Photography. Brian Caton

Community-based activities have been given assistance and focus through the National Coastal Action Program, begun in 1995, of which Coastcare is an important component (see page 210). The Coastal Action Program was proposed by the Commonwealth in May 1995 as a vehicle for cooperation in coastal management between the three tiers of government, and its first major achievement was in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Commonwealth, states and territories, and local government in October 1995. The Coastcare component of this program set up assistance for community groups working on schemes to promote ecologically sustainable development at the coast. Coastcare continued as part of the Coasts and Clean Seas component of the National Heritage Trust (NHT; launched in July 1997) under a new memorandum of understanding, signed in 1998.

'The objectives of Coastcare are to:

• engender in local communities, including local industries, a sense of stewardship for coastal and marine areas;

• provide opportunities and resources for residents, volunteers, business and interest groups to participate in coastal management;

• support community identification of natural and cultural heritage resources; and

• facilitate interaction between the community and bodies with responsibility for managing coastal areas.'

Source: Commonwealth of Australia (1998b)

Under the Coastal Action Plan and then the NHT, the Commonwealth will provide a total of $27.3 million (see Clarke 2002) to Coastcare from 1996 until 2001 when the NHT program runs out. Matching funds must be provided by the states, and in-kind contributions are sought from local government and industry. When these contributions are added to the value of voluntary work, the combined value of the projects completed is impressive: in the year 1997-98 this totalled $28.4 million. Coastcare continues in a modified form under NHT II, from 2002.

Essentially, Coastcare distributes small grants to community groups to carry out schemes of coastal restoration, community education, monitoring, and conservation (Harvey et al. 2001). A Coastcare Coordinator for each state administers the scheme within the states, and facilitators, organised on a regional basis, work with communities and groups to put together projects meeting local needs and aspirations. There are about 30 regional Coastcare facilitators.

Some examples of the works funded by Coastcare are dune weed control replanting and access control, monitoring waste water reuse in the coastal zone, walkways, cliff steps, community monitoring of marine indicator species, the development of community-based coastal management plans, the protection of areas of rare coastal species, the establishment of a marine and coastal interpretation centre, surveys of ocean-based litter. A national mid-term survey (Commonwealth of Australia 1999) showed clearly the dominance of onground works.

Table 4.4 Types of activities funded by Coastcare, 1995-96 to 1999-2000

Type of Activity


Percentage of projects

On-ground works

Access control, sand drift fencing, revegetation, interpretive signage


Education or training

Community education targeting specific coastal environments or types of environment



Development of site-specific management plans and community participation in the development of regional plans



Beach conditions, habitats, and water quality


Source: B. Clarke, pers. comm. 2002

The mid-term survey (Commonwealth of Australia 1999) showed that more than 700 community groups were involved in Coastcare-sponsored projects in 1998, and that the groups varied considerably in their nature (table 4.5).

Table 4.5 Types of community groups funded by Coastcare, 1997-99

Type of Group


Percentage of funds

Local environment

Local Coastcare, Landcare and Dunecare groups; estuarine management groups, local branches of environment groups


Citizen and service groups

Rotary, Lions, Progress Associations, Residents, Ratepayers groups and town committees.




State conservation councils; MCCN


co-ordinating groups


Lands councils, community co-operatives



Surf lifesaving clubs, dive groups, ORRV groups, arts centres, heritage groups



Tourism associations, fishing co-operatives, chambers of commerce


Educational institutions

Primary and high schools, outdoor education centres, universities.


Other/no data





• based on Coastcare funding of $8 909 000 from both Commonwealth and state contributions

• from Coastcare national database

Source: Commonwealth of Australia 1999

Most groups are working on public lands in cooperation with councils (50%) or state government agencies (37%), such as parks and wildlife departments, who are the land managers. Agencies and councils often provide equipment, expertise or administrative support. National evaluation suggested that the experience often led to partnerships between community groups and land managers, and increased commitment to coastal and marine management by local authorities.

The character and variety of Coastcare activities are illustrated by the following examples.

Box 4.6 Buttlingara Aboriginal Corporation at Whyalla, South Australia

A number of informal recreational camping sites on low dunes and shellgrit slopes at False Bay, between Port Augusta and Whyalla in South Australia, have over the years led to vegetation loss, erosion and weed invasion. The area has been used for camping for at least 40 years, but recently degradation has increased because of an increase in the use of off-road vehicles. Considerable damage had been caused to Pebble Dune, which is a site of significance to the Buttlingara Aboriginal Community. Over time the community had become increasingly concerned with the amount of damage being caused to the area.

The solution has been an alliance of the Buttlingara Community and the City of Whyalla, assisted by advice from the Regional Coastcare Coordinator and some Coastcare funding. Following a series of on-site planning meetings, campsites and paths have been defined, weeding and replanting has taken place, and access tracks avoid the sensitive locations of Pebble Dune. Wire fencing now defines the perimeter of seven different camps sites along the shore of Fitzgerald Bay. Further south at False Bay, a further five camp sites have been defined. Campers can still obtain access to the areas, but in a less damaging manner.

