Undercurrent conflicts to saving the coast

Dune vandal

Another dune conflict, who is the council spokesperson, and what are their conflicts?

I have been enjoying the freedom and luxury of reading, writing and thinking about my Phd. It sounds luxurious to be spending quality time on something you are deeply passionate about, however, the sitting duck mentality does do my head in. When you identify with being a hungry person for change, perhaps a change agent, it’s intellectually challenging, as much as it is frustrating to wait for the thinking process to think-up a grand theoretical way of informing the creating change process.

In real world, I use my networks, experience, knowledge and passion to convey the best message for media to run the story that will publicly probe politicians to do something that their institutions haven’t been able to do –  “we don’t have the resources”, which is a no balls approach to saying no. While in my current Phd world, I use my scholarship to engage ideas, theories and other knowledges to better inform my interpretation/s of the world – why does it occur this way, and not that way?  

The context for understanding how to better create change that I am referring to is how do coastal professionals negotiate personal and professional conflicts (if any) in their management of the coast? I see conflicts played out everyday, and it’s frustrating. I question, why should professionals have to deal with institutional no sayers or dictators? For some, people survive by being a good public servant (e.g. imagine being the coastal professionals who had to remove sea level rise from coastal hazard maps when the Queensland Neumann Government was in?), while others just do what they are there to do (and not ask questions, imagine approving the Adani Mine?), while others, like me, don’t survive (they quit and let fate create a new path for change?)

In a self-reflexive peer-reviewed paper titled, ‘the secret life of a land-planning professional’, Joel Russell shares his insights and frustrations of finding the balance between human settlement and ecological principles with being a land planning professional. ‘It’s finding the balance’ where Russell experiences conflicts within the institutional frameworks he is conditioned to negotiate and suggests that, I quote, ‘the planning process itself just fans the flames of social, economic and political conflict, and rarely resolves anything’, unquote (Russell, 2000: 318).

Similarly, I experience conflicts with balancing inherent professional obligations with being a coastal professional in coastal management. I was confronted with a conflict experience in mid 2013, when I visited my local beach, Surfers Paradise, to witness my local council’s efforts in response to the coastal erosion in the wake of ex TC Oswald.  At the time when I approached the beach where the coastal erosion works were being carried out, I could see heavy machinery among the narrow, fragile dunes. I stood there alongside a growing crowd of onlookers in disbelief, confusion and conflict. Here was a local council that boasts clean beach and coastal management solutions, yet, I knew that extracting sand from vegetated dunes and placing it in front of an at risk coastal development was not sustainable. At the time, I was a coastal liaison officer between the local council, community, and university where I was employed, which meant continuing my day, returning to the office, and maybe talking about my conflicting experience with colleagues was the most appropriate action despite my conflicts.

And these dune conflicts never seize to go away, even though, I am institutionally positioned outside and have the luxury of blowing off my horn, or tweeting about it when or if I want to.

My colleague, Daniel Ware from Griffith University discusses this conflict experience as an undercurrent to the issues of coastal management. In his more recent work, he suggests that such personal and professional conflicts exist when ‘coastal managers’ are committed to the principles of sustainable development, which underlines the theory of integrated coastal zone management (Ware, 2017).

Alongside these ideas I question the construction process of these conflicts, and how historical, social, environmental, economics, institutional, cultural, political and institutional ideas have constructed the coastal professional, the phenomena of the coastal professional and coastal management. It is a cultural process as this phenomena is always in a state of flux, and I am pretty sure (hopefully) that my research can offer understanding and acknowledgment to the experiences of being a coastal professional, and dealing with conflict.

For instance, it is the juxtaposition between self and coastal places, the spaces where people experience the coast that draws my attention to question how do coastal experiences construct individual and personal identity and their individual ideas of the coast. Additional to this is the extension of inquiring into why people take up a professional role in coastal management. Is it to perhaps make a difference, protect their ideas of the coast, or they’ve just fallen into it?

I am at the stage of knowing (and believing) that my theoretical framework (I think of it like a coat hanger) will better inform (hang) my ideas to question and answer, well, how the bloody hell can we live, work and play along the coast without inherent conflicts? Or, perhaps what I am super pumped about at the moment is gently knowing where, when, why and how do these conflicts emerge given inherent conflicting professional identities and the spaces we engage… watch this space.
References:

Russell, J. (2000) The secret life of a land-planning professional, Bulletin of science, technology and society, Vol 20 (4), pp: 318-320.

