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Management costs and equity

The effort by management depends in part on the perceived long-term value of the resource and the year-to-year return in income. Like most environmental resources, the coast suffers in both these respects: there is no agreed way to value the presence or absence of a dune or a beach, nor any way to assign a dollar value to an unpolluted beach or to a species-diverse dune complex. Some uses of coastal and marine resources have a clear dollar value, such as fishing; other uses, such as recreation, may have a less easily defined value. The cost of managing the coast may often be hard to establish as well, since often responsibilities are shared or overlap.

Many functions of coastal management are shared between state and local government: how to assign a fair proportional cost between these two bodies is a vexed question. Many local coastal assets are also state assets that have visitor catchments from a wide area, but management costs apparently paid for by local rates. Here the issue of equity emerges: ratepayers living close to coastal assets consider their advantages are recognised in their property value and hence their council rates. Where council rates are inadequate to manage the resource in the face of visitor pressure, there is resistance to the imposition of a local charge or levy to cover the shortfall. In this context, changes to the conditions of 'traditional use', such as charging for the right to camp on a council coastal reserve, are frequently causes of controversy. As there is no clear 'value' to the asset, common methods of dealing with this problem run into difficulties.

The valuation problem is highlighted by the development of large projects at the shoreline. In an ideal world, marinas, boat harbours, seawalls, breakwaters, and groynes would be assessed in a long-term and precautionary manner for cost benefit advantage, environmental responsibility and social acceptability. However, lack of conventional means of valuing the impact of change within the dynamic shoreline zone skews such a rational process (if the process is rational).

Box 4.11 Paying for the Adelaide Beach

While other coast protection schemes within South Australia are shared between local and state governments, Metropolitan Beach sand renourishment is paid for by the state. The rationale for this arrangement being that the beach is primarily a state asset, and also that agreement could not readily be obtained in apportioning costs between five relevant councils. The cost of maintaining sand on Adelaide's beaches and protecting the coastal suburbs has in the 1990s been approximately $2.0 million per year. Costing alternatives, such as groynes, seawalls only, no action, larger replenishment, and offshore barriers, has shown the present strategy is the lowest cost option, at least until 2012 (DEPSA 1992). Further costs arise where the nearshore bar is broken: maintaining future navigation improvements at Glenelg and North Haven is estimated to average $0.7 million per year. Because of the difficulties of removing seagrass detritus and sand from Holdfast Quays and West Beach harbour, the costs of harbour management associated with the sand management may blow out to near to $2 million.

Protection costs arise because of past decisions on development by local government and the state government: decisions to allow building in threatened locations have continued in Adelaide until very recently. Many consider that until those authorities responsible for development control face the hill liability of the consequences of their decisions, unsustainable decisions will continue to be made.

Keeping the beach as an acceptable recreational resource has other costs. Beach cleaning, dune and reserve maintenance, toilets, parking all falls to local councils: 'housekeeping' this beach has been shown to cost at least as much as protection, (Funding Working Party, 1993, appendix B). However, compared to the surrogate annual values economists have placed on the beach, of $16 million to $20 million (Evans & Burgan 1992), the replenishment and maintenance costs appear small.

In the end, the role of beach recreation as an Australian institution may be more important than money in deciding the fate of the Adelaide beach. Strong public protests over alienation of coastal land; anger at proposals to charge beach users on a user pays basis; demonstrations overbuilding across the shoreline, and beach and bathing water pollution. Such protests as these have occurred around Australia in the 1990's and are a strong reminder that in Australia free and unimpeded access to the beach and the surf are seen as important rights. It is clearly important that the beach is there, even though the nature of the sand is to move!

Public body budgetary systems and grants systems may or may not have a direct effect on decisions over shore protection: shore protection is an expensive matter, often needing state or special grant funding. Where funding is allocated for a few years only, soft protection – beach replenishment may not be seen as an option. This perception often arises because 'hard' protection is often seen as 'fixing' the problem, whereas 'soft' protection of sand renourishment is usually a recurrent cost.


Coastal management systems need to be technically sound, economically cost effective and socially equitable if they are to claim long-term sustainability. At all stages of an effective management process, information is critical: to show whether actions are proving effective, to calibrate costs and effects, and to inform the social processes associated with the system.

The beach is a spectacular example of natural and human-induced change and expensive intervention. Many more attempts to intervene and manage coastal biophysical systems exist. Often it is necessary to try to separate natural change from the impact of human use and intervention. More than most, coastal managers need a commitment to monitoring because of the rapid rate of natural change at the coast, and because of uncertainty about what has happened in the past. However, in a situation of uncertainty, it is inevitable that an experimental approach, which allows for change iteratively through testing and feedback, will be needed.

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