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Resource Assessment Commission Coastal Zone Inquiry - Final Report November 1993

Resource Assessment Commission, November 1993
ISBN 0 64429457


14.01 There are serious deficiencies in the knowledge available for management of coastal resources, and there are deficiencies in the arrangements for access by coastal resource managers to the information they need. These deficiencies must be remedied if coastal zone resources are to be effectively and efficiently managed. Relevant information about the nature of the resources, their uses and the effects of those uses must be available to all who are responsible for management.

14.02 An integrated and strategic approach to the management of coastal resources requires that managers and stakeholders involved in management have access to diverse types of information, including social, cultural, economic, ecological, biophysical and geophysical information. The National Coastal Action Program requires research and information arrangements that will

14.03 Section 14.1 reviews current research into coastal zone issues. Section 14.2 considers the need for further research and coordination of research activities to achieve the objectives of the National Coastal Action Program. Section 14.3 reviews existing information systems and Section 14.4 canvasses the need for improvements in these systems. Conclusions are reached and recommendations made in Section 14.5.


14.04 Various types of research are relevant to the management of coastal zone resources. Basic research into coastal processes provides the foundation for understanding the nature of the resources and the effects of their uses; applied research can help in the development of procedures and mechanisms for management; and surveys, inventories and data collections provide information for management activities, including monitoring of conditions and changes that occur as a consequence of management initiatives and the development and use of resources.

14.05 A number of institutes, universities, government agencies and private sector organisations conduct research into coastal zone resource issues. The Commonwealth Government provides the largest proportion of funds for this research. Figure 14.1 shows Commonwealth expenditure on coastal research in 1991-92. Box 14.1 summarises the research programs of Commonwealth agencies.

14.06 State governments conduct or sponsor research in areas related to their coastal management responsibilities, particularly fisheries (including mariculture), water resources and environmental management (HOMA 1993). They also sponsor research into tourism. Summaries of state expenditures on coastal research are not available, but Box 14.2 provides some examples of research conducted by state agencies. The Victorian Government also provides funds for the core managerial and entrepreneurial functions of the Victorian Institute of Marine Sciences, an independent organisation that conducts applied research in collaboration with industry, the public sector and universities. The bulk of the Institute's funding comes from competitively awarded research grants, contracts, and fees for services.

14.07 University research into coastal and marine matters is carried out in a range of disciplines; funding is provided through grants from the Australian Research Council and from other sources available to universities, including research grants and consultancies commissioned by both the public and the private sector. In 1992, $8.2 million, or 4.4 per cent of total Australian Research Council disbursements, was directed to research into coastal and marine issues (see Table 14.1).

14.08 In recent years multidisciplinary centres for the study of coastal and marine resources and coastal management have been established at a number of universities. The Cooperative Research Centre Scheme has facilitated the establishment of these centres; participants come from both government agencies and the private sector. Table 14.2 provides information about cooperative research centres that carry out research related to coastal zone management, including the extent of Commonwealth funding.

Figure 14.1

Figure 14.1 Marine and coastal research and survey expenditure by Commonwealth agencies, 1991-92

Notes: 'Other' includes the Australian Research Council, cooperative research centres, the Resource Assessment Commission and the Environmental Technology Grants administered by the Industry Research and Development Board.

The estimate for the Australian Institute of Marine Science excludes $4.7 million for corporate services and depreciation.

The estimate for the Department of Primary Industries and Energy is mainly expenditure by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, including industry levy contributions.

Sources: Resource Assessment Commission survey of Commonwealth funding, GBRMPA (1992a), Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (1992), Australian Institute of Marine Science (1992).

14.09 During the 1980s the Marine Science and Technology Grants Scheme, administered by the Australian Marine Science and Technology Advisory Committee, provided an important mechanism for coordinating research in marine science (HOMA 1993). In 1987 the Scheme was absorbed into the Australian Research Council, which established marine science as a priority area for research funding until 1990; subsequent requests for grants have been dealt with as part of general research funding for academic institutions. These changes have caused some concern among members

Box 14.1 Coast-related research funded by the Commonwealth: major programs

The CSIRO began a Coastal Zone Research Program in 1992-93, consisting of six projects examining land use and water quality, in-stream processes, estuarine mixing models, sediments, marine eutrophication, and the Coastal and Marine Resources Information System (CAMRIS). Funding for the Program in 1991-92 was $1.005 million from CSIRO and $670 000 from external sources. Other research relevant to the coastal zone is the work of the CSIRO's Division of Fisheries, with estimated expenditure of $15 million in 1991-92, and work within the Division of Oceanography, with relevant expenditure in 1991-92 of $2.5 million.

Australian Institute of Marine Science
The Australian Institute of Marine Science conducts four main programs of research: coastal processes and resources; coral reef ecosystems; environmental studies and biotechnology; and tropical oceanography. Examples of research within the main programs are mangrove forest resources, riverine inputs to the coastal zone, anthropogenic influences on coral reefs, carbon flows in reef systems, marine photobiology, fisheries oceanography, and numerical modelling of processes in tropical marine systems. The Institute's total operating expenditure in 1991-92 was $16 million.

