Swamped dog 'victim of climate change'

Jayne Bush (19) and her mother Debbie hold a treasured photo of their missing dog Ali, who  was...
Jayne Bush (19) and her mother Debbie hold a treasured photo of their missing dog Ali, who was thought to have been swept away near St Clair Beach on Sunday. Photos by Peter McIntosh & Gerard O'Brien.

A Jack Russell terrier swept under big waves near St Clair was a victim of rising tides and climate change, her owner says.

Debbie Bush, of Macandrew Bay, went for a walk with her dog along St Clair Beach just before high tide on Sunday.

The waves were bigger than any she had seen before, she said.

A woman scans the sea yesterday looking for Ali.
A woman scans the sea yesterday looking for Ali.
''I actually turned around to go back to the car, because I thought it was getting a bit dangerous.''

Then, she saw the sand ''give way'' and watched her dog, a 15-year-old long-haired Jack Russell named Ali, fall into the waves.

''I went down to grab her and I managed to actually try to push her up on to the track, and she just freaked.

''I lost grip, and she just went back down again. After that, I went straight back down to get her again, and that's when the wave got me. And I thought: This is about saving myself now.''

The wave surged up to Mrs Bush's neck.

She managed to extract herself by driving her boots into the sandhill to gain traction.

There had been a sign warning about erosion at the entrance to the track she was on, Mrs Bush said, but the path was open.

Later, when she went back to look for Ali, the track had been closed.

After Ali had been swamped by the waves, Mrs Bush saw her emerge and run along the beach.

She called to her, but Ali just kept running.

''She's deaf,'' Mrs Bush said.

''I'd never seen waves like this before ... everything's intensifying,'' she said.

''I think we've all been quite blasé about global warming. People don't like to say it's happening, but it is.''

Dunedin City Council senior animal services officer Peter Hanlin said animal services got a call about Ali's disappearance about 2pm on Sunday.

About a dozen people searched for Ali for more than an hour, including an animal services officer, but no sign of the terrier was found.

University of Otago geography professor Mike Hilton said the waves had been unusually high at St Clair and St Kilda Beaches in recent days.

The big waves were caused by low atmospheric pressure, an especially high tide, and waves that were widely spaced out.

Those conditions also created a perfect storm for erosion, he said.

''Whenever we get three of those things combining, we get erosion.''

Prof Hilton said the sea was ''up to half a metre higher than it should've been.''

Rising sea levels as a result of climate change were one part of the picture, but not the whole picture.

He said the ''spring high tides'' were now bigger than they were 100 years ago.

''Not much higher - only 20cm or 30cm higher - but that can make a difference,'' he said.

''So, there's some element of climate change in what we experienced over the weekend.''

In the future, ''the climate change element to these events is going to get bigger and bigger'', he said.

''But most of it is just a coincidence.''

He recommended people stay away from the beach until tonight as it was ''just too dangerous''.

However, from tomorrow, the tides should not be as high.

Mrs Bush said she ''would love to think'' Ali had survived, ''but I don't see how she could've.''

carla.green@odt.co.nz

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