A NSW Government website - NSW Marine Estate

Instagram NSW Marine Estate

Breakwater governance and management

Published 8 September 2023 Improving the management of breakwaters in estuaries by identifying responsible authorities for legacy breakwaters.
content image Erosion of foreshore behind a rock breakwall requiring repair.


    Why is this project important?

    Historically, breakwaters (such as rock walls, groynes and other training works) were constructed for various reasons by government or private organisations, some of which may no longer exist. As a result, the management of these ‘legacy’ breakwaters is often unclear.

    Some of these breakwaters have deteriorated over time and pose safety risks, are no longer suitable for their intended purpose, or may even be harmful to the environment. Also, some breakwaters were never officially authorised, while others may not be following the conditions of their licences.

    This has led to a situation where the responsibility for managing certain breakwater structures is uncertain. The goal of this project is to establish clear authority and responsibility for these breakwaters in estuaries so that they can be managed appropriately.

    Although breakwaters sit on Crown land, they are not necessarily the responsibility of Crown Lands to manage. In fact, many breakwaters are already managed by local councils or Transport for NSW.

    A vital step to better manage some of the other legacy breakwaters is to first clarify who is responsible for managing them.

    For the purpose of this project, we consider breakwaters to include:

    • rock walls
    • concrete walls
    • sheet pile
    • geotextile sandbags
    • groynes and other training works.

    What we are doing

    • Identifying legacy breakwaters where responsible authority is unknown, unclear or contested.
    • Considering social, environmental, cultural and economic values associated with these breakwaters. For example, what do they protect, and what risks are associated with them?
    • Assessing the condition of breakwaters, where necessary, to inform decision making.
    • Establishing clear principles for deciding on the responsible authority for breakwaters (such as local councils, Transport for NSW, Crown Lands, or other) considering the history of the structures, as well as lessons learned from previous decisions and current case studies.
    • Working with councils and other agencies to apply these principles in high-priority situations.
    • Facilitating improved management of breakwaters by including them in appropriate policies and programs of the responsible authority.

    This information will assist authorities responsible for the breakwaters to make better decisions about their management. For example, this information will help them decide whether to repair, replace or remove the breakwater in question.

    This project is building on the work from the Fish friendly breakwater audit of 134 breakwaters across coastal NSW. You can access a summary report of that audit or see the full versions.

Lead agency

Crown Lands


Department of Planning and Environment – Environment and Heritage Group, Transport for NSW, Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries, Local Government

Stay up-to-date with our Marine Estate Newsletter

Read privacy policy