Australian Geological Survey Organisation
The Australian Geological Survey Organisation conducts geoscientific research in support of mineral and petroleum exploration, including the collection of baseline data. The main coastal programs in 1991-92 were marine geoscience and petroleum geology ($20.5 million, all offshore) and geological environment and resources of the coastal zone ($170 000).

Royal Australian Navy (RAN)
The RAN Hydrographic Service conducts hydrographic surveys to enable the construction and publication of charts for marine navigation, and holds a large database of coastal information. The Australian Oceanographic Data Centre, part of the RAN Maritime Headquarters, is responsible for management and exchange of data concerning the physical properties of the oceans covering the area of Australia's interest. Total expenditure for both in 1991-92 was $33 million.

Fisheries Research and Development Corporation
New research and development projects supported by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation in 1991-92, totalled $7.5 million; some of this funding is provided through an industry levy. The general priority areas for research and development in the five years from 1991-92 include fish resource assessment, advancement of fisheries science, environmental changes, aquaculture, fish diseases, post-harvest technology, economic assessment, marketing and value adding.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
In 1991-92 expenditure on research and monitoring by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was $3.374 million. Among the research projects were studies of the crown-of-thorns starfish, a study on inter-reef fish movements, and reef water quality studies, including the downstream effects of agricultural practices. The Commonwealth Government provided $508 080 in 1991-92 for coordination of the Torres Strait baseline scientific program.

Other agencies and programs
The Ocean Rescue 2000 program, administered by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, is funding the preparation of the 'state of the marine environment' report and research by state governments into the identification of marine and protected areas. The Department also funds research into the impacts of climate change, and into the Antarctic and Southern Ocean. Other agencies with some involvement in coast-related research are the Bureau of Tourism Research, the Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the Australian Heritage Commission, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Nature Conservation Agency, the Bureau of Resource Sciences, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, the Industry Research and Development Board, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Sources: Resource Assessment Commission survey of Commonwealth funding, CSIRO (1993),
Australian Institute of Marine Science (1992), Australian Geological Survey Organisation
(Submission 349), Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (1992), GBRMPA (1992a).

Box 14.2 Coast-related research by state agencies: some examples

The Port Phillip Bay Environmental Study is a program managed by the CSIRO for a consortium of Victorian government agencies-Melbourne Water, the Environment Protection Authority, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Port of Melbourne Authority. Funding of $11.1 million over four years is provided by Melbourne Water. The focus of the research is on measuring the nutrient and toxicant inputs to Port Phillip Bay.

In conjunction with the Rural Water Commission and the Department of Agriculture, the Environment Protection Authority is examining the aquatic invertebrate communities present in Victorian streams, lakes and wetlands in an attempt to provide a basis for dealing with the problem of increasing salinity levels, due in part to agricultural drainage systems. The cost of the program is estimated to be $50 000.

New South Wales
The Sydney Environmental Monitoring Program, conducted by the Environment Protection Authority, is assessing the environmental impacts of sewage disposal through the New South Wales Water Board's deep-water outfalls at North Head, Bondi and Malabar. The 1993-94 budget allocation for the Program is $3.48 million. The Water Board is also conducting a study into its deep-water outfalls in order to develop a model to be able to predict the spread and distribution of toxic blooms from the outfalls. The study examines the biology of mussels and affected sediment. The budget allocation for the research project in 1993-94 is $958 000.

The Queensland Beach Protection Authority conducts a sand dune stabilisation and management research program at its sand dune research station on South Stradbroke Island. The 1993-94 budget allocation for the program is $160 327.

The Trinity Inlet Management Program, coordinated by the Queensland Government and local government agencies, encourages research into estuarine processes and their management. Projects include water quality monitoring and continuing research into the aquatic system of the area. The budget allocation for the research program in 1992-93 was $25 000.

Western Australia
The Metropolitan Water Study, being conducted by the Water Authority of Western Australia and the Environmental Protection Authority, assesses the environmental acceptability of progressive increases in nutrient loads discharged into the sea in treated waste water. The four-year $1.97 million Study involves detailed marine investigations extending from Alkimos to Mandurah.

In conjunction with the Museum of Tasmania, the Government of Tasmania is conducting a study of introduced marine invertebrates, particularly the northern Pacific seastar, Asteria amurensis, and their potential impacts on the Tasmanian shellfish industry, wild fisheries and the marine environment in general. The budget allocation for 1992-93 was $178 000.

A shellfish sanitation program, conducted by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries and the Department of Health, is researching toxic levels recorded in shellfish destined for human consumption. The budget allocation for 1992-93 was $126 000.

South Australia
The Environment Protection Authority is carrying out long-term research into the effects of the Era oil spill, which occurred in Spencer Gulf in August 1992. The cost of the study is $120 000, with $45 000 being financed by contributions from industry. The South Australian Research and Development Institute is conducting research into a range of topics relating to coastal environmental issues, aquaculture and wild fisheries.

Source: State government agencies.

of the marine research community because many consider that there is no longer an avenue for promoting a multidisciplinary approach to marine issues (HOMA 1993).

