Community roles in the new millennium
Coastcare has been successful in involving thousands of people in actively looking after parts of the Australian coastline. However, uncertainty over its future funding casts doubt on the role Coastcare will play in the future. There is no doubt that Coastcare is funding-driven, with a great deal of planning focusing on the annual funding round and the relationship of the local issues to the funding criteria. There is clearly the possibility here that the short-term considerations of the funding round will detract from a strategic approach, resulting in an over-emphasis on a reactive 'on-ground-works' approach, rather than a visionary plan for the long-term future.
Coastcare has been criticised as 'coastal management on the cheap', allowing land managers, and particularly government agencies, to rely excessively on volunteer help. In at least two states the scheme has been challenged as simply a cost-cutting measure, replacing agency staff with sponsored volunteers. Wescott (1997) pointed out that continuation of work over a number of years by volunteers is only likely within a management process which is collaborative: that if volunteers are simply used to do jobs formerly done by paid staff and not as part of a process of community empowerment, then the approach is not sustainable. However, it must be noted that a great deal of agency cost-cutting around Australia had already taken place by the time the Coastcare scheme started in 1995.
Doyle (2000) has challenged the view that the projects are community- based, seeing them as 'controlled and harnessed by bureaucratic and industry initiatives and arrangements'. To substantiate such a criticism requires detailed research into the origin of projects, the role of the regional facilitators, the influence of the guidelines and criteria, the role of the assessment panels, the (less public) roles of state and Commonweath ministers and agency staff, as well as patterns of funded projects compared with unfunded ones. This has yet to be done. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence shows many more on-ground actions meeting needs that had previously been neglected, usually through lack of funds; increased knowledge and awareness of coastal issues; and many examples of strong community 'ownership' of the care of small coastal reserves.
The long-term challenge of continuation of care and the development of sustainable management systems, involving monitoring and evaluation, still remains.