National framework key to managing coastlines: research

A reactionary approach towards managing the coastlines on which Australians love to live and play is in desperate need of national legal framework and coordination, researchers urge in a new publication.

With more than 80% of Australians residing within the coastal zone along the country’s 34,000km of coastline, the team highlighted that effective and consistent management of coastlines with growing pressures from climate change was hampered by limited federal engagement and the lack of a national framework, funding and agency.

Currently, much of the Australian coast is managed at the local and/or state government level, with capacity, capability, resources and enthusiasm for coastal management varying between jurisdictions.

The publication ‘Life On The Edge: Adapting Coastal Management In A Changing Climate‘, published in Australian Quarterly, was co-authored by:

  • Dr Thomas Murray, Coastal and Marine Research Centre, Griffith University;
  • Associate Professor Hannah Power, Coastal and Marine Scientist, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, The University of Newcastle
  • Dr Michael Kinsela, Coastal Marine Geoscientist School of Environmental and Life Sciences, The University of Newcastle
  • Dr Andrew Pomeroy, Coastal and Estuarine Adaptation Laboratory, The University of Melbourne

Key highlights and recommendations from the team include:

Historical issues

Dr Tom Murray from Griffith’s Coastal and Marine Research Centre.

“Recent and increasingly frequent extreme weather events illustrate the growing and compounding threats faced by the many Australians who live along the coastline,” Dr Murray said.

“Coastal management has typically been piecemeal, reactionary, and remedial, and a lack of consistency between jurisdictions can be confusing for local communities.

“However, improved conceptual and scientific understanding, engineering techniques, and predictive capabilities mean that we are increasingly able to effectively model, plan, mitigate, and prepare for coastal hazards.”

But the team said without rigorous, transparent and actionable approaches to risk-based planning, a tendency to underestimate and underappreciate the potential impacts of coastal hazards has prevailed in many jurisdictions.

Current circumstances

There is no national legal framework to define the coastal zone, nor is there a national coastal management agency to lead discussions, coordinate adaptation efforts and allocate federal resources around the country.

“Most of the Australian coast is managed at the local and/or state government levels with the capacity, capability, resources and enthusiasm for coastal management varying between jurisdictions,” Associate Professor Power said.

“Adaptation is often absent until problems arise, with issues bandaged with quick solutions that fit into budgetary and government cycles but may not maximise efficiency gains from early-adaptation opportunities.”

Extreme events have a relatively low likelihood of occurring each year; such as a 1-in-50 or 1-in-70 chance of occurring in any year. However, they tend to occur in clusters during particular climate cycles and are superimposed on creeping and increasing climate-change pressures, such as sea-level rise.

“Budgets are made on timescales of 1-3 years, governments are elected and changed every 3-4 years, homes are bought and sold every 10 or so years, and community infrastructure is designed to last for 10, 20, or maybe 30 years,” Dr Kinsela and Dr Pomeroy said.

Credit: George Desipris

“The action timeframes are therefore shorter than the time scales over which we need to understand and plan for coastal hazards.”

Ways forward

  • The creation of a Federal Coastal Resilience and Adaptation Office
  • This office would be empowered to develop, promote, coordinate and fund best practices in adaptive coastal management to support state and local governments and foster national knowledge and resource sharing.
  • The creation of a National Coastal Adaptation Legal Framework.
  • This legal framework would ensure the development of nationally compatible coastal adaptation programs that are tailored to individual communities with provisions to facilitate all adaptation options, including managed retreat.
  • The creation of a National Coastal Observatory and Associated Funding.
  • This observatory would support and coordinate a national level approach to coastal science and adaptation research. It would have responsibility for the creation of a data repository and remain its custodian, initially compiling and making available the many coastal datasets that have been collected around Australia and then supporting coordinated monitoring efforts.

For more, visit Australian Quarterly.

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