Ware, D. (2017) Sustainable resolution of conflicts over coastal values: a case study of the Gold Coast Surf Management Plan, Australian Journal of Maritime & Ocean Affairs, Vol 9 (2), pp: 68-80.

Weird & wonderful ways to make things happen

 

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A humble group of committed professionals and citizens co-designing a coastal clean-up free future. 

While your news feed is being flooded with Trump news about him going down as the worst and most embarrassing President of the United States in history, there’ll be snippets of viral videos and humble updates about weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place, with less plastic too.

First off the rank is the 1 Million Women video about Boomerang Bags. The video went viral last week hitting 2.3million views and the ladies behind sewing the boomerang bags haven’t stopped responding to the calls to action to set up Boomerang Bags communities. Boomerang Bags is a national initiative that transitions communities to be plastic free, one hand-made, zero waste reusable bag at a time! I hope they haven’t missed Ellen’s email…

Next in line is Take 3 for the sea’s ABC News update about the hundreds of thousands of litter and marine debris items collected by everyday beach goers, where they collect three-bits for the sea, and then share their plastic bits on Instagram and hash tag #PICKITUPSNAPITSHAREIT. It’s a simple solution to raising awareness about plastic pollution. I recommend getting involved in this solution and it makes leaving the other 1000s or so littered items left on the beach seem OK! You’ve consciously made a difference, right?

Boomerang Bags and Take 3 for the sea are two great examples of the weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place with less plastic too. Keep in mind neither of them could happen in isolation. If anything the media have significantly contributed to their calls to action in the last week, almost as impactful as the Huffington Post and other campaigns that is currently slaughtering and scrutinising Trump. However, above all their impact couldn’t be possible without dedicated and committed citizens – keep this in mind too. It’s as if Margaret Mead is still trying her best to drown out the banging and destruction in our world – and this literally happening outside my office! Construction works for progress, meh.  

A much more humble yet equally weird and wonderful call to action is being crafted by the institutions responsible for managing our natural resources. Yes, finally! As I write the Queensland Government, City of Gold Coast, Commonwealth Games Goldoc and Healthy Waterways and Catchments and the community (Gold Coast Marine Debris Network), have come together to revolutionise the way we track, monitor and report, and intercept litter and marine debris to protect our waterways. We sat around the table yesterday to break free of the institutional norms to co-design a better world with less plastic and perhaps a coastal clean up-free future. This is a major breakthrough that the community have been seeking for many, many, many years, ultimately a marine debris monitoring and management plan. Such a plan seems like a no-brainer, especially when the Gold Coast is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches and waterways. However, the mechanics of the disintegrated institutions have limited any possibility thus far (and this is despite having a water economy worth over $5billion!).

The catalyst this time round is a major grant we are collaborating on, and if it gets up, not only will Gold Coast’s waterways and beaches benefit, the international community driven to have a world with less plastic will sleep better at night too.

The drivers that have influenced this possibility to be a possibility is inclusive of the exogenous influences playing a part in the negotiations with media, community leadership, cultural expectations, economies and civic ownership (plus many more).  

Then there are the agents… and in my opinion it’s the community leadership and civic ownership, which have finally tipped the negotiations to get a plan!

Above all, this wouldn’t be possible without the level of negotiation I (and others) have incurred for many, many, many years. Such negotiations have almost sent me to the crazy house, especially in some meetings where I had to spell out what marine debris is, and why current ‘solutions’ are not working… I am serious, and these institutions are responsible for managing our natural resources! Please note: there are good people inside the institutions, however, we can not turn a blind eye to the fact that they have failed to successfully negotiate inside their own institutions to have marine debris as a key component in their waste and water management plans – some are better than others. [This consistent failure inspired me to take on a Phd in institutional leadership and change to understand how those in institutions can influence decisions, or really influence their higher officers].

While this is being played out on the inside my local community haven’t stopped coming up with innovative solutions I bet they wish they could coin (e.g. Boomerang Bags is a Gold Coast export!). Such solutions are solutions because they do more than just ‘manage’ the issue, they actually stop the symptom in the first place. “If we only ever clean up, that is all we will ever do”, I quote Heidi Taylor, who is an Australian-based international expert on marine debris and citizen science from Tangaroa Blue Foundation. Move over Margaret Mead and everyone hail Heidi, who in my opinion is a key change agent at the heart of the progression on marine debris monitoring and management in Australia. With inspiration and guidance, my community have self-organised without the institutions (or in some incidences been drip fed with small grants and donations), and the meeting yesterday proved just how sophisticated citizens and citizen scientists have become when it comes to action on litter and marine debris.