The on-ground labour for this project has been carried out voluntarily by the Buttlingara community, supported by technical advice from the Council, whose planning and works staff assisted in closing old vehicle tracks. Fencing materials and plant tubestock have been purchased with Coastcare funds.

Achieving a positive action in coastal environmental improvement often involves more groups than were needed at False Bay, but the essence is local hard work and the formation of alliances. Coastcare provides facilitation for the work (pers. com. Chris Coxon, Central Region Coastcare Facilitator, September 1999).

Box 4.7 Middle Beach Education and Recreation Centre

The saltmarsh and samphire habitat of the flat coastal plain north of Adelaide, north of Port Adelaide and Port Gawler, has traditionally been viewed as a 'wasteland' with no real value. It has been the dumping ground for rubbish, and cheap land for a number of extensive industrial ventures.

The community of Middle Beach felt there was a need to raise community awareness about the importance of samphire and its role in the local coastal ecology. The samphire near Middle Beach is in good condition, although it has suffered some weed invasions, rubbish dumping and uncontrolled vehicle access near to the roads.

During a series of community meetings in late 1997, it was decided to undertake a project that would enhance the region and raise general awareness about the unique aspects of the area. The project would consist of an 80-m boardwalk, a small bridge to cross a tidal creek, a hard rubble path, and a number of interpretive signs.

A $ 15 000 Coastcare grant was obtained for materials, and the District Council of Mallalla provided assistance with project engineering, particularly in the construction of a small bridge. The Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers provided a work team to assist with the boardwalk, while most of the labour was undertaken by community volunteers, some of whom were retired tradespeople whose skills were important.

During the course of the project, the community and the local council staff found out a great deal about the samphire flats, particularly its bird populations. Capacity-building is a frequent positive effect of Coastcare activities for the community group, council staff and elected members and state agency staff (pers. com. Chris Coxon, Central Region Coastcare Facilitator, September 1999).

The significance of these activities and the numbers of people involved in Coastcare groups is considerable, not least in raising awareness and knowledge about coastal management issues. Coastcare activities receive considerable local publicity, often showing that non-government voluntary groups can have a significant direct impact on the management of public lands, or to influence government management through community monitoring projects. One challenge that emerges is to integrate this with other coastal management efforts, so that the benefits of coordination and timing can be secured.

After Coastcare had been running for barely a year, Tailby and Lenfer (1996) commented that Coastcare could lead to 'the triumph of small decisions': small decisions and small actions, while relatively insignificant in isolation, can add up to have a significant positive impact. It is also true that such a positive impact can flow on to neighbouring coastal areas, whereby the successful rehabilitation of one coastal reserve provides a model and inspiration for neighbouring reserves.

However, this effect should not be overestimated; many coastal management tasks need an ongoing commitment to sustainability in the face of continuing pressure, and not all community groups can maintain this commitment. Effective community groups often rely on a small number of key members to drive actions, making the group vulnerable to a diminishing effort. This is especially true of rural and remote coastal areas. It is there that the local government side of the partnership may fill the breach, by completing tasks and continuing maintenance.

This underlines the need for strategic planning at the regional level so that regional priorities can be assessed and agreed, and so that limited money and energy is directed where it may have best effect.

Coastcare is about local communities taking responsibility for their local coastal and marine environmental problems. Experience suggests that local energy within the community in taking on such responsibility will often be most effective where strong partnerships can be established with other groups, adding to local impetus and expertise. This has been a key aim in Coastcare and is well illustrated in the setting up of the integrated catchment management project for the small catchment draining to Swan Bay Marine Reserve, Victoria.

Box 4.8 Swan Bay Marine Reserve

Swan Bay, a marine reserve near Queenscliff at the southern end of Port Phillip Bay, is listed on the Register of the National Estate for its ecological, aesthetic and recreational values. It is an important area for juvenile fish and migratory wading birds, and is listed as a Ramsar site. The Swan Bay catchment is relatively small (170 km2) and mainly rural; most of the catchment has been largely cleared for intensive agricultore and urban settlement. There are a range of concerns over the degradation of the area, including extensive clearing of native vegetation, erosion and salinity control, pest plants and animals, and water quality. It is thought that addressing these concerns will improve the condition of the bay by reducing turbidity and siltation, nutrient run-off, excessive algal growth, and seagrass loss.

In 1997 a Coastcare/Coast Action (Vic.) community grant was obtained to assist in establishing an integrated catchment management approach to managing the lands and waterways within the area draining to the bay. This has involved community groups (with the assistance of a part-time facilitator) preparing and implementing local action plans and a community-based w'ater monitoring strategy linked to a local Waterwatch program. Many stakeholders have been involved with the project: a local Landcare group, the Victorian Farmers Federation, local schools and conservation groups, and the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

Again, the significance of establishing alliances is clear; in this case with a variety of aims, but primarily to safeguard a marine reserve by improved catchment management. The small size of the catchment makes a community-based approach a feasible one. (This summary is based on Coastline winter 1997 edition; and Marine Group 1999.)

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