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.

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.

A marathon going in the wrong direction

Once a restored dune is now GONE - Harley Park, Labrador.

Once a restored dune, now GONE – Harley Park, Labrador.

I feel like I am on fire at the moment. The cascading coastal moments that have inspired me to tangent away are almost on par with the dynamic nature of the coast (thank god I’m heading to Europe next week for a holiday).

This time round it is about the marathon of steps in coastal management. My poetic moment of the sun, sand and the sea yesterday has sadly come and gone. So, prepare yourself, as it could get negatively nasty.

Just like you, I have an obsession with coastal dunes – I know, how incredible are they! From the undulating mounds of sand, the distinct formation of the zones, the ability to build beaches, the cross-stitched layers of runners, the delicate flowers that can withstand some of the harshest conditions and even the tasty treats and medicinal properties of the dune plants. Proof of such incredibleness has been scientifically proven in mounds of research and literature, and even pre-European settlement evidence. It’s a fact that such incredibleness of dunes provides an integral interface between land and sea.

So, if you haven’t got the picture yet, dunes are more than just stockpiles of sand covered with a few grasses and shabby looking trees and shrubs. Dunes are chicly fundamental for the protection, management and enhancement of the coast.

I know this because my passion for dunes is backed by my professional experience (in particular for Gold Coast’s dunes).

I have been working in partnership with many community groups and individuals to enhance their awareness about coastal management and in particular dune protection. Further, I have physically spent my Saturdays, after Saturdays and more Saturdays and the odd Sunday, plus weekdays, facilitating community and school-based dune care activities since I was a young 19 year old (I am now 26 with two white hairs). Given such, I have seen the efforts of dune care benefit the overall health of beaches and in some instances, fast tracked the recovery of beaches after erosion events. I have seen conservation values increase and even community connections evolve into ownership and then leadership. Trust me when I say trust me as this tangent has intense credibility. I am not just a smiling crazy dune girl.

Moving on and closer to home (ah, it gets better), since I was 14, I have been walking/running passed the same stretch of coastal dunes almost everyday. Due to the awareness about coastal dunes I gained while studying coastal environments at university, I soon instigated the possibility to facilitate a community dune care site along this stretch of coast to enhance the health of the area. Fortunately, my local Councillor got 110% behind me and still is. So, it was a reasonably easy process.

Go out and assess the site, provide vegetation management and work action plans, encourage the local community to come along, write a few successful grants, and then pack the Ute and head to the beach for some dune care with a some fresh muffins and scones to share, on the third Saturday of every second month.

Four years later, Siratro taproot after Siratro taproot, we – now a group – watched the benefits of dune care unfold in front of us. The incidence of weeds soon decreased, which allowed for the native vegetation to flourish. A dune system was restored and in my opinion stage 1 of 3 was complete. Yay! This was exciting.

Until today…

I was at an event with the local Councillor and State MP, amongst other prominent partners to praise a local shorebird hero! Then and there, it was brought to my attention that the council had done ‘maintenance works’ over this very same site we’ve been caring for. With the end result covering four years worth of effort as the swale of the dune was filled with sand, vegetation gone, a fence erected, concrete steps constructed and it looks as if most of the area will now be turfed. WTF!!

A functioning dune system that I have personally and professionally invested in – GONE!

People say that it is about baby steps in coastal management (or natural resource management in general). One-step forward and then two steps back and then sometimes a good sprint to ahead in the good times. Though, this time round, it feels like a marathon going in the wrong direction.

So, today I was asked, well, was there signage? The answer is not in this particular area as the area had been restored and so all signage had been moved further north. Plus, the effort involved to get signage is mental – meh, sign pollution.

The issue is – where is the logic in covering a completely restored dune, erecting a fence and saying goodbye to the Coastal Couch, Sea Purslane, Spinifex, etc. The very building blocks that provide the ability for the foreshore to build up, which supports the overall functioning role to allow the beach to be there in the first place.

I am now in a conflicting position with both my passion and professional role in a sticky situation – once again. As I fly the flag for dune protection on the Gold Coast, why not raise it high and stand for what I believe in and know. The same goes for most other coastal professionals, which is one of the million reasons why our coast is at the state it is today!

The only thing we can be assuring of is the organisational incompetency of particular institutions.