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Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry - Final Report November 1993

Resource Assessment Commission, November 1993
ISBN 0 64429457

Chapter 2 Resources, Values and Uses of the Coastal Zone - continued

2.6 Community values and attitudes

2.6.0 The coastal zone is a place for leisure and recreation, for residence and employment, and for enjoyment of the natural environment. The coast is an important part of the Australian ethos, a central component of the culture of many indigenous communities, and a major contributor to the lifestyle of a high proportion of the population.

2.6.1 Growth in the intensity of use of many parts of the coastal zone for residential, recreational and development purposes is indicative of the great value that Australians attach to this part of the country. Competition for many coastal zone resources has increased, reflecting people's differing views about the values of the resources and their use. Differing views are held about the functions of development, environmental protection, aesthetic enjoyment, equity, and the appropriate role for governments to play in resource management. The Inquiry received evidence of the many different values and attitudes people have in relation to these and other aspects of coastal resource use (see RAC 1993q).

2.6.2 Ecological degradation of the coastal zone was the central concern for many Inquiry participants. Specific concerns included water pollution from industrial waste, sewage outfalls and agricultural run-off; dune and landscape degradation; and wetlands depletion. These concerns were corroborated by survey evidence, which suggests that Australians regard water pollution in the coastal zone as one of the nation's most pressing environmental problems. Figure 2.7 shows that water and beach pollution is consistently rated the highest of coastal environmental concerns. It also ranks equal first among all environmental concerns, along with air pollution (data for which are not shown in Figure 2.7). Loss or degradation of wetlands and rainforests as a result of development is rated next in terms of coastal concerns, followed by over-development of the coastline and mineral-sand mining.

2.6.3 The relationship between economic development and environmental protection was a central area of conflict. Continuing urbanisation of parts of the coastal zone, particularly ribbon development, was of concern to many for ecological, aesthetic, cultural or commercial reasons. There were many differences of opinion about the advantages and disadvantages of tourist development. Despite these concerns, though, most submitters were not against development as such, although many expressed doubts about particular types of development. Those who represented commercial interests were more concerned about constraints on development and more inclined to accept trade-offs between economic development and ecological consequences. They emphasised the importance of the coastal zone for Australia's economic infrastructure, including ports and shipping, and for particular economic activities such as mining and fishing.

Figure 2.7

Figure 2.7 Trends in concern about coastal issues: percentage of those who are 'extremely concerned'
Notes: Respondents were asked in a face-to-face interview, 'Now I'd like to talk to you about your views on the environment. I'm going to read out some issues and I'd like you to tell me how you would rate your concern on a scale from 1 to 10. On this card you will notice that 1 is 'not concerned at all' and 10 is "extremely concerned". How would you rate your concern about: over-development of the coastline; development in wetlands and rainforests; mineral-sand mining; water and beach pollution?' (These items are selected from a longer list.) Samples were drawn from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Source: Frank Small and Associates (1992).

2.6.4 Aesthetic degradation of the coastal landscape was also a prominent concern among Inquiry participants. Urban and residential development, the location of specific industries in coastal areas, and pollution were identified as causing the loss of important scenic coastal attractions, degrading the aesthetic quality of coastal areas, and adversely affecting landscape values. Sewage treatment works, mariculture development, and the presence of dredges and transport vessels were also seen to be impairing the aesthetic quality of coastal areas.

2.6.5 The differences in attitudes and values can be compared with findings from several recent surveys that asked people questions about what they think are the most important issues facing the nation. The most consistent finding was that unemployment and the economy were, by a large margin, the two issues of greatest public concern, followed by the environment in third or fourth place. Economic issues dominate at present but there is evidence to suggest that the environment is regarded as the nation's most important long-term issue for government attention (see RAC 1993q).

2.7 Conclusions

2.7.0 Australia's coastal zone is a priceless resource. It contains complex and diverse ecosystems that are subject to continual change caused by natural processes and the effects of human activities. There is a strong desire to preserve the zone, and to use it.

2.7.1 Eighty-six per cent of the nation's population resides in the zone; almost half of all population growth in Australia in the past 20 years has occurred in coastal zone areas outside capital cities. A high proportion of Australia's fast-growing tourism and recreational activities, all mariculture activity, almost all wild fishing activities (both commercial and other), and a high proportion of industrial activity take place in the zone. The challenge is to manage the pressures from increased resource uses while maintaining the quality of the zone's natural environment.

2.7.2 The principal source of population growth in non-metropolitan coastal areas is migration from metropolitan areas, rather than natural increase. Population growth has increased the intensity of use of many coastal resources, especially those associated with housing, leisure and recreation.

2.7.3 Many current uses of coastal zone resources have significant direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on the environment. Among the most important consequences of increased resource use are continuing degradation and loss of many coastal habitats (especially wetlands and fish-breeding areas), increased risks to endangered species, over-exploitation of many fisheries resources, introduction of exotic species into marine and terrestrial habitats, accelerated erosion and loss of coastal soils, and erosion of dune and beach systems. Of particular concern is the declining water quality in many rivers and streams, estuaries, wetlands and the ocean, caused by pollution from urban, agricultural, industrial and marine-based sources. More intensive uses of coastal resources are increasing the demands on the terrestrial and marine environments to absorb these impacts.

2.7.4 Evidence presented to the Inquiry shows that the coastal zone is suffering the environmental and social stresses of continuing urbanisation, which is occurring both on the fringe of metropolitan areas and in an increasing number of coastal regions outside capital cities. If no action is taken to change the way in which coastal resources are used, there is a very considerable risk that ecosystems will be destroyed, the recreational amenity of the coast will be degraded, and economic growth and employment opportunities will be lost; in short, the collective benefits provided by the coastal zone will cease to be available to Australians.