We got upgraded today – the practice of resilient communities

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#tacklebinproject upgrades Gold Coast’s waterways

Gold Coast’s waterways got an upgrade today and it came with complimentary carrot cake and a fresh juice (we have moved beyond a latte and bagel). In all seriousness this tangent is a celebration rather than a deep inquiry (well it kind of gets deep) into how and why institutions work or not work, as today like I said, Gold Coast’s waterways got an upgrade.

The upgrade feels like a lifetime in the making. After meetings after meetings, proposals after proposals, ideas after ideas, all while watching issues become more issues, today, the community of the Gold Coast launched the Tackle Bin Project – to help deal with the marine debris issues Gold Coast’s waterways are experiencing.

The Tackle Bin Project is the latest upgrade initiative of the Gold Coast Marine Debris Network. The idea came about after years of picking up fishing line and tackle and dealing with the onslaught of entangled birds, turtles and other wildlife being caught, hooked and killed by fishing line and tackle dropped by ignorant fishers. Enough was enough. So, the many community champions and groups collaborated to design a future with less fishing line and tackle entering Gold Coast’s waterways.

The Gold Coast Marine Debris Network designed and pitched the project to funding agencies and were successful in finding enough cash and free skilled labour to make the project happen. Almost a year since initial discussions, the project is now launched and it feels so good. Now it is time to watch and monitor the project to measure the impact. 

For colleagues and friends outside the Gold Coast you may be questioning, how did this project happen? It happened for many reasons (not exclusive of below) .

  1. The sheer volume of fishing line and tackle citizen scientists collect (the Gold Coast Seaway is the worst hotspot for fishing line and tackle in Australia) can not be ignored
  2. The impressive, well-organised (30-40) community groups who are active in this space also can not be ignored
  3. The natural beauty of the area makes it to be one of the most biodiverse marine habitats in south east Queensland
  4. Connecting these groups through a central network connected their stories, needs and wants to advocate for this project to happen – again you can not ignore 30-40 community groups
  5. Partners of the project share similar values, however, I think we are now beyond the stock-standard ‘shared-value’ approach, we are friends and want each other to succeed

With a little reflection on these points, one doesn’t have to inquire that far too realise what we do and how we do it on the Gold Coast is pretty special. Of course I am going to be bias. However, with wearing my academic hat what I am discovering is that the community functions with authenticity and integrity, an incredible foundation to build a resilient community network. The community have each other’s back. It’s a pretty cool space to create from. And live in. 

So the question I ask my colleagues and friends who work in this space on the inside of the institutions responsible for ‘managing’ our waterways, do you have each other’s backs?

Being that busy-body person in the community who has their finger on the pulse, it is unfortunate to end this celebration tangent with saying, I don’t think they do – in some aspects yes, but in many cases, no. Imagine what more could be achieved for the environment if we all worked with authenticity and integrity. Next project: how to build a resilient network for our inside colleagues and friends.

In many respects this concern of mine is the essence and motivation of my Phd research. I want to understand how environmental professionals value their craft and go about their craft. Perhaps it is time for our inside colleagues and friends to engage with their own profession and seek advice from the community on how they could move beyond the latte and bagel to enjoy the cream of any cake (lets be generous) and the nutrients of fresh ideas.

Lots to inquire…inspired to inquire.

What a day, congratulations to the community of the Gold Coast for acting with authenticity and integrity to make the Tackle Bin Project happen.

The Tackle Bin Project was made possible by funding from the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Healthy Land and Water, and the Gold Coast Waterways Authority.


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.

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. 

Collaboration for conservation

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We know that we need to change the old way of doing conservation to transform our approaches to meet the demands and uncertainty of the environment. This is why collaboration for conservation gives me hope for the future. And this is why I am increasingly becoming more optimistic (can that be possible!) about the future because of the collaborative efforts behind the scenes that make wonder possible for conservation.

Being a networker with passion for innovative coastal management, natural resource management and Landcare (pretty much anything to do with improving the health and resilience of our land and water), gives me access to, can I use Intrepid Landcare’s tag, ‘a backstage pass to nature’. But to be politically correct here  I would have to say a backstage pass to the conversations for conservation.

Today, I have had conversations with volunteers, coordinators, a CEO and a politician about various projects and the theme in all those conversations has been about how we can we approach conservation differently through collaboration (broadly stated). And yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Lockyer Valley in south east Queensland to see the collaborative efforts of approaching catchment management through an entire new lens.

The Lockyer Valley is prime agricultural land and produces approximately 40% of the fresh vegetables consumed in south east Queensland. The rich black soils boost the productivity. It’s the black gold of our regions agricultural heartland. However, the land and water have been under significant pressures for many years. Unsustainable farming practices and development have impacted this heartland, with overgrazing, vegetation clearing, weeds and soil erosion impacting the entire region’s catchment.  The loss of vegetation and overgrazing has rapidly increased the mobility of sediment in the upper catchment with it ending up in Moreton Bay. The models show that this increased mobility has been occurring for many years with some sediment slugs moving at a rate of 30 years. What this means is that we have productive rich soils that are 60,000 years old moving through the creeks and rivers of our central catchments, reducing the health of the waterways. This isn’t news as we have watched the health of south east Queensland’s waterways decrease despite investment efforts in catchment management. However, what is news is the new way of approaching this issue.

What is unique, actually, transformational in this new approach is the collaborative effort to do something about the dying needs of south east Queensland catchments. It did take for a flood to shift cultural ideologies, however, we are getting there through collaboration. Here we have the Port of Brisbane spending big dollars on dredging and offsets every year. They are paying for the end result of sedimentation building up in Moreton Bay. Then we have the farmers upstream that are losing productive land. So, a handful of  collaborative conservation leaders got together to do something about this mis-matched approach and thought, how can we shift investment spent on mopping up the downstream issues to clean up the symptoms of the upper catchment issue. How about we invest in the actual issue, rather than pay to clean up the problem. This has seen a shift in investment from downstream to upstream to revegetate creeks and in time with monitoring we will see if this approach works.

To the outside world this seems like a no brainer. But inside the tent it took a natural disaster, and a flood of convincing and influencing from collaborative leaders to make this happen. And of course, a central networker to make this possible, that being Healthy Waterways and Catchments.

Unfortunately how this project was influenced and by who, their characteristics, value systems and ways of doing business isn’t captured in project or monitoring reports. Something we forget to capture, and I certainly didn’t see it showcased on the project sign hanging up in the local hall. But I think in time the value of collaboration will be communicated, celebrated and embraced more and more, and to be honest I think it’s the younger generation’s enthusiasm and fresh ideas that have a lot more value waiting to be untapped and added to the ever increasing pie of collaboration.