                                                         Percentage of  
Type of grant                              Total ($)     research       

Research grants                                                         

Engineering and applied sciences I       17 497        0.2             

Social sciences                          18 700        0.3             

Humanities                               43 950        0.6             

Chemical sciences                        212 500       3.0             

Molecular approaches to management of    382 600       5.5             

Engineering and applied sciences II      428 200       6.2             

Molecular biology and cell metabolism    553 800       8.0             

Marine sciences and technology           1 396 500     20.1            

Animal and plant biology                 1 716 421     24.7            

Earth sciences                           2 183 201     31.4            

Total research grants                      6 953 369     100.0          


Collaborative grants                       45 100        . .            

Fellowships                                160 880       . .            

Research infrastructure grants             685 000       . .            

Special research centres and key centres   419 755       . .            


Total                                      8 264 104     

Source: Australian Research Council (1992a, 1992b).

Source: Office of the Chief Scientist (1992).

. . Not applicable.

14.10 Industries, particularly larger companies and industry associations, directly and indirectly sponsor a large amount of research into coastal zone matters. One way they do this is through funding of research carried out by government agencies; for example, the fishing industry contributes 25 per cent of funding for the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. There is also extensive industry participation in some cooperative research centres relevant to coastal issues, such as the recently established Reef Research Centre in Townsville. An example of direct involvement is the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association's recent sponsorship of an independent scientific review of the environmental effects of the offshore petroleum industry (Independent Scientific Review Committee 1993). Some environmental impact assessments include wide-ranging research into the impacts of particular projects; for example, as part of its onshore environmental impact assessment of the Burrup Peninsula for the North West Shelf Gas Project, Woodside Petroleum conducted a major survey of Aboriginal archaeological sites in the area (Submission 341).


                                                          funding for   
Co-operative                                              contract      
research centre  Core participants                        period (7     
                                                          years) ($     

CRC for          University of Tasmania, CSIRO,           2.2           
Aquaculture      Department of Primary Industries                       
                 Queensland, Department of Primary                      
                 Industry, Fisheries and Energy                         
                 Tasmania, NSW Department of Fisheries,                 
                 James Cook University, University of                   
                 Technology Sydney, Australian Institute                
                 of Marine Science, SALTAS Tasmania,                    
                 Department of Industry and Fisheries                   
                 NT, Darwin Pearl Shell Hatchery,                       
                 Mossman Central Mill, University of                    
                 Central Queensland, NT University, SA                  
                 Research and Development Institute                     

CRC for          Association of Marine Park Tourism       2.0           
Ecologically     Operators, Australian Institute of                     
Sustainable      Marine Science, Great Barrier Reef                     
Development of   Marine Park Authority, James Cook                      
the Great        University, Queensland Department of                   
Barrier Reef     Primary Industries                                     

CRC for          University of Canberra, Monash           2.0           
Freshwater       University, ACT Government,                            
Ecology          AlburyWodonga Development Corporation,                 
                 CSIRO, Melbourne Water, Murray-Darling                 
                 Basin Commission, NSW Fisheries,                       
                 MurrayDarling Freshwater Research                      

CRC for          Monash University, Bureau of             1.5           
Southern         Meteorology Research Centre, CSIRO,                    
Hemisphere       Cray Research (Aust.)                                  

CRC for          James Cook University, Griffith          2.0           
Tropical         University, CSIRO Tropical Forest                      
Rainforest       Research Centre, Wet Tropics Management                
Ecology and      Authority                                              

CRC for Waste    University of NSW, University of         2.0           
Management and   Western Sydney, CSIRO, ANSTO, BHP, ICI                 
Pollution        Aust. Operations, Australian Defence                   
Control          Industries Ltd, Water Board (Sydney,                   
                 Blue Mts, Illawarra), NSW Environment                  
                 Protection Authority, NSW Public Works                 
                 Department, NSW Department of Water                    
                 Resources, Brambles Aust. Ltd                          

CRC for Soil     CSIRO, SA Department of Agriculture,     2.4           
and Land         University of Adelaide                                 

CRC for          CSIRO, University of Melbourne, Monash   2.8           
Catchment        University, Rural Water Commission of                  
Hydrology        Victoria, Department of Conservation                   
                 and Environment Victoria, Melbourne                    
                 Water, Murray-Darling Basin Commission,                
                 Bureau of Meteorology                                  

CRC for the      University of Tasmania, CSIRO,           2.0           
Antarctic and    Australian Antarctic Division, Bureau                  
Southern Ocean   of Meteorology, Bureau of Mineral                      
Environment      Resources, Geology and Geophysics                      

14.11 Local authorities sponsor research relating to many local issues. In a survey of a sample of coastal councils conducted by the Inquiry, most councils said they had undertaken research relevant to coastal resource management in recent years. Research topics included flood problems, local tourism, coastal processes, vegetation, wetlands, sand replenishment, soils, water quality, environmental impact statements, and management and strategic plans (RAC 1993e). Shoalhaven City Council has a research and information program that has been used in the development of regional tourism strategies (see Box 14.3).

14.12 Conservation and community groups also contribute to research into coastal zone management issues. The Total Environment Centre of New South Wales has sponsored a series of studies on the environmental effects of aquaculture; the studies were funded partially by the National Estate Grants Program (Submission 585). Surf Lifesaving Australia and the Coastal Studies Unit of the University of Sydney have been involved in a comprehensive study of beach safety and related management issues (Surf Life Saving Australia, Submission 460).

