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.

3 years on, 3 years to go, and a lifetime


A mixture of dunes, people and a skyline along Australia’s most urbanised and managed coastline


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.