University of Western Australia: Experts identify priorities for coastal research in Western Australia

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have joined coastal management experts from government agencies, non-government agencies and industry to identify the critical research needed to improve the management, protection and sustainable use of Western Australia’s coastline.

Their findings, which have been made public in a white paper on World Oceans Day, were designed to help guide improved management of WA’s coastal areas.

Professor Ryan Lowe, from the UWA Oceans Institute and a lead author on the paper, said coastal regions are facing many large and complex challenges.

“These include pressures arising from population growth, coastal development and environmental changes, as well as coastal erosion and flooding due to extreme weather events and rising sea levels,” Professor Lowe said.

Co-lead authors, Dr Abbie Rogers and Associate Professor Michael Burton, from UWA’s Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy, and Dr Ingrid Sieler, from the environment and sustainability organisation Perth NRM, said finding solutions to these challenges was not easy.

Coastal white paper

“They’re often hindered by factors including a lack of available knowledge and information to guide decision making; the wide range of stakeholders and sectors that must be engaged; the complex governance arrangements in coastal regions; and lack of coordination and resources to efficiently solve problems,” Dr Rogers said.

Eleven co-authors contributed to the research activities and publication, representing a cross-section of organisations within the State, each specialising in supporting better management of our ocean and coastal environment through evidence-based research.

The Peron Naturaliste Partnership, a collective body of local governments working to address the challenges of coastal climate change, was part of the process and chairperson Councillor Mark Jones acknowledged the significant gaps in research highlighted by the study.

“Collaborative approaches such as the one taken to develop this paper are needed to support the development of more resilient and sustainable coastal communities,” Cr Jones said.

As part of the process, the team convened a workshop and online survey with key coastal stakeholders in coastal management, research and other activities from state and local governments, universities, consultancies, community groups and NGOs in WA.

The workshop included 28 participants who helped identify 52 potential research priorities that could have a significant impact on enhancing coastal management and planning outcomes.

The survey was completed by 89 respondents across different sectors in the State who voted on knowledge gaps they believed were highest priority.

“The top tier research priorities are multi-disciplinary and include traditional biological and physical science research, and a very clear need to invest in the ‘human’ elements of coastal research, through social, economic and political sciences,” Dr Sieler said.

The high priority areas included:
• High-quality, consistent, and long-term coastal monitoring, with a focus on predicting future physical and ecological changes
• Improved approaches to effectively communicate science to coastal managers and the community
• Better recognition, measurement and integration of coastal community values in decision making, inclusive of social, cultural, environmental and financial values
• A review of governance structures guiding coastal management
Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s CEO Luke Twomey said that the paper considered the existing and emerging needs of WA’s marine users.

“By addressing these areas, we can focus our need to respond to increasing pressures impacting our coastal and estuarine environments and help fill gaps of knowledge about the shared marine environment,” Dr Twomey said.

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