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Coastal management for the 21st century

This book has raised some key issues which need addressing if we are to manage the coast properly in this century. These relate to our understanding of coastal processes, the human impact on coastal resources and how we manage the use of these resources. Whereas it is the people and their use of coastal resources that need managing, it is not possible to be effective unless we understand the coastal system and how it operates. Our understanding of the system and various coastal processes is always less than perfect, but the prospect of greater uncertainty has now been raised with predictions of global climate change and associated sea-level rise. This final chapter of the book has examined some of these predictions for coastal change; we now raise some issues for coastal management in the future.

The challenge

In chapter 1 we discussed global imperatives for change in coastal management in Australia. Subsequent chapters outlined the dynamic nature of the coast and ways in which human use has led to a number of problems. Management practices have had varied degrees of success is addressing the problems. We emphasise here that many of the issues need management processes which are by their nature quite slow, needing adaptation and fine tuning over time. In addition, many coastal problems need a regional solution, although the concern may appear to be local. It is often possible to postpone decisions, but the failure to act now merely passes the costs on to foture generations. For example, development within a natural coastal buffer zone, such as coastal dunes, may seem reasonable now, but it may incur a cost of protection and beach renourishment at a later date. In addition to the economic costs, the environmental impact of mining for rock and sand creates a new generation of problems in the hills and estuaries where these materials are obtained.

Globally and in Australia there is support among interested communities for improvements in coastal management, but the political will and timelines for action have constraints of their own. This can be illustrated by the recent debate over the sustainable management of the Murray-Darling Basin, where it is difficult to make changes within an intensively used system with multiple interest groups. In October 2001 at the Australian Water Association Annual Dinner, the then Federal Minister of the Environment, Robert Hill, addressed a very difficult problem. He reported that studies by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission showed that the only option that guarantees restoring the health of the Lower Murray is to reduce (irrigation) diversions by 40%. If this was combined with more efficient use of the remaining diverted water, then an extra 4013 gigalitres could be sent downstream each year. The purpose would be to restore river and floodplain habitats, to dilute the increasingly saline water supply to Adelaide, and to provide environmental flows to the terminal lakes, the estuarine wetlands and the Murray mouth. Politically, this was shark-infested water. When the same Minister had proposed a mere 4% cut some six months previously, his National Party cabinet colleagues attacked him, and the Queensland branch debated a motion of no confidence in him as a minister.

The problem Minister Hill was addressing encapsulates some of the challenges facing effective coastal management in Australia in the 21st century: A number of challenges, adapted from a discussion of Landcare (Cullen 1999) are relevant for coastal management, and are listed below:

1 The challenge of scale – the ability to recognise that natural systems at the coast are connected, and sometimes these connections may be over large distances. Change in one may be needed to benefit another, and real account must be taken of the wider region

2 The challenge of being inclusive – to be sustainable, coastal management must include all stakeholders. Some decisions may, in the short term, appear socially and economically difficult. Changes in long established use of a resource often causes great resentment. Where monitoring of change has not been carried out, or only undertaken briefly, there may be wide differences in perception of change and its implications. But to be effective, management actions must be understood and approved widely

3 The challenge of accessing knowledge – there is an enormous potential to take specialist knowledge, to test it within a management context and to come to new understandings. Such capacity-building, by all involved, is badly needed within coastal management. For ecosystems to remain healthy there are no shortcuts: measurement and understanding at a variety of timescales will always be necessary

4 The challenge of changing the paradigm – existing coastal management shows a lack of integration across agencies, across political and discipline boundaries. There are numbers of conceptual barriers to overcome to continue and advance good management. Integrated coastal management has to overcome compartmentalised thinking, rather than reshuffling agency functions

5 The challenge of being strategic – to make large and expensive changes to big systems set on an unsustainable course, strategic processes and efficient management systems are needed.

This book has discussed a number of difficult issues currently faced by coastal management in Australia, such as:

• Establishing clear pathways and residence times for pollutant movement through catchment, estuarine and marine environments, and then managing this process to minimise impacts. In addition to the Murray, the catchments draining to the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon are good examples (See page 148)

• Guiding coastal development to nodes, and preventing linear coastal sprawl. Guiding, in a precautionary way, new development away from locations that in the future are likely to be hazardous; such as from flooding, erosion, or acid sulphate soils. Rezoning private coastal land to prevent visually intrusive development in areas of high scenic value. (See pages 285-8)

• Protecting (within or outside Marine Protected Areas) habitat of high conservation value in the face of explosive industrial growth, for example

aquaculture, and in the face of traditional use, for example fishing, of a publicly owned resource. (See pages 159-66)

• Dealing with urban wastewater and stormwater in ways which minimise marine pollution. This involves treatment, and where possible, storage and reuse. (See pages 130)

• The Commonwealth and states have undertaken vulnerability assessments in response to IPCC climate change scenarios; however, refining these assessments, determining priorities, and implementing decisions has advanced in only limited ways to date. (See page 257)

Many of these problems come together in estuaries, gulfs and coastal lakes where, in the heavily populated south-east of the continent, these environments have been severely affected. In all of the above examples Australia is making slow or very slow progress. These examples all demand a strategic process, require cooperation between agencies and jurisdictions, need a professional well-informed approach, and often need agreement and cooperation across many stakeholders and across wide distances. Smith et al. (2001) have argued that some areas with entrenched problems need high profile champions to kick- start the cooperation needed to reach a solution.

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