Deep-water sands form a new frontier for marine geology and petroleum exploration, but how does sand reach the deep sea? Existing geological models predict that deep-water sands are mainly supplied from rivers during times of low sea level, or by incision of canyons into the shelf to tap river or longshore-transport sand sources. Here, we demonstrate that at high sea level, southeast Australian deep-water sands are delivered by a wave-driven coastal transport system, interacting with estuarine ebb tidal flows, that transports sand over the shelf edge at a change in margin orientation. Discovery of this new process results from an investigation that combines multibeam acoustic, microfaunal, zircon and luminescence dating, oceanographic, Landsat, remotely operated vehicle, and sediment property methods. Our longshore transport–driven model is capable of forecasting new locations for deep-water sand deposits in a predictive paleoclimatic and paleotectonic setting.

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