberg-based RACQ CareFlight Rescue crew flew Orchid Beach to help a man who had fallen about 4m from a tree. RACQ CareFlight Rescue

THE sleeping sand giant is alive - Fraser Island is officially growing outwards, for now at least.

The world's largest sand island is under a constant make-over thanks to both local weather events and the annual passage of sand which floats past its golden shores.

Now it has reportedly grown by up to 60 metres eastwards.

Locals have taken notice of the development of further shoreline along the east coast of the island over the last five decades.

Fraser Island Association president David Anderson, who has lived on the island for 10 years and visited for the last 50, said the eastern coast had increased outwards in places by more than 50 metres.

"There are reference points around Eurong where the beach has widened and the island has grown," he said.

"On occasions, Fraser Island does lose a little sand but mostly it picks a lot up."

University of Queensland's Professor James Shulmeister will lead a team to study the island's sand formations in the coming months and hopes to find out exactly how much the island has grown.

Professor Shulmeister said the weather was responsible for the sand's movement.

"It would be expected after an El Nino event the island might grow," he said.

The cooler ocean temperatures typical of an El Nino keep tropical storms at bay and allow for the sand deposited on the island to stay put, he said.

"During a La Nina, the opposite happens," he said.

GROWTH PERIOD: Holiday makers like Helen and Matt Warren will have more sand to play on at Fraser Island with the beaches changing shape due to El Nino weather patterns.
GROWTH PERIOD: Holiday makers like Helen and Matt Warren will have more sand to play on at Fraser Island with the beaches changing shape due to El Nino weather patterns. File


However, while the island's size has increased a little in the short term, a big picture scale paints a picture of the island becoming leaner, he said.

"The same amount of sand floating past the island also leaves the island," he said.

"It is likely in the very longest term the island is losing size and being pushed towards the Queensland coast."

While locals have noticed a build-up of sand over time along Breaksea Spit north of the island, Professor Shulmeister said it was impossible for the island to extend much further north before the sand would be dumped into the deep ocean.

The formation of spits was also subject to climatic events, he said.

"Along places where spits can appear to grow and expand, with another year those same sand spits can be destroyed," he said.

Beginning Monday at Rainbow Beach, his team will work out the age of the dunes which have built up over the last million years to see if their formation can be linked to climate change.

When his team reaches Fraser Island in the next few months, they will investigate the Cathedrals first and then travel south of the island to study the still-visible traces of old beaches related to high sea levels 125,000 years ago.


El Nino occurs between every three to five years and can last from six months to two years

El Nino conditions are most favourable to sand being deposited at Fraser Island

Fraser Island is made up of sand that has travelled north from near Sydney and Newcastle

Topics:  fraser island

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