Dr Geoffrey Wescott, Associate Professor at Deakin University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, addressed AIDA’s 2012 AGM on the important issue of Victoria’s coastal planning and management. He told us that the Great Ocean Road is a top global tourist destination for two main reasons – the beauty and diversity of its geological and biological forms and the comparatively good management, historically, of the designated coastal zone. The lush vegetation occurring east of Cape Otway results from the fact that the predominant ocean swell comes from the south-west and hence runs parallel to the coast rather than striking it full on, so that salt-laden spray does not damage vegetation or restrict it from reaching the land’s edge. However, climate change in the form of increased extreme events, slow sea level rise and rising ocean acidity will occur over the coming years necessitating active planning and management to preserve these precious coastal resources.
Dr Wescott outlined significant milestones in Victoria’s coastal management history as a way of considering the challenges that lie ahead.
In contrast to the legacy of the traditional owners and long-term guardians of the coast over 60,000 years, early photos of areas denuded of trees show the white settlers’ European approach to land management. However, from 1879, committees of management that emphasised Victoria’s commitment to open space, parks for people and public ownership demonstrated foresight in the establishment of foreshore reservations. The nineteenth-century colonial Land Act reserved a zone along the coastline as public land. This buffer zone has provided protection to private landowners and access for all to a unique coastal zone, but climate change and unplanned and poorly managed development may severely reduce, and in some places eliminate, this critical buffer. He reflected on whether this great Victorian legacy has produced complacency in decision makers in Victoria in recent times.
In 1901 the Australian Constitution left control of land planning and management to the states, so from 1901 to 1970 Victorian Coastal Planning and Management devolved responsibility for recreational and other ‘useful’ areas other than foreshores to over 100 separate committees of management, local councils, etc. Internationally the concept of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) was born in 1992 during the Earth Summit of Rio de Janeiro to promote sustainable management of coastal zones. In Australia, 1992 saw a focus on a system of arrangements that linked the key elements of coastal planning and management across coastal land and coastal waters, that is the so- called coastal zone. This provided an opportunity for integration of scientific knowledge with management practice, horizontal land and sea integration and the vertical integration of governance arrangements between national, state and local governments.
Victoria enacted its Coastal Management Act in 1995, giving the task of developing a state coastal plan to a statutory committee, the Victorian Coastal Council, which included representatives from all levels of the community, and in 1997 published the first of three Victorian Coastal Strategies. However, the potential of Coastal Action Plans (CAPs) initiated under the Act as a link between the strategic direction of the Victorian Coastal Strategy and Management and Planning Schemes has yet to be realised.
From 1975 to 2002 there was a substantial expansion of state and national parks along the coast. This brought increased funding and awareness of the need for preservation of the unique flora and fauna of the area. Parks Victoria is now the primary manager of the coastal zone. The declaration in 2002 of marine national parks and marine sanctuaries (so called ‘no take’ reserves), a world first then, was another major step forward. Recently, the addition of further local coastal marine reserves will protect ocean ecology.
The emergence in 2003–04 of coastal development as an issue in the Victorian public’s mind is only fairly recent. Every local issue appears unique, but the issues are repeated over and over. The real aim of the Coastal Management Act, Victorian Coastal Strategy and CAPs is to draw power and experience from the past, to avoid the tyranny of small decisions, and avoid repeating the same mistakes. Victoria is acknowledged internationally and nationally as a world leader in integrated coastal zone management, but just as the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, the price of a well- managed and protected coastline is eternal vigilance by the community.
Dr Wescott closed his address by telling AIDA members that Australian Coastal Society (ACS) membership may be a good place to start if they are interested in following through on coastal conservation.