Box 14.3 Shoalhaven City Council: research and information for financing tourism infrastructure

Between 1980 and 1985 Shoalhaven City Council conducted extensive research in order to upgrade its caravan parks and develop a caravan park strategy. The areas of research included management review, site types and acquisition policies (freehold and leasehold), market segmentation and trends, caravan park operations, and use of fees and marketing approaches. On the basis of this research the Council has a continuing program for the development and maintenance of its caravan parks and associated facilities. It uses the profits from these operations to upgrade its parks and facilities, to provide funding for the maintenance and improvement of Crown and council reserves, and to provide leadership, by example, in the provision of caravan park facilities.

The strategy has enabled the Council to improve the quality of infrastructure in parks and reserves in its jurisdiction without having to raise funds from the local community. The Council has also been able to improve the quality of accommodation for tourism in the local area, again without cost to local ratepayers. To ensure that the requirements of current and future tourists are met and that the caravan park strategy remains successful, the Council intends to continue tourism research in the following areas: market requirements, regional market segmentation, status of current facilities, effectiveness of advertising, current tourism trends, and profitability of caravan parks.


14.13 Evidence available to the Inquiry suggests that, although existing knowledge is sufficient to manage some aspects of coastal zone resources, it is seriously inadequate to deal with many others. The Inquiry has identified the following coastal zone issues as priorities for further research:

14.14 Mariculture was identified as an industry for which research is inadequate, particularly in relation to the environmental impacts of production. Examples of specific issues requiring further investigation are the environmental impacts of intensive production of salmon, actions required to prevent undesirable impacts on mariculture from other resource use activities, and the effects of exotic species and bacteria such as toxic dinoflagellates. Research into production and economic issues associated with mariculture is also required (see Appendix A).

14.15 In the tourism industry there are many examples of research contributing to the formulation of management approaches; for example, the use of international and interstate market research in developing strategies. There is, however, considerable scope for further research, particularly at regional and local levels. Among the issues warranting research are inventories of special features (especially in relation to cultural tourism and ecotourism), the ecological, economic, social and cultural impacts (including cumulative impacts) of tourism development in specific areas and at specific sites, and the development of tourism practices that are consistent with ecologically sustainable development.

Coordinating research

14.16 If research programs are to be effective and efficient, they must be well coordinated. Coordination is needed to ensure that research funding is directed at appropriate areas and that there is no duplication of research efforts. In the case of coastal and marine research, several bodies have coordinating responsibilities: the Australian Research Council, the Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, and the National Greenhouse Advisory Committee. The Commonwealth Government has declined to implement previous recommendations to establish formal national mechanisms for coordination of marine science and technology (HOMA 1993). At present an informal group, the Consultative Group on Marine Industries, Science and Technology, established by the Heads of (Commonwealth) Marine Agencies and the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce, provides a coordinating mechanism for marine research. The main focus of this Group is the contribution of marine science and technology to marine industry development; there is no body that focuses on overall research needs for coastal resource management.

14.17 Work currently being sponsored or undertaken by the Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation, the CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the cooperative research centres reflects a positive trend towards collaborative research that is multidisciplinary and seeks to satisfy the needs and priorities of resource managers. In addition to ensuring that duplication of effort is avoided, such collaboration encourages closer working relationships between researchers and managers. It can also encourage the development of holistic, multidisciplinary approaches to natural resource management that recognise the role of human values and behaviour. The importance of multidisciplinary research involving both the social and natural sciences needs greater emphasis, particularly because traditional ways of funding research have tended to reinforce rigid disciplinary boundaries (ASTEC 1990).

14.18 Current arrangements for coastal zone research are dispersed among a number of Commonwealth and state agencies, universities and other organisations; the extent of coordination should be strengthened. Structural changes needed to provide a stronger national focus on fisheries and marine science in Australia have recently been reviewed (McKinnon 1993); a broader review of the research arrangements and priorities for coastal resource management acknowledging the importance of links between terrestrial and marine processes is also necessary.

Applied research and monitoring

14.19 There is a need for greater attention to a number of aspects of applied research, including monitoring and resource inventories, that have traditionally been viewed as less prestigious than basic research (Calder 1992). Resource inventories and monitoring studies should be viewed as an integral part of the research effort relevant to important management questions: All too often monitoring is perceived simply as measures to detect change in the abundance or condition of individual resources from some (often arbitrary) baseline value. Little thought is given to what the changes, if detected, may mean in terms of ecosystem response and what adjustments in management, or in the management model, may be needed. (Kessler et al. 1992, p. 225)

14.20 A number of factors have contributed to a serious lack of long-term environmental research and monitoring in Australia, among them: the constraints of competitive granting schemes, trends towards cost recovery, annual budget cycles, and political pressures for quick solutions to high-profile problems (ASTEC 1990).

14.21 Long-term monitoring data are necessary not only for ecosystem management but also for the cost-efficient design of coastal infrastructure. It has been shown that an investment in collecting long-term data can generate substantial savings in the design and construction phases of projects. Good quality data can improve the quality of risk assessments and thereby reduce the risk of costly design failures or, conversely, minimise the over-investment of funds in over-designed infrastructure (Institution of Engineers Australia 1993).

