The recent seasonally high crowds at Venus Bay have raised serious concerns within the local community about overcrowding and the impact of the number of cars pouring into the township and trying to access the five beaches.
On Christmas Day a ranger estimated that there were 1500 people at beach five.
The beach itself can cope with 1500 people, the access road and supporting amenities – toilets and rubbish bins – cannot.
The problem is partly caused by the local topography.
Venus Bay is unusual in that it has the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park between the beaches and the nearest through roads.
This small but hilly barrier means that it does not have an easily accessible foreshore like other major holiday beaches. And having a coastal park between the beaches and the housing estates means that no-one can build right on the beach-front.
This, of course, is one of its main attractions to locals and those with holiday houses.
They know that the view they see from the top of the five beaches will be roughly the same in five, 10 and even 50 years time.
But this unusual topography does mean that it is difficult (and also inappropriate) to build beach side car parks and toilets and shower blocks that one normally finds at popular beaches.
Beach one has some of these facilities but no-one would support their erection on any of the other beaches.
Besides destroying large areas of a coastal park, why would you bother to build car parks that would only be fully utilised on say five to 10 days a year?
It simply does not make economic or environmental sense.
The 10 day Christmas/New Year holiday peak is the crux of the problem.
Venus Bay is being discovered: some would argue that it has already been discovered.
For the hundreds of thousands of people living in the south and south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Venus Bay is only a two hour drive away, making a family day trip in an air conditioned car relatively easy.
Over the Christmas/New Year holiday period, hundreds of Melburnians are now making this day trip leading to overcrowding, congestion and subsequent angst amongst locals and those utilising their holiday home.
But, what has to be accepted is that the beaches at Venus Bay are public ones, available to all to enjoy.
Anyone has the right to use them for swimming, surfing and other recreational purposes such as fishing and pipi collecting.
I am not going to enter into the debate whether the pipi population at Venus Bay with the current amount of harvesting is sustainable or not. But I think it is most likely – almost certain – that the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) will not agree to a ban of pipi collecting over the summer period (as is proposed in the petition currently being circulated (see http://www.communityrun.org/petitions/seasonal-pipi-collection-restrictions-for-venus-bay-beaches) until there is conclusive proof that the current rate of collecting is a serious threat to the local pipi population. And we are at least a couple of years away from having that information.
What, therefore, is to be done?
The South Gippsland Shire Council has a role here.
Like the Yarra Council and the New Years’ Eve parties in the Edinburgh Gardens, North Fitzroy, the council was unprepared for the Christmas numbers at Venus Bay.
For the peak period – say, from two days before Christmas to the day after New Year’s Day – it needs to provide portable toilets at beaches 2 to 4 and have council officers working at Venus Bay to oversee parking and to issue tickets to those who park illegally.
The revenue from fines would cover the salary costs.
And rubbish needs to be collected more frequently and/or skip size bins rather than household size ones should be provided at all beach car parks.
The above would be a good start but more is needed. The DEPI web page on pipi collecting at Venus Bay (http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/fishing-and-hunting/recreational-fishing/catch-limits-and-closed-seasons/molluscs-and-other-invertebrates/molluscs-all-other/pipis-now-and-forever) states that pipi collectors are predominately visitors from Melbourne with 95 per cent harvesting pipis for the first time.
I would recommend that the community strongly lobby for a ban on pipi collecting over the short Christmas/New Year period.
Here day trippers would still be able to enjoy the beaches for swimming and the like (as I have noticed an increasing number now doing) but it would restrict the number of vehicles in Venus Bay over the peak period.
This recommendation is one based not on anti-piping collecting or anti-pipi collectors but one focussing on crowd control and safety.
A bushfire at Venus Bay over the Christmas/New Year period with the current number of cars and day-trippers could result in an absolute disaster.
We all have to accept that Venus Bay is no longer a sleepy, quiet holiday spot unknown to Melburnians.
It has become popular and is likely to become more popular in the coming years.
The council and other responsible authorities need to think of flexible ways to manage the influx of crowds and cars to ensure that there is a safe and sustainable environment for all those enjoying the pleasures of the beaches.
Temporary toilets, more frequent rubbish collection, policing of parking restrictions and a 10-day ban on pipi collecting should be key elements of an overall management plan.
John Arnold, Venus Bay