Managing the Australian coast

The first chapter of this book examined some of the global imperatives for coastal management, pointing out that (1) most people live on or close to the world's coast, (2) the global population has a high dependency on coastal resources, and (3) human impact on the coast is already at significant levels and is increasing. The second chapter used a number of Australian coastal examples to stress the need to understand coastal processes in order to formulate effective coastal management strategies. The third chapter then illustrated various forms of human impact on the Australian coast, and noted that many of our coastal problems related to either increased human pressure, a poor understanding of coastal processes and/or inadequate planning and management.

This chapter turns to coastal management principles and practices, and examines how these operate within the complexity of the different roles of Australian governments and interactions with different community and interest groups. This is further complicated by the range of different legislative mechanisms and instruments for dealing with coastal management in each jurisdiction.

The need for management

Given that there is clearly a need for effective coastal management in Australia, how do we go about it? What is coastal management, and what is the difference between that and coastal planning? Are there well-defined methodologies or guidelines for coastal management, and what is considered 'best practice' in coastal management?

The answers to these questions are not simple, since coastal management is not just about dealing with coastal impacts from identified coastal resource uses. It also involves political and economic considerations, which makes it difficult to discuss coastal processes in isolation from our cultural and organisational frameworks. For this reason Carter (1988), in attempting to bring coastal processes and management together in a key coastal text, discussed coastal management under five headings:

1 organisational frameworks

2 coastal water management

3 coastal land management

4 coastal ecosystem management

5 coastal hazards.

He also divided coastal management into three broad categories – policy, planning, and practice – with feedback loops between all three. However, one of the problems with his compartmentalised discussion between the different types of coastal management is the lack of integration. In fact, both Agenda 21 (UNCED 1992) and the subsequent World Coast conference in 1993 stressed the need for an integrated coastal management approach, as discussed in chapter 1 of this book. While Carter's approach is useful in recognising different types of coastal management problems, there is a danger in treating the coast in a sectoral fashion when it should be treated holistically. It is also useful to think about what is being managed, as it is not possible in reality to separate coastal water from coastal land or coastal ecosystems? We prefer to place the management emphasis back on to people, so in this book we define Australian coastal management as follows:

Coastal management is the management of human activities and sustainable use of Australia's coastal resources in order to minimise adverse impacts on coastal environments now and in the future.

Thus the emphasis is on managing those people who are using coastal resources rather than the other way round. In fact, Australia's major coastal management inquiry conducted by the RAC in 1993 disagreed on where this emphasis should be placed. One of the three special commissioners disagreed to such an extent that the final report of the RAC Inquiry contains a 116-page separate report by special commissioner Graham. At the start of his report he states: 'What is needed is management of the ways in which people use and develop resources.' This may be an obvious point, but it seems to have been missed by the Inquiry (Graham 1993 p. iv). Before discussing the Australian coastal management imperatives outlined in the RAC Inquiry, it is important to examine how coastal management has evolved and see if there are any lessons for Australia.

O'Riordan and Vellinga (1993) identify four key phases in the development of coastal management. First, the period from 1950 to 1970 was characterised by a sectoral approach which was largely reactive to coastal problems, had very little public participation, and lacked an ecological focus. It was towards the end of this period when the term 'coastal zone management' was created as part of the US Coastal Zone Management Act (Sorensen 1997). Second, there was a period from 1970 to 1990 when there was a growing environmental awareness and development of environmental impact assessment (also from the US; see Harvey 1998), increased public participation, greater integration between sectors, heightened ecological awareness, and a dominance of engineering solutions, but at times a forward-looking rather than reactive approach. O'Riordan and Vallinga's third phase is from 1990 to the time of their writing (1993) when the emphasis had shifted to sustainable development, integrated management, environmental restoration and public participation. Their final phase looks to the future, with a focus on ecological empathy, precautionary management and shared governance.

These phases in the development of coastal management around the globe are also evident in Australian coastal management approaches. For example, the very early coastal legislation such as the South Australian Coast Protection Act 1972 tends to be reactive in its approach and focuses on coast protection and engineering solutions. More recent legislation such as the Victorian Coastal Management Act 1995 incorporates the notion of sustainability, shared governance and public participation. At a broader scale, the various stages identified by O'Riordan and Vallinga are also reflected in the triggers for Australian coastal reform, as identified by Thom and Harvey (2000) and discussed in chapter 1 of this book.

At this point it is useful to consider the difference between coastal management and coastal planning, although there is more detailed discussion on planning later in this chapter. Kay and Alder (1999), in their book on Coastal Planning and Management, avoided the use of 'integrated' or 'coordinated' coastal management because of differing interpretations which they identified in the literature. They suggested that two valid definitions of coastal management could be either (1) directing day-to-day activities occurring on coastal lands and waters, or (2) the overall control of the government agencies (organisations) that oversee these day-to-day activities. However, this second definition appears to be restrictive by referring only to government, and lacks the community involvement and public participation that may be outside government control. They contrasted their 'control' oriented definitions of coastal management with coastal planning, which they suggest is more generically related to other forms of planning such as town planning. They noted that a distinctive element of planning is that it should essentially have two components: first, the determination of the aims for what is to be achieved in the future; and second, a clarification of the steps required to achieve these aims. They also noted that coastal planning concepts are much less developed than those for coastal management, but they also emphasised that coastal management per se is not unique, and that catchment management, for example, also uses various techniques to manage both land and water resources.

