The significance of our coasts
The coastal zone has a special place in the lives of Australians. Most Australians want to live there and if they can’t they want to take their holidays there. It contains diverse ecosystems and a high proportion of Australia’s industrial activity occurs in the zone. It is a priceless national asset.
These are the introductory words of a report to the Commonwealth Government into the importance of the coastal zone written over 20 years ago (Resources Assessment Commision 1993, 7).
Coasts are the most intensely used areas of human settlement. Over 85% of Australia’s population live within 50km of the coast (Watson 2011) and most of our industrial areas are located at the coast. Ports are essential to our economy and handle exports worth $236.2 billion and imports worth $182.2 billion in 2011-12 (Bureau of Infrastructure Transport and Regional Economics 2013). As well, the coast and near shore marine areas are important for a range of recreational activities.
The coast also has significant environmental values. The dunal systems, beaches and coastal cliffs support a range of ecosystem types from grasslands, scrubland and woodlands. Coastal wetlands and estuaries not only contain important flora species and complexes, they also provide important habitats and spawning grounds for a variety of aquatic fauna species, and are habitats for migratory species like waterbirds. Coastal bays and inlets are important breeding grounds for migratory cetacean species like whales and dolphins. The near shore marine areas support a range of diverse ecosystems including reef systems, seagrass beds, kelp forests and mangroves.
It is not surprising, therefore, that conflicts can emerge between these competing values. It can be between different recreational values – for example kite surfing and other recreation users of beaches. Conflict can occur between commercial and non-commercial uses – for example recreational fishing and commercial fishing having access to a particular fish population. It can also be between economic and environmental values: for example proposed port developments for the export of coal adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. Concerns include impacts of dredge spoil on the coral reef, the impact of ship movements on marine fauna, and the risk of ships running aground and subsequent impacts from oils spills and the coal being carried.
In short, the coast is a highly contested space providing a range of challenges for planners and policy makers. The impacts of global warming add further complexity to an already complex planning context.
This section of the website contains material, including research I have carried out, related to coastal planning. In summary: