Our Plan for Coastal Systems
In many ways, the Wet Tropics region is defined by its coastal systems with its waterways within the region all flowing into the coastal flood plain and out to the Great Barrier Reef.
It is interesting to note that although it is not independent from biodiversity, sustainable industries, water or biosecurity, it has unique challenges and these were raised at both local and regional workshops.
Concerns over the impacts of climate change in particular were mentioned including rising sea levels, the likely increase in severe cyclones and the lack of resilience of our highly modified and heavily contested coastal landscapes.
The influence of increasing population and the desire to live where there are sea views was also raised repeatedly.
Our Plan for Coastal Systems is based on extensive engagement about:
- The challenges preventing us from achieving our Coastal Systems Goal
- The opportunities that may assist us in achieving our Coastal Systems Goal
- The priority actions that we should put in place to address the challenges and also make the most of the opportunities
1. We will influence our local, state and national policies, plans, legislation and decision making frameworks to ensure they are evidence-based and drive sustainable coastal development and management.
Challenges: A complex and confusing system of cross-jurisdictional planning and regulatory frameworks is likely to make integrating the impacts of climate change on coastal systems challenging, particularly with the inevitable land surrender within the coming decades as a result of saltwater inundation.
Short-term political will and vision can also impede our ability to plan for transformational change so we need to make the hard decisions now that will build our coastal system resilience for the future.
Opportunities: With new science (including mapping) about the likely impacts of climate change available and accessible to decision makers at the local scale, councils are in a strong position to build this into their risk management frameworks and planning processes.
Recent major weather events have heightened people’s awareness about how fragile our lifestyles and livelihoods can be.
Priority actions focus on research and knowledge brokering and developing tools and knowledge products to support local level planning and implementation.
2. We will work collaboratively and adaptively on our coastal management systems, applying up-to-date science and evidence, building in Traditional Owner knowledge and taking into account climate change.
Challenges: The coastal system is overwhelmingly complex with conflicting interests and a lack of cohesion within the planning and management space. The ‘invisibility’ of climate change and the uncertainty in knowledge of its impacts on the dynamic coastal systems of the Wet Tropics make it exceptionally challenging to plan well for the future. It is also hard to gain public and political support for a change in paradigm.
Opportunities: Despite this, the Wet Tropics is a relatively well understood system and there are opportunities for this region to be a global leader in building coastal resilience. There are strong partnerships to build on and potential economic opportunities in the development and marketing of our tropical expertise.
Priority actions focus on novel collaborative partnerships beyond the traditional NRM professionals, ensuring we are all focused on the same issues.
3. We will respect and action the desires of Traditional Owners to be meaningfully involved in the management of the coastal systems, embodied in the concept of land and sea management.
Challenges: The Rainforest Aboriginal People of the Wet Tropics have grave concerns about the condition of their land and sea country and have witnessed their natural landscape being transformed, in some areas beyond recognition.
The combined pressures of coastal urban development, modified waterways, wetland reclamation and removal of native vegetation is clearly taking its toll on the health of these Traditional lands and the cultural sites they contain.
They are also calling for stronger partnerships with community and government, with a particular interest in securing meaningful employment in the management of these threats.
Opportunities: Although in many circles there is interest in engaging meaningfully with Traditional Owners, many people don’t know how to go about this and don’t invest the time and effort to build the relationships that are fundamental to strong partnerships.
There are great opportunities to learn from Traditional Owners and to benefit from their experience and knowledge.
Priority actions focus on promoting and communicating cultural values and establishing more effective ways to engage Rainforest Aboriginal People in natural resource management.
4. We will secure long-term, consistent cross-sector and diverse resourcing for coastal system management.
Challenges: Resourcing of coastal system management does not equate with the services and economic benefits the system delivers, such as tourism, fishing, water filtration and storm impact buffering.
This is compounded by a relatively low coastal population rate base, as the coastal systems of the Wet Tropics deliver global values but only have local resources for management.
Government spending at all levels is frequently short term and tends to be reactive, not matching with the long-term and proactive management approaches that are required. For many, it all appears just too hard.
Opportunities: The global significance of the area can be used as a ‘carrot’ for novel, international investment to build a cohesive and compelling multi-partner story about our vision for the coastal systems of the Wet Tropics.
It will also outline how we can reach our goals and how we can collectively tap into a wide variety of public and private funding opportunities.
Priority actions focus on how to successfully tell the story of the numerous benefits of sustainable coastal management and using these stories to secure novel and diverse funding opportunities.
5. We will ensure our community places high value on the health and resilience of our regional coastal systems and is actively involved in their protection.
Challenges: We are battling an age of ‘what’s in it for me?’ which is compounded by an attitude of ‘it’s useless so let's party before the ship goes down.'
There is a great diversity in people’s opinion about the way coastal systems should look, function and be managed. Unfortunately, many people don’t have any regard for the environment and complain that native vegetation that buffers coastal storms actually blocks out the coastal views.
Drainage systems rapidly remove water from crops, but on the other hand they destroy the function of the fish breeding grounds of the wetlands.
There is also varied understanding of climate change impacts and of the social, economic and ecological benefits of good coastal management. It is difficult to find ways to galvanise the community into action.
Opportunities: Luckily there is a general recognition that coastal systems contribute to the regional economy and the strong community connection to the coastal values of the Wet Tropics is an opportunity. If harnessed, the Wet Tropics community can be one that drives a sustainable future for their coastal systems.
Priority actions focus on communication and advocacy, brokering knowledge and science, as well as providing the community with realistic pathways to action.