14.22 Governments should take primary responsibility for ensuring the adequacy of resource inventories and long-term monitoring activities, although private developers who use this information should contribute to its cost. Adequate funding for resource inventories and long-term monitoring data will be particularly important in view of its essential role in state of the environment reporting, which is now a priority for all spheres of government.


14.23 Commonwealth and state government agencies, universities, other research organisations and the private sector have many data sets describing various aspects of coastal resources. A number of existing information services make available data relevant to natural resource management. For example, the National Resources Information Centre, attached to the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries and Energy, maintains a National Directory of Australian Resources that documents data sets on soils, geology and land resource assessment and facilitates the exchange of information between the Commonwealth and the states. The Centre is also developing the Australian Coastal and Marine Information System, covering those aspects of the marine and coastal environment for which the Department has responsibility.

14.24 As part of its Coastal Zone Program, the CSIRO is developing the Coastal and Marine Resources Information System (CAMRIS), which is intended to support decision making about resource allocation in the coastal zone. This continental-scale system contains spatially referenced data on soils and sediments, seagrass distribution, onshore resources, climate and population; further data will be obtained through collaboration with CSIRO divisions and other external agencies.

14.25 The Environmental Resources Information Network, within the Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, is an information system that provides access to a variety of biological and environmental information such as flora and fauna distributions (including endangered species) and the location of conservation reserves. The Network is based on a collaborative approach involving the research community, universities, state agencies and conservation groups. It has collaborated to some extent with local government in developing information systems for local use; currently it is involved in a joint project with Shoalhaven City Council. The Network is also responsible for developing the National Marine Information System, a component of the Ocean Rescue 2000 initiative that aims to provide information about marine environmental regions, marine conservation reserves, and marine biodiversity and to develop a capacity for long-term monitoring and reporting of the condition of Australia's marine environment.

14.26 In 1992 the CSIRO prepared a report for the Environmental Resources Information Network, detailing strategic options for the development of the National Marine Information System. The report noted the many gaps in existing data and the need for a national and collaborative approach to make existing data accessible, to establish priorities for developing new data sets, and to develop national standards for marine data collection (CSIRO 1992). The Network has now embarked on a collaborative project with the CSIRO to implement the report's recommendations, but limited funding has slowed progress.

14.27 State governments use computerised information systems, including spatial information systems, to facilitate many of their management activities. Many larger local government authorities also use information systems and are developing them for purposes such as management of pollution and waste disposal.

14.28 The Commonwealth and the states are collaborating in the provision of some resource management information. An example is the major information-gathering and research study supported by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments: the Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy (see Box 14.4). Another example is the Oil Spill Coastal Resource Atlases being prepared by state governments with funding from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The primary purpose of these atlases is to identify the distribution of ecological and infrastructure resources along the coastline and to classify them according to sensitivity to oil in the event of an oil spill (CSIRO 1992). The atlases, which are at various stages of completion, have broader relevance as a source of coastal resource information. Each state, however, has adopted a different approach to the design of its atlas and this limits the atlases' usefulness in providing standardised, national information about coastal resources.

14.29 Community-based groups such as Greening Australia are developing computerised systems for recording and presenting information about the local environment. An example of an innovative local information system is the 'telecentre' established by a community organisation in Eurobodalla Shire, with seed funding from the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries and Energy. This project entails the production of a computerised map for the Shire, to aid in assessing the condition of wetlands, estuaries and coastal catchments and the impacts of activities such as aquaculture, tourism, urban development, forestry and agriculture.

14.30 Another important aspect of the provision of information for coastal resource management is the role of networks and services that facilitate dissemination and exchange of information within and between spheres of government, and among managers, researchers, industry and community groups. The results of an Inquiry survey show that currently these groups communicate mainly among themselves-local councils with local councils, state agencies with state agencies, and so on (Brown & Burke 1993). Such patterns of communication are not conducive to developing a more integrated approach to coastal zone management. One recent initiative to help overcome this is the Local Government Environmental Information Exchange Scheme, a pilot program funded by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories; the Scheme aims to meet the identified environmental information needs of local government by developing an infrastructure for information

exchange between local governments, associated professional groups and state and Commonwealth governments. Two components of the Scheme, begun in October 1992, are CouncilNet and the provision of environmental resource officers. CouncilNet is an electronic mail and conference system that links local governments. Environmental resource officers are currently established in the offices of some state local government associations. The Scheme obtains supporting information from the Environmental Information and Support Service for local government at the Australian National University.

Box 14.4 Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy

The Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy, initiated by the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments, aims to develop a framework for decision making on land use and resource management on Cape York Peninsula, based on the objectives of ecologically sustainable development and increased community involvement. Among the interest groups being consulted are the Cape York Land Council, the Torres Strait Island Coordinating Council, the Aboriginal Coordinating Council, Cook Shire Council, Aurukun Shire Council, the Cape York Peninsula Development Association, the Cape York Peninsula Pastoral Advisory Group and the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre.

