It has been three years since I really discovered that I was passionate about beaches. People used to say it to me all the time. But I wasn’t entirely sure because I am passionate about lots of things. Little did I know my passion for beaches would leave me in tears while watching a dune being bulldozed in response to years of unsustainable coastal management and development. And then what was to follow, influence the way I saw coastal management and how the cause and process can at times overcomplicate the issues at play.
It was a warm autumn morning and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was proudly wearing my red Griffith University branded polo shirt standing on a closed beach, a stone throw north from Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. I was pumped with inspiration and energy as I had just given a school coastal education session about how to manage Gold Coast’s beaches, and the wonderful work that had achieved a legacy of pioneering coastal management solutions. Dune management, sea walls, groynes, sand bypass systems, dredging, beach nourishment, artificial reefs and the list goes on. Most beach goers would never know what happens behind the scenes to ensure Gold Coast’s beaches are protected and enhanced to ensure everyone has a beach experience. But this day people did. The beach was closed due to coastal hazard management works in response to a series of storms that had battered the coast causing significant coastal erosion along Gold Coast’s beaches. See Band-aid management is not a solution for background to this tangent.
Seeing the dune bulldozed hit my heart. I didn’t know you could cry about coastal management… but I did. Some of my colleagues laughed it off, but this experience led me on a three-year journey to where I am now, and where I intend on going.
You see, if I wasn’t wearing my Griffith branded polo I would have stood in front of the bulldozer to stop the bandaid management from stripping the dunes bare and left naked to the elements. But I found myself conflicted. I knew it was wrong to bulldoze the dunes, but I couldn’t do or say anything ‘too publically’ because of my professional position and role, especially being funded by the local council (who was doing the bulldozing) at the time. Although, later that week I did discover the line I shouldn’t have crossed (which didn’t go down well with my boss). The conversations I had at the time were challenging because there was consensus in the tent that the approach was not sustainable. But the politicisation of the issue meant we, the external experts, couldn’t do or say anything – to some degree.
Here I thought becoming ‘an expert’ of coastal management would be a way to protect and save beaches. I was and am wrong. And my story is not isolated. This issue influenced a Prominent Coastal Geologist, Prof Stan Riggs, to Quit a Science Advisory Panel in the US last week. Listen here. This story inspires me.
My conflict of interest experience that left me silenced is still very vivid and present in my mind.
It actually inspires my tangents and thinking to question and debate. How do coastal professionals negotiate between their personal and professional values systems when making decisions about the coast? What are the cultures, conflicts and consensus of Australia’s coastal professionals? How does the politicisation of the coast influence and impact coastal decisions? How would knowing this improve the way the coast is managed? How do and can coastal professional’s influence change for the protection and management of the coast?
Welcome to my next three years.