Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Have surf reefs worked elsewhere?

By Chris Robinson
BBC News, Dorset

An aerial shot of the surf reef at Boscombe
The Boscombe surf reef was due to open in October 2008

It is Europe's first artificial surf reef, promising to improve the waves off the Boscombe coast in a multi-million pound regeneration project.

But it has not been without its problems - the development has run almost a year over schedule and, at £3m, it has cost nearly double the original price.

Questions over safety and performance were also still being raised recently, but those behind the project said that they would be resolved before it finally opened.

The reef was designed and created by ASR, the company behind similar projects in New Zealand and Australia.

They include Mount Maunganui, in the city of Tauranga on New Zealand's north island, which is home to its first artificial surf reef known as Mount Reef.

'Dead spot'

The initial project funded by the community and council was planned to take three months at a cost of NZ$500,000 (£219,976)

But it was plagued by bad weather and construction problems and the cost tripled to about NZ$1.5m (£659,956) in a three year development that still needs work.

Mount Maunganui beach
The beach in Mount Maunganui where the artificial reef is located

Stuart Crosby, the mayor of Tauranga, told the BBC that if the council had its time again it would not have supported the project.

"The artificial reef at Mount Maunganui has not lived up to its expectations either in performance or as a tourism attraction," he said.

"It only partially works in specific weather conditions and nowhere near what we were sold from the designer."

Despite this, the beach at Mount Maunganui - known as New Zealand's "Surf City" - is lined with million-dollar houses and attracts a large crowd of surfers.

However, Les Cresswell, manager of the town's shopping complex Mount Mainstreet, said there is "a dead spot" where the reef is located, with surfers preferring to surf either side of it.

"It has not had a significant impact on the amount of tourists, we certainly haven't noticed during the summer season that group coming into the shopping centre," he said.

"It works reasonably in certain weather conditions, but the surfers say it is a waste of time and they prefer to surf either side of it rather than where the reef is situated."

Mount Mainstreet
Retailers have not noticed a significant increase in tourism

In contrast, an artificial reef built at Narrowneck on Australia's Gold Coast has had success as part of a major campaign to protect coastal erosion.

"The primary objective was to stabilise the health of our sandy beaches," said John McGrath, of Gold Coast City Council, Queensland.

"The job for the reef is to assist to stabilise beach nourishment so that it has a longer lifespan on our beaches. The evidence suggests that the reef is doing a good job.

"It remains to be seen however how well the reef will do with weather challenges for the upcoming decades."

Mr McGrath said there was a lot of excitement about the project when it was created, although improving the surf was a secondary objective.

'Minor impact'

"While the reef has improved the surf locally, the location is not significantly more popular for surfing then it was prior to the reef construction," he said.

"From a tourism point of view, the impact has been minor.

"I would say that many were somewhat disappointed with the surf at Narrowneck.

"On some days Narrowneck becomes a bit of a secret surf spot, when the reef starts working but the crowds haven't found it."

The Narrowneck reef was created to protect coastal erosion

He said that a new location nearby was currently being investigated for construction of a reef aimed at the diving and fishing tourist market.

"Surfing reefs in the sea can only modify and enhance the wave energy that arrives at the beach," he said.

"So when the sea is flat, people expecting an artificial reef to push up fantastic surfing waves are going to be disappointed."

Nick Behunin, managing partner of ASR, admitted that the Mount Maunganui project did have its problems, but the business did not have the same level of involvement as it does with Boscombe.

He said that as the designers of the project it stepped in to help out after there were issues with the original contractor.

Nick Behun
Nick Behunin, of ASR, said the Mount Reef project did have problems

"The Mount Reef actually has received some negative publicity and to be honest ASR has been associated with a significant amount of that," he said.

"We designed the reef but we weren't actually the contractors that were engaged to build the reef.

"We have a real vested interest to see these multi-purpose reefs work well from concept to completion.

"I think there has been a lot of bad press associated with the Mount Reef which is unfortunate for the city and unfortunate for the project in general."

Boscombe will be ASR's first project where it will use its own specially-created construction team and equipment from design through to completion.


The community of Mount Maunganui in New Zealand gives its verdict on the success of their artificial surf reef

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