In February 1993 a workshop attended by residents and representatives of shire councils, Aboriginal and Islander communities and government agencies developed a list of information needs. In April government agencies and representatives of the interest groups discussed the best program for gathering the required information. They decided that community-based working groups should be formed. An ecologically sustainable development quality control group was established to coordinate the program and an Aboriginal and Islander interest group was established to deal with indigenous interests. In July the groups met to report on the progress of their research projects.

A wide spectrum of information is being sought within the general categories of 'nature', 'people' and 'land'. Specific data are being collected on, for example, the flora and fauna, geological and climatic processes, and the various ecosystems of the region. Social issues under investigation include identification of cultural and heritage sites, demographic statistics, analysis of community values and attitudes, and existing management and legislative mechanisms. Among the land issues are current land use, land tenure, coastal access, industries involved in the region (for example, fishing, timber and pastoral industries), national park and conservation management, and land and sea management by indigenous people.

Source: Holden (1992).

14.31 The Marine and Coastal Community Network was announced in the Prime Minister's 1992 Environment Statement. The aim of the Network, which is a component of the Ocean Rescue 2000 initiative, is 'to encourage and facilitate community support for the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of Australia's marine and coastal environments' (MCCN 1993, p. 1). The Network is coordinated by the Australian Littoral Society and has a national coordinator and several regional coordinators.


14.32 If governments, industry and the community are to make better use of the considerable body of information about coastal zone resources and management that is already in existence and that will be added to by continuing research, the information needs to be readily accessible to all who need it. There is widespread agreement on the need for augmentation of existing information systems and better coordination to improve access to them.

Adequacy of information

14.33 Many Inquiry participants commented on the lack of information available to assist in the management of coastal zone resources. For example, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia commented, 'The data bases on coastal resources, their existing uses, the present and historical returns to the community, and the developing competing demands, are inadequate and must be improved for rational decision-making and appropriate management' (Submission 558, p. 5). A representative of the Conservation Council of Western Australia stated, We think the reasons for the poor management are basically that the State does not have a good knowledge of the coastal resource. We do not have a good idea of what ecological systems are there, where the major fish breeding grounds are, where the migratory wading birds feed and where rare flora and fauna are found. We have an inadequate reserve system and an inadequate resource inventory. This is basically because inadequate funding has been put into this area, so we do not have a resource inventory of the coastal zone which is adequate as a basis for planning. (Transcript, p. 666)

14.34 The Inquiry commissioned a survey of research and information providers and users; the results showed that the most important types of information required for management relate to ecosystems, habitats and species; environmental impact assessment; the condition of rivers, estuaries and oceans; recreation and tourism; and community priorities for coastal areas (see Table 14.3). These ratings were relatively consistent across various users and providers of information-state and local governments, conservation groups, industry and university researchers-although staff of local government gave a particularly high rating to information about strategic plans (Brown & Burke 1993). Most respondents said they need information of this kind at a local or regional scale.

                                                     Per cent of        
Information about coastal areas, in                  listing item as    
order of importance                                  one of the five    
                                                     most important     

Ecosystems, habitats and species                     44.4               

Environmental impact assessments                     43.2               

Condition of rivers, estuaries and                   41.8               

Recreation and tourism                               33.9               

Community priorities for coastal areas               33.0               

Strategic plans                                      26.7               

Condition of soils and beaches                       25.5               

Integrated resource management                       24.9               

Public participation                                 22.3               

Coastal hazards; for example, cyclones,              21.5               
oil spills                                                              

Pollution indicators                                 20.4               

Waste management                                     16.7               

Regulations and by-laws                              16.6               

Development costs                                    16.2               

Land ownership and tenure                            14.9               

Water management                                     14.5               

Visual and aesthetic values                          13.7               

Community services                                   12.5               

Heritage values                                      12.0               

Infrastructure costs; for example,                   11.0               
roads, water                                                            

Dollar values of the natural environment             10.2               

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander                8.2                

Business opportunities and risks                     7.9                

Economic instruments                                 6.8                

Industry performance                                 6.7                

International obligations                            4.0                

Social data; for example, age, income                3.4                

Employment statistics                                3.2                

Other                                                3.7                

Source: Brown & Burke (1993).

Note: N=1099.

Accessibility of information

14.35 Evidence available to the Inquiry strongly suggests that information about coastal zone management issues is fragmented and often not accessible to those who could use it to advantage. Submissions and transcript evidence point to a number of reasons for this: data being collected by agencies for particular purposes and not shared with others; lack of communication between researchers and managers, especially at the local government level; the proprietorial sensitivities of individual researchers and agencies; lack of communication between disciplines; and a move by some agencies to a more commercial approach to marketing data, making it more expensive. In addition to access problems, lack of relevant local government expertise was cited as a reason that existing information is not being fully used by local authorities.

14.36 Problems of access and availability were also highlighted in the results of the survey of research and information needs that the Inquiry commissioned (Brown & Burke 1993). Of the 28 types of information considered relevant to coastal resource management, respondents rated the availability of 23 types as being less than satisfactory (see Table 14.4). Approximately half of the respondents' written comments referred to problems with access to existing information. Among the specific problems commonly referred to were not knowing what information exists or how to gain access to it, not knowing what agencies are responsible for collection of particular information, lack of information services that integrate the diverse sources of information, and 'information overload', resulting in difficulties in sorting relevant from irrelevant information. A further problem lies in obtaining access to literature such as internal government reports, dissertations and environmental impact statements that are not published.