Australian coastal management, as outlined in chapter 1, has undergone extensive review, culminating in the RAC's Coastal Zone Inquiry in 1993. This inquiry indicated that we need better management and vision for the Australian coast. The report points to major problems such as urban sprawl and pollution of the coast. The Inquiry itself provided an assessment of the existing situation, but has left the action to others. The only guiding principle it used was the concept of ecologically sustainable development (ESD). (This is discussed further in relation to the coastal zone; see page 252.) The conclusion of the RAC report is that there is a lack of coordination between government agencies. Coastal management is different in every state, and the RAC suggested that all the states legislation should not be changed, but that a national approach be adopted, rather than a Commonwealth approach.

The Inquiry essentially concluded that there were numerous problems with the way in which coastal management was practised in Australia at that time (in 1993), and that it was time for a new approach. The Inquiry (RAC 1993, p 360) identified the major shortcomings of coastal management, as follows:

• Different and usually uncoordinated approval systems operate for public and private land

• Management and use of resources spanning marine and terrestrial areas is particularly impeded by a lack of integration and coordination of management systems

• Existing mechanisms do not provide for effective long-term management of coastal zone resources

• Approval procedures are complex, time consuming, and often sequential rather than concurrent, making them costly for applicants and governments

• Although some Commonwealth, state and local government agencies have developed policies to achieve coastal zone management objectives, the policies and objectives are often not implemented and they are rarely integrated with social, economic and environmental goals

Thus, in addition to the problems resulting from human impact on the Australian coast (as illustrated in chapter 3), there were inadequate or inefficient coastal management practices. Clearly there was an imperative for reform of Australian coastal management at the end of the 20th century. At about the same time, there were a number of international factors for reform (Thom & Harvey 2000). Collectively, this has produced significant change at both the Commonwealth and state government levels, particularly in the 1990s but with a momentum continuing into the 21st century (see chapter 1).

Although there have been a number of changes, such as the introduction of the Commonwealth's Coastal Policy (1995) and the reform of various pieces of state coastal management legislation or policies (e.g. in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria), it is useful to revisit the four factors for coastal management reform as discussed in chapter 1: global change, integrated resource management, sustainability, and community particpation. Global change was discussed in chapter 2, and sustainability and community particpation are the subject of separate discussion later in this chapter. The concept of sustainability or ESD was also a key aim of the RAC Inquiry. However, there is a need to expand on the concept of integration, as the lack of integration in Australian coastal management was a major finding of the RAC Inquiry.

According to Kay and Alder (1999, p. 57), the combination of adaptive, integrated, environmental, economic and social management systems that focus on coastal areas form the core concepts of coastal management. The concept of integration, as outlined in chapter 1, has a number of dimensions, such as intergovernmental, intersectoral, spatial, scientific management, and international. Of these, the first three are particularly relevant for Australia. Intergovernmental integration refers to vertical integration between Commonwealth, state and local governments. The RAC Inquiry found this to be lacking. Similarly, major problems were identified in relation to the lack of horizontal or intersectoral integration in Australian coastal management. Another major problem has been the lack of spatial integration between the land, ocean, and coast.

The concept of integrated coastal management (1CM) was outlined in some detail by Cicin-Sain and Knecht (1998), and there is evidence of management strategies designed to be integrative, but it is not so easy to find good examples of best practice. It appears that the Victorian coastal management system has a number of elements of ICM. A key element for establishing ICM in Victoria has been the creation of the Victorian Coastal Council (VCC), which is responsible for the planning and management of the Victorian coast. The VCC gives advice to the Minister for Environment and Conservation and has also been responsible for developing the Victorian Coastal Strategy (1997). This strategy is a statutory framework for the long-term sustainable management of the Victorian coast and is underpinned by principles of ESD and ICM. The Strategy has a clear statement of objectives and actions for coastal management, including the identification of the appropriate lead agency.

At the regional level in Victoria there are Regional Coastal Boards which provide an additional mechanism for ICM at this level by developing strong community, industry and local government linkages. These Boards also report to the Minister for Environment and Conservation and have many similar functions at the regional level to those of the VCC at the state level. One reason for the apparent success of both the Boards and the VCC is the diverse range of backgrounds and skills of the members. Another factor in achieving ICM at the regional level is the development of Coastal Action Plans by the Boards which guide coastal planning and management.

A second example of the Great Barrier Reef provides an even clearer example of ICM and has been quoted as a good example of ICM best practice in Australia (RAC 1993, Harvey 1999). Although ICM was defined in chapter 1 of this book, it is worth repeating the definition (from the 1993 World Coast Conference) here and comparing it with the Great Barrier Reef example: 'Integrated coastal management involves the comprehensive assessment, setting of objectives, planning and management of coastal systems and resources, taking into account traditional, cultural and historical perspectives and conflicting interests and uses; it is a continuous and evolutionary process for achieving sustainable development' (IPCC 1994, p. 40).