To be honest I wasn’t entirely convinced on going to this meeting because I have spent hours and hours, goodness knows how many hours, sitting around tables, under fluorescent lights and contained within four walls meeting with clueless institutionalised bureaucrats about the plastic epidemic choking our waterways (I should also add the millions of dollars costing rate and taxpayers every year in clean up costs, and I better not forget the life threatening impacts on the 100,000 or so known wildlife too). That sentence was suppose to make you go out of breath, because I was almost out of breath – before yesterday. I had almost given up on trying to convince the institutions to invest in designing a monitoring and management plan for marine debris on the Gold Coast. Fortunately, a smarter than usual bureaucrat twisted my arm to attend that I thankfully attended…

Throughout the meeting I was in two-minds. Equally frustrated and equally thankful. Frustrated because the community, who are highly skilled, educated and experienced have been pitching such a project for many years. However, I was thankful that someone else was taking the minutes, someone else was responsible for writing the grant and I sat their gracefully sharing my ideas on how the community could be meaningfully involved. We are more than volunteers doing the dirty work!

As I drove home I gracefully smiled thinking, you know what, as much as the institutionalised bureaucrats and ‘science researchers’ in the meeting were frothing on the possibility of this project. None of it could be possible without the decade/s of community action already achieved. Today, my other frustrated self is thankful for being part of an incredible community that doesn’t stop until we get the outcome we know is the best-outcome for the environment. That is the ultimate goal!

If you have attended a clean up event on the Gold Coast I want to thank you because without your action I could not be in such positions (as much as they might seem frustrating) to put forward your ideas that add bucket-loads of soul to pivotal projects that will make our world a better place, with less plastic too.

I hope this tangent gives you some idea on what happens behind the scenes of cleaning up our waterways and beaches, inside the institutions that manage our natural resources. 

This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate. 

The best thing I have done…

Me back in 2006. This area were I am standing is now beautiful rainforest. I used to water the 1000s of plants every Wednesday for a few hours during the drought.

Me back in 2006. The area were I am standing is now a beautiful littoral rainforest. I used to water 1000s of plants every Wednesday for a few hours during the drought.

Me with Joan, a lovely woman who was a huge inspiration and mentor for me in my early 20s. I am very thankful of her guidance and passion to inspire me to be a better person everyday.

Me with Joan, a lovely woman who was a huge inspiration and mentor for me in my early 20s. I am very thankful of her guidance and passion to inspire me to be a better person everyday.

… has been getting involved in Landcare. Seriously. I am not being all Landcarey or trying to convert anyone to planting trees, pulling out weeds and cleaning up kilometres of coastline but what if I didn’t get out of bed early one Spring morning in 2006. Where would I be?

Everyday I am thankful for that very experience. Getting on my once beloved Kawasaki EL 250 and cruising across the Sundale Bridge with nothing on my mind other than being eager to know what happens at The Spit and who was behind creating 93 ha of habitat, open green space and a community legacy for generations to come to enjoy and be part of. Wow, my heart just skipped a beat and eyes watered. Why? Because I am thankful for Friends of Federation Walk doing what they do.

For over 14 years the many ‘Friends of’ Federation Walk have gotten up early on a Sunday morning once a month to plant 100s of native coastal plants. Today, the number of plants amount to most likely half a million trees, shrubs, herbs and dune runners to create the littoral rainforest that buffers the narrow spit, a coastal destination loved by many and now an eco-tourism destination only a stone throw from the glitter strip.

This coming Sunday marks another monthly community planting day at Federation Walk Coastal Reserve or more famously known as The Spit. Yes, it is winter and the sun will have only just risen at 7am but now is the perfect time to be up early, enjoying the crisp clean sea breeze and planting a community legacy.

If only we all did a little bit more like the many ‘Friends of’ Federation Walk? What could be achieved? I believe and envision happier beaches. Now is the time to get up this Sunday morning and join Friends of Federation Walk to restore the coastal dunes at The Spit.

When – Sunday 28th June, 7am – 10am

Where – meet at Philip Park carpark opposite the entrance to Seaworld

Have fun!