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.

What was found by one person in 30min at The Spit?

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I usually turn a few heads when driving my Classic 1962 Beetle with my crazy dog out the window on the way to the beach. Then when I get there she leaps out the door howling with excitement leaving me coughing in the dust. But I’m not too far behind her armed with one glove on my right hand, a bag in the other and a pick up stick before I hit the pavement and sand to clean up the beach. Yep, people look at me thinking… that’s a cool car, a crazy dog or beach goer or all the above. Sometimes I get the ‘community service’ look…

But tonight I got a few more show stoppers than usual and all for good and bad reasons. After my 30min beach blitz I laid out the trash I collected from along the seawall and beach at The Spit, Gold Coast’s most northern ocean beach on the mainland. While my crazy dog was still saying hello to every person and dog in the car park, I was busy doing my thing sorting the trash. Then one, two, three, four people and soon a small crowd gathered around looking on wondering what I was doing. Firstly they were stoked that I had collected a bag of trash while enjoying a stroll on the beach, though, secondly were disgusted on what was found! Along their beach where they also leisurely walk, fish, surf and swim.

Who would leave their dog’s poo in a plastic bag on the beach? Who leaves their stubbies and cans in the dunes? Why would balloons wash up on the beach? And how did a bucket handle get to the beach?

These were all good questions that I was happy to answer, even share Tangaroa Blue Foundation’s Australian Marine Debris Initiative manual. I was able to show them how to ID the trash, then how to count what was collected and tally up the totals. But more importantly explain why I was collecting marine debris data and where it went, and its importance to enhance our understanding of marine debris impacts. In no time, being a veteran at counting trash I confirmed 99 items, separated the recycling to dispose of at home and binned the rest.

In one hour from door to door I had enjoyed a sunset, did my bit for the beach, entered the data online and my dog was happy and now tired (and got treats from the ‘cat’ lady). All it took was one hour out of my day. What can you do for your beach in 30mim or even an hour?

You can also be a Volunteer Ambassador for Responsible Runners, a Pulse up, Waste down initiative to reduce wastes ending up in waterways and the ocean. Connect with Responsible Runners to join a clean up or start your own.

Vote for our beaches

Gold Coast's beaches are at risk if you vote for the wrong coastal policy. (photo source: The Herald Sun)

Gold Coast’s beaches are at risk if you vote for the wrong coastal policy. (photo source: The Herald Sun)

While the majority of the beachgoers pictured in the Gold Coast Bulletin’s article today said that they were happy with the way the Campbell Government has gone about its business and that Campbell Newman has done a good job to get Queensland back on track. I bet there would have been a different response if those very beachgoers who were enjoying Burleigh Beach actually new that the Campbell Government to date has done nothing for Gold Coast beaches.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The Campbell Government repealed the half-good-job of the previous government with ripping its money hungry teeth right through the Queensland Coastal Plan.

Changed ‘definitions’ and ‘types of development’ in the Plan to allow the destruction of dunes to make way for unsustainable pathways and other ‘removable/ temporary’ structures.

Remember the ongoing argument between Stuckey MP and Mayor Tate in the wake of ex TC Oswald due to no State assistance to help the City of Gold Coast should I dare to say, ‘fix Gold Coast’s beaches’.

Attempted to remove references to sea level rise from local government planning policies and documents to open more coastal areas for unsustainable development.

The list goes on… o, and how could I forget the open-ended development application process for the most ridiculous, unsustainable, beach-killing cruise ship terminal planned for Wave Break Island.

Believe me, trust me and follow me by NOT voting for LNP. Vote for a Government that will develop and drive the right policies for the good of our beaches, our culture, our economy and our community.