14.37 Although there are systems that have the potential to provide information to assist in achieving integrated management of coastal zone resources, a good deal of the existing information is not available in a manner, and at a scale, appropriate to the needs of local managers. Much more emphasis should be given to the development in all spheres of government of systems and services relevant to, and accessible to, users at the local and regional levels. Initiatives are required to ensure that the information infrastructure (networks, databases and information services) develops in a complementary way at all levels of government. An important objective should be to 'build up a regional information infrastructure ... which is public domain, agenda neutral, department neutral, so that if people want to draw conclusions, argue the various things that should be done, they are starting off with the same data ...' (Transcript, p. 1555).

14.38 Priority should be given to building information systems for coastal zone management at local and regional levels that can draw upon and contribute to national systems. This 'cellular' approach is the most appropriate way to ensure that systems are designed to meet the needs of local and regional managers; if undertaken in a collaborative fashion it should also contribute to building a distributed national network of coastal information. For such an approach to be successful there are important aspects for which national coordination is required. Data collections should be sufficiently compatible to allow data transfer and aggregation-for example from regional to state level, or state level to national level-for the purposes of comparison and analysis. A national approach is required to establish standards for data collection and transfer, produce directories of available data, and identify priorities for new national data sets.

14.39 The collection and management of coastal and marine data is very costly and it is essential that it be done in an efficient and coordinated way. As the example of the Oil Spill Coastal Resource Atlases demonstrates (see Section 14.3), data which is in incompatible formats cannot readily be used to provide an integrated national perspective. The importance of developing better information systems for coastal management, along with the need for efficient use of limited financial resources, demonstrates the need for integration of these activities.

Types of information                         Availability scale 1-100  
                                             (mean scores)             

Good or excellent (75-100)                                             

Satisfactory (50-75)                                                   

Land ownership and tenure                    59.6                      

International obligations                    59.2a                     

Regulations and by-laws                      57.8                      

Social data; for example, age, income        53.8a                     

Infrastructure costs; for example, roads,    51.9                      

Unsatisfactory (25-50)                                                 

Recreation and tourism                       49.5                      

Industry performance                         49.2                      

Water management                             48.5                      

Waste management                             47.3                      

Heritage values                              46.6                      

Employment statistics                        46.0a                     

Environmental impact assessments             45.9b                     

Coastal hazards; for example, cyclones, oil  45.9                      

Ecosystems, habitats  and species            43.0b                     

Public participation                         42.9                      

Condition of soils and beaches               42.7                      

Strategic plans                              42.6                      

Visual and aesthetic values                  41.9                      

Community service needs                      41.6                      

Pollution indicators                         39.0                      

Business opportunities and risks             38.2                      

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander        36.9                      

Economic instruments                         36.9                      

Community priorities for coastal areas       35.4                      

Condition of rivers, estuaries and oceans    34.9b                     

Integrated resource management               34.0                      

Development benefits and losses              32.2                      

Poor (0-25)                                                            

Dollar values of the natural environment     19.4                      

a  Three lowest information priorities (see                            
Table 14.3).                                                           

b  Three highest information priorities                                
(see Table 14.3).                                                      

Source: Brown & Burke (1993).
Note: N =1099.

14.40 The Commonwealth Government can play an important part in ensuring that the national network of coastal information, while continuing to grow in a decentralised and cellular way to meet local needs, also meets agreed minimum standards of compatibility. As a first step, focus should be on arrangements for coordination between Commonwealth agencies. At present there is some 'bilateral' collaboration between individual Commonwealth agencies; however, there is a need for a formal coordinating mechanism in the Commonwealth sphere. The most appropriate body for this purpose is the Commonwealth Spatial Data Committee, which has responsibility for coordination and setting standards for data collection and transfer among Commonwealth agencies. A sub-group of this Committee, with representatives from all relevant agencies or groups within agencies, could begin to develop standards and promote collaboration in the collection, distribution and use of coastal and marine data. Development of a coordinated approach in the Commonwealth sphere will provide a basis for improved coordination with state and local spheres of government, and other relevant institutions. In addition, the Environmental Resources Information Network could play a useful coordinating role as it progresses and invites data custodians from a range of institutions to make their data sets available on the NatMIS distributed network; similarly, the National Resources Information Centre could play a useful role in expanding its directory to include more coastal and marine data sets.

14.41 To further assist the development of a coordinated yet decentralised information network the Commonwealth should, when providing funding to state or local governments to collect and manage data, require that the data be collected and managed according to mutually agreed standards which enable convenient data transfer, comparison and aggregation. The Commonwealth could also provide assistance and advice in the design of information systems and the conduct of resource surveys to enable some basic levels of consistency and compatibility to be established.

14.42 It is also essential that national information systems be accessible to coastal resource managers, including state and local government agencies. Although national information providers such as the National Resources Information Centre and the Environmental Resources Information Network currently collaborate with state agencies, there is limited interaction with local authorities and little assessment of their needs. In terms of the contribution to better decision making, the potential benefits associated with developing an adequate national information infrastructure for coastal resource management can be realised only if the information is readily accessible to local authorities.