The same conference outlined a number of key elements of integration in order to achieve ICM (IPCC 1994, p. 25). These are to integrate:

• responsibilities of agencies at different levels of government (vertical integration)

• responsibilities of different government sectors (horizontal integration)

• responsibilities of government and local groups

• policies across sectors of the economy

• economic, technical/scientific, and legal approaches to coastal problems. Harvey (1999, p. 293) provided a full explanation of the reasons why the

Great Barrier Reef is a good example of ICM. That case is summarised here. First, as noted in chapter 3 of this book, there is great complexity in the management issues of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area. However, the successful ICM is largely due to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, which has been in place since 1975, and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area 25-year strategic plan, established in 1994. A major management success has been the use of zoning plans in the marine park that attempt to balance the needs of different user groups by spatial separation of conflicting uses. Zoning plans are characterised by simplicity and minimal regulation of human activities while maintaining consistency with other zoning plans, providing buffer zones and basing zone boundaries on geographic features, with single zones around discrete areas.

These zoning plans have been developed through an exhaustive process of consultation with community and stakeholder groups, using some basic principles:

• that the planning areas should be as large as possible

• that zones should encompass all acceptable usages

• that zones should grade from least through to most heavily protected zones, to buffer protected areas

• that traditional and customary users of the managed area should be consulted and involved in the development and implementation of the plans

• that traditional law and management practices should be incorporated to the greatest possible extent.

The levels of protection vary from preservation and scientific research zones which allow only some scientific research, to marine national park zones where most scientific, educational and recreational uses are permitted plus a marine park buffer zone, through to general use zones where uses are kept to sustainable levels. An example of an area that has been zoned, such as the Cairns region (figure 4.1) shows how this is applied. Across the whole of the marine park most of the park is zoned general use A and then B (see table 3.13, p. 171). The next largest section is the marine national park B.

Figure 4.1 Zoning of the Great Barrier Reef (Cairns Section)

Zoning of the Great Barrier Reef (Cairns Section)

Source: modified from GBRMPA & QNPWS 1992

Harvey (1999) noted that some of the examples of ICM for the Reef have linkages with integrated catchment management principles (as another form of integrated resource management) as identified by Hollick and Mitchell (1991). For example the marine park is managed under a partnership approach, with stakeholder involvement and conflict resolution mechanisms. It also has a clear jurisdictional element by defining the area as a single system or subsystem. There is a systems component through the identification of interactions between humans and a biophysical system. There is also a strategic approach of evaluating and prioritising key activities, and a flexibility that allows for adaptive management. All of these elements are consistent with Hollick and Mitchell's integrated management approach.

Referring back to the key elements of integration for ICM identified at the World Coast conference, these can best be illustrated by examining the types of integration that occur with the marine park management (see box 4.1). For example, it can be seen that all levels of government are involved (vertical integration), there is integration between government and local groups (consultative and advisory committees).

Box 4.1 Examples of integration, Great Barrier Reef

Ministerial Council – State/Commonwealth level; coordinates policy at the Ministerial level

GBRMP Authority- State/Commonwealth level; principal advisor to the Commonwealth regarding the care and development of the Park

Consultative Committee – All levels of government (including local government) and NGOs; provides independent advice to the GBRMPA

Advisory Committees -multidisciplinary research bodies set water quality, management coordinators, fishing, etc.

In addition to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park there is also evidence of ICM in the associated World Heritage Area 25-year strategic plan for the Reef. This plan makes specific reference to integrated management and aims to consider the ecological relationship between the area and other areas, particularly the mainland. The plan has eight sections, each of which clearly outlines the objectives and strategies. For example, the goal of resource management outlined in the strategy is to facilitate sustainable multiple uses of the resources of the World Heritage Area through integrated management systems. Similar ICM principles relate to mechanisms in the plan for integrating planning activities between the Great Barrier Reef, the wet tropics, and integrated catchment management, to name a few.


Coastal management is about managing human activities and making sure that there is sustainable use of Australia's coastal resources in order to minimise adverse impacts on coastal environments now and in the future. A major problem in the past with various forms of management has been to treat different regions or zones in a sectoral rather than a holistic manner. This has been very true for coastal management. There is now a realisation that our use of coastal resources cannot be considered in isolation from, for example, catchments or marine environments. For this reason coastal management has to take a broader approach to managing the impacts of humans on the coast.

In addition to the need for a holistic approach to biophysical aspects of the coast, there is also a need to coordinate our various management agencies, authorities, different levels of government, and various stakeholders who have an impact on the coast. For this reason it is important to adopt the principles of ICM. The management of the Reef is a good example of ICM, where each dimension of integration needed for the coastal zone (as proposed by Cicin- Sain 1993) has been addressed, including interactions among sectors, between regions, among government levels and the wider community, and between disciplines, all of which are essential requirements of integrated management (Harvey 1999, p. 295).

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