28th Annual NSW Coastal Conference - Terrigal, 2019

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This year the NSW Coastal Conference was held at Terrigal and hosted by the Central Coast Council. In its 28th year, these conferences are always held at a location outside of Sydney. It is a testimony to the interest by local councils in running these gatherings of our coastal “family”. Last year it was at Merimbula on the far south coast hosted by Bega Valley Shire Council, and in 2020 it will go to the other end of the state and be co-hosted by Byron and Tweed Shire Councils.

Around 250 attended the Terrigal conference. As usual there was a diverse array of interests represented by participants. This is one of the strengths of the conference and is shown in past and present papers which can be obtained through the conference website or before 2005 through Trove at the National Library. I am always impressed by the quality and diversity of papers and posters at each conference and this year was no different; many thanks to all who were involved.

This year the theme was “Connecting Coast, Catchment and Communities”. I reflected on the word “connecting” when I gave the acknowledgement to country at the conference dinner. For several years I have been invited to serve/act as MC at the dinner. I strongly believe that an acknowledgement to elders past and present should have meaning to our involvement in living on the coast. Connection to land, sea and sky has both spiritual and material significance to our First Peoples. But for all Australians, that connection is emerging as a key component of our stewardship of natural assets and the way they are to be sustainably managed. Therefore the theme resonated with me, and I hope all participants, as we thought about matters connecting the natural and social systems that tie us to coastal places.

As with every NSW Conference, there is great support from those who help with the organisation and sponsor the event. It simply wouldn’t happen without them.

The conference was opened by Adam Crouch MP representing the Minister for Local Government. Adam is the local member and understands the many issues confronting coastal managers in his electorate. The Deputy Mayor, Jane Smith, provided us with a detailed overview of what her council is doing to improve the quality of living on the Central Coast, an area of considerable population growth. The Organising Committee selected a wonderful group of keynote speakers including Melissa Nursey-Bray, Richard Denniss and Patrick Nunn. All three presented us with information, ideas and challenges. At the end of the conference we heard from two representatives of Youth for the Environment, a local group supported by Central Coast Council. What they had to say was incredibly powerful insofar as it built on the role of the younger generation in having a say in the future of their place, their region/country and the planet.

Each year at the dinner I am privileged to present awards for achievement. We recently created a “local hero” award. In 2019 this went to Graeme Johnston (Jono), a remarkable man who established the entity “Clean4Shore”.  This volunteer-based organisation has an incredible record since 2010 of not just collecting tonnes of litter, but in educating the community on the importance of maintaining clean waterways and overcoming stumbling blocks designed to make life difficult for volunteers.

The Lifetime Achievement Award named in honour of the late Ruth Readford was shared this year. Jane Lofthouse and Greg Britton in their very different ways represent the highest level of dedication and achievement in the respective roles as coastal environmental manager in the case of Jane, and esteemed coastal engineer in the case of Greg.

One of the key areas for discussion at the 2019 conference was consideration of issues in implementing the NSW coastal management framework, specifically the new Coastal Management Programs by local councils. Members of the NSW Coastal Council were present to hear and learn from local government practitioners, state agencies and others of progress to date. The Council is currently undertaking a review of the implementation to date of the framework; participants at the conference were invited to provide information to the Coastal Council. This review has been requested by the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, who is the Minister responsible for the NSW Coastal Management Act.

Finally, I must comment on the real-time experience shared with participants during the conference of what happened at Lake Cathie located to the north in Hastings-Port Macquarie Council area. Smoke extended all the way south from devastating fires in the vicinity of this coastal lake. It was occurring at a time when we were hearing from a local community group, called Revive Lake Cathie, on the impact of the drought on lake levels, amenity values and ecosystems. We were shown film of the fires roaring through the bush surrounding the lake, destroying flora and fauna including a significant number of koalas. When you are with passionate local residents and other folk like me who know the area, you feel you are experiencing first-hand the community angst at the impact of an extreme event. The extent that such a dry period and fire event is linked to climate change is contentious yet it is like so many such disasters in recent years occurring in a location and under conditions that has little in the way of historic precedent. It was a poignant reminder at this conference of how changes to environmental condition can occur rapidly and with such effect.

Bruce Thom    

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author's thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2019, for correspondence about this blog post please email austcoastsoc@gmail.com