14.43 At the same time as information systems at local and regional levels are developed, and national information systems and become more accessible and relevant to the needs of resource managers, it is necessary to take steps to enhance the competence and facilities of local resource managers to gain access to and use information. This should include specialist advice about the range of information services available, and guidance in the interpretation of information for management purposes. At present there is sometimes a lack of understanding of the ways in which information can be applied to management tasks.

14.44 The pricing of information is another issue that can affect access by coastal resource managers. In recent years funding constraints on public agencies have led some agencies to adopt a commercial approach to the provision of information and to charge fees in excess of the costs of transferring the information to users. These fees limit access to information that is already available and restrict the ability of agencies engaged in the management of coastal zone resources to carry out their responsibilities effectively and efficiently. Recently, the Australian and New Zealand Land Information Council, in accordance with Schedule 1 of the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment, formulated a Draft National Policy on Land Related Data that proposes that data for non-commercial environmental management purposes be transferred at a price covering the costs of transfer only (ANZLIC 1993). The draft has been submitted to the Council of Australian Governments for consideration.


14.45 Information systems for coastal zone management should be developed at local and regional levels, where they can be designed to best meet the needs of coastal resource managers. In order that this 'cellular' approach can contribute to an effective and efficient national network of marine and coastal data providers and users, there must be effective national coordination of matters such as setting standards for data collection and transfer, establishing national directories of data sets, and setting priorities for new national data sets.

14.46 The Commonwealth Spatial Data Committee can play an important coordinating role in the Commonwealth sphere; this can help provide the basis for progressive improvements in coordination between all spheres of government. The National Resources Information Centre, which operates the National Directory of Australian Resources, and the Environmental Resources Information Network, which is developing the National Marine Information System, can also play important coordinating roles.

R.51 The Inquiry recommends that the Commonwealth Spatial Data Committee establish a sub-group on coastal and marine data to develop standards and enhance collaboration for the collection, distribution and use of data by relevant Commonwealth agencies; the Natural Resources Information Centre be given additional funding to establish a comprehensive national directory of marine and coastal data sets; the Environmental Resource Information Network receive additional funding to enable more rapid development of a distribution network for coastal and marine data sets as part of the National Marine Information System; the National Coastal Management Agency provide financial assistance and advice to local and state governments to undertake coastal resource inventories, such assistance to be conditional on agreed standards for data collection and transfer.

14.47 The pricing of information transfers between governments should not be such that it impedes access and discourages well-informed decision making about the uses of coastal resources.

R.52 The Inquiry recommends that coastal resource information held by government agencies be available to other government agencies for the cost of transferring the information, as proposed by the Australian and New Zealand Land Information Council in its Draft National Policy on the Transfer of Land Related Data; policies related to the financial structure of government agencies be based on this principle, so that the flow of information required for achieving the objectives of the National Coastal Action Program is not constrained by charges made by government agencies holding that information.

14.48 Coastal zone managers at the local level need better access to information and enhanced skills and capacities for using that information.

R.53 The Inquiry recommends that the Commonwealth Government continue to support the Local Government Environmental Information Exchange Scheme recently established by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories and provide funding so that the Scheme can continue to support environmental resource officers attached to local government associations; in collaboration with the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories and the Department of Health, Housing, Local Government and Community Services, the National Coastal Management Agency consider ways of providing assistance to local authorities to make better use of the information available for coastal zone management; such assistance to include specialist advice on gaining access to and using information, dissemination of knowledge about 'best practice' information systems, and the holding of regional workshops to discuss these and related matters; in consultation with information users, the National Resources Information Centre and the Environmental Resources Information Network take further steps to develop coordinated services oriented to the needs of coastal resource managers, including state and local governments, industry, the research community and relevant community groups.

14.49 The Marine and Coastal Community Network can play an important role in the implementation of the National Coastal Action Program by providing community groups, industry and government with information about various community-based programs (including the proposed Coastcare initiative), by publicising successful involvement processes, effective education projects and 'best practice' methods, and by facilitating communication between groups with interests in the coastal zone. If the Network is to perform these functions fully in all parts of the coastal zone, it will need additional funding for the provision of more regional coordinators and associated communications infrastructure.

R.54 The Inquiry recommends that funding of the Marine and Coastal Community Network be increased to ensure that it is fully effective in facilitating community involvement in all regions of the coastal zone during the implementation of the National Coastal Action Program.

14.50 The requirements for research in the priority areas identified by the Inquiry need to be reviewed in greater depth, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of current knowledge for coastal zone management in particular regions, the objectives of the National Coastal Action Program, the identified needs of coastal resource managers, and the adequacy of arrangements for coordination between research agencies.

14.51 The Australian Science and Technology Council, which has a mandate to provide information and advice on science and technology matters related to the enhancement of national well-being, and which has had considerable recent experience in reviewing research needs in fields such as northern Australia, environmental research, and the contribution of the social sciences and humanities to research, is an appropriate body to undertake this review.

R.55 The Inquiry recommends that the Commonwealth Government provide funding to the Australian Science and Technology Council to review the research priorities proposed by the Inquiry and examine ways of achieving better coordination of research efforts in these priority areas and improved communication between researchers and management agencies; the following matters be reviewed: