Question 1.

July 2016 Kate Nelson asks:

1a. What are the best practice evaluation principles that adaptation project managers can use to guide development and application of effective evaluation processes to ensure that what is learnt can contribute to the overall knowledge of the adaptation sector?
1b. How can Local Government use information about estimated asset useful life in making no-regret approval and investment decisions in urban areas subject to future climate impacts?

Answer from Donovan Burton, Climate Adaptation Specialist

Thanks for the question Kate. There are a few questions tied up in this “question”. Some easier to answer than others, and with a lack of context I will have to make some assumptions in my response. Firstly, the term “best practice” for anything to do with climate change adaptation is a moving target. The adaptation milieu is still in its infancy and any claims of best practice should be regarded with caution. I’ll replace this with “good practice”.

Response to Question 1a

The most fundamental principle for evaluation to support an increase in the overall knowledge of the adaptation sector is to foster a system that allows the transparent sharing of information. In essence this is what the intention of the CoastAdapt tool is. Climate change adaptation is about informed decision-making and not very much of that seems to occur at the moment. One of the barriers to adaptation is the fact that organisations are too afraid (or sometimes legally constrained) to share information.

There is a great framework called the Collective Impact Model which originated in Stanford (see here). One of the five key principles is related to information management – and I think is relevant to your question:

Shared measurement system: Developing a shared measurement system is essential to collective impact. Agreement on a common agenda is illusory without agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported. Collecting data and measuring results consistently on a short list of indicators at the community level and across all participating organisations not only ensures that all efforts remain aligned, it also enables the participants to hold each other accountable and learn from each other’s successes and failures. (Kania & Kramer 2011)

As we are now in the information age it should be reasonably simple to establish systems for the above. Organisations must recognise that data are a critical piece of infrastructure and be prepared to invest in systems and staff that will allow them to implement activities to support adaptation evaluation.

For local governments, protocols can be put in place for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) through climate change adaptation policies (e.g. corporate standards) – see what Kingborough Council have recently done here. In essence what Kingborough Council are doing is establishing corporate standards around the application of adaptation. This consistent methodology allows for the sharing of consistent information internally. The challenge will be sharing/comparing information with other councils that have differing standards or risk thresholds.

However, systems/frameworks that support shared monitoring and evaluation across jurisdictions and time scales are almost impossible to find. This is why I invented one a couple of years ago, which is being used for over 100 local governments and State Agencies in Australia (see here).

M&E for climate change adaptation is a rapidly evolving space (as is anything to do with climate change). A great resource which highlights the range of M&E principles and methods, written by Dennis Bours and others, can be found here. Actually anything written by Dennis on M&E is a great starting point, so I suggest you subscribe to his blog (see here).

Assumption 1: Your question doesn’t seem to focus on an answer for good practice evaluation principles in general – just the ones that ensure that “what is learnt can contribute to the overall knowledge of the adaptation sector”? So I have focussed on that. Get back to me if you can provide me with some better context or clarification.
Assumption 2: The “adaptation sector” is a very big sector with each having its own specific adaptation process. It can encompass all practitioners of adaptation from local government staff through to designers of agricultural insurance – and everything in between. Given that question 1b refers to local government I have assumed you mean – contribute to the overall knowledge of the “local government” adaptation sector (including those who engage with local governments).

Note from NCCARF: CoastAdapt contains guidance on M&E, and NCCARF will shortly be publishing the results of a short research project conducted by Stefan Trueck and colleagues at Macquarie University.

1b. How can Local Government use information about estimated asset useful life in making no-regret approval and investment decisions in urban areas subject to future climate impacts?

Answer to Question 1b

Everyone wants to make no-regrets approvals and investment decisions; doing so is another matter. Guaranteeing no-regrets is challenging as any decision-making comes with trade-offs, even if you can’t see them in your lifetime (and climate change adaptation is a complex space). What local governments need to do for asset management with a climate change lens is to firstly ensure that they have an internal corporate standard that directs them to minimum information requirements and how that information is used (see my response to question 1a with Kingborough Council’s adaptation policy). Local governments should ensure that climate change is explicitly mentioned in any asset management plans – this then will link to strategic plans, corporate plans and long term financial management plans. In reality climate change should be in all of these corporate documents.

As I mentioned in the previous response (see 1a), climate change is about informed decision-making. So for asset management, local governments need to ensure that there is an up-to-date spatial inventory of the assets. That may sound like simplistic advice but I know many do not do this. Once a spatial inventory exists, local governments then need to undertake an exposure assessment and quantify how many units (e.g. kilometres of road, number of buildings, etc) are exposed to differing hazards at differing timescales. Once units are quantified then the cost is usually straight forward as your organisation will have (or should have) a set replacement value. Once again I direct you to Kingborough as they have done this very thing for the coastal community of Kingston Beach (see here). This quantification process allows the CFO and asset managers to use this information in their existing asset management methods (e.g. for depreciation and maintenance regimes, etc).

Local governments should also realise that it may not be their assets that present barriers to adaptation – for example in Tasmania water and sewerage are managed by a separate entity. Local governments need to ensure that they are maintaining conversations and collaboration with these and other utilities (e.g. electricity and ICT) as their failure to consider climate change in their asset management may limit the ability to service a community in the future.

Also, traditional asset management practices may not be enough. Local governments should also take stock of their green infrastructure, as protecting catchments and the local environment may extend the life of existing assets. A good example of this is how New York saves money and extends the life of existing water treatment facilities by protecting the surrounding ecosystem (see here).

An NCCARF report on local government asset management can be found here.

I hope I have answered your questions and am happy to refine the answer based on any further context-specific information you provide.

Question 2.

July 2016 Craig Perry Asks:

How do you effectively engage communities to identify and determine how they value the coast in the ‘risk management/adaptation planning process’ when there is currently no risk(s) and there is not any significant long-term change projected for 30 or more years? Is there any value in engaging the community at this time? Are there any examples where we can learn from their experiences (acknowledging that communities are different)?

Answer from Professor Tim Smith, Director of the Sustainability Research Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast

Wicked problems such as climate change adaptation, which are highly complex with multiple stakeholder perspectives, create unique challenges for community engagement. In most instances, climate change adaptation is unlikely to be a one-off action and instead consist of pathways of action that may alter course over time.

Because of these conditions, community engagement for climate change adaptation is best conducted within a social learning frame, which requires multiple and sustained engagement activities over time. However, this is difficult because of the resources (financial and human) needed to undertake engagement effectively and persistently.

Recognising these limitations, I suggest a process of engaging through existing functional networks that currently exist within communities of place and communities of interest (sporting clubs, service clubs, faith-based groups, school groups, etc.). Through this approach, the role shifts from doing engagement to supporting others to engage. In this way, the engagement process becomes co-designed and should focus specifically on the motivations, preferences and capacities of the target audiences (the three fundamental components of community engagement that are typically ignored in most processes!).

By taking this approach, motivations unique to the existing networks can be addressed to build relevance of future impacts and the need for action (e.g. tailoring a message to parents about not being able to watch their grandchildren play sport because their sports fields will be subject to more intense flood events). Without knowing your context, it is difficult to provide specific examples of the values and risks but I would be surprised if there were no significant climate change impacts for your coastal community projected within the next 30 years (e.g. more intense storms) and drawing on examples of impacts from other regions may help to explain possible risks.

The approach of supporting engagement through existing networks has a few caveats, which require consideration, depending on the specific context and goal. For example, some of the more vulnerable people in society may not belong to any network, and there may also be particular power relationships within networks that may need consideration. However, resources for community engagement are usually quite limited, especially for sustained processes over time, and the more mainstreamed a social learning process can become the more likely it is to effect change. The value of early engagement is not only in mainstreaming but also in building adaptive capacity (e.g. for autonomous responses).

Much more detail on the key elements of the process and rationale are include in the Information Manual on Community Engagement (IM CE) for CoastAdapt, which is available here. The examples we have included in the IM CE include: Twin Streams (Waitakere City, NZ); Marks Point and Belmont South (Lake Macquarie, NSW); and Great Lakes (USA). There are very few examples of contemporary retreat strategies, which are likely to be the most contentious. We have included an example of retreat (Twin Streams, NZ) that was only possible because of early and sustained engagement.

Question 3.

July 2016 Natural Ecosystems Network Asks:

1. How do we stimulate a process of re-framing biodiversity objectives so that they are feasible under climate change, reflect society’s values, are ecologically robust and can usefully inform policy and research?
2. What are the trade-offs that arise from infrastructure that protects the built environment from sea-level rise and the movement of the natural environment? How can adaptation methods for natural environments also be used as adaptation methods to protect infrastructure (i.e. ecosystem buffering)?

3. What regions may offer potential as climate refugia for different species under future climate scenarios? Are there any refugia areas which may function to protect multiple species (e.g. subtropical reefs for tropical fish and corals)? Will these areas shift under increased warming? Are these regions currently protected?

Answer from Alistair Hobday, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere

Response to Question 1
We can stimulate a process of reframing by considering timing of decisions, adaptation pathways, and the values, rules, and knowledge that constrain or permit particular decisions and pathways.

As the climate continues to change, the impacts on species and ecosystems will become significant and widespread and many current approaches to conservation will become increasingly difficult and ineffective. The timing of biological changes is not always clear, but we can anticipate which aspects might change and which might persist. This provides the basis of practical approaches for anticipating the implications for biodiversity and the ecosystem benefits and services that society enjoys (see Dunlop et al., 2013).

Thinking about the timing of decisions along a pathway helps people frame adaptation as a series of decisions over time, instead of a once-off choice (see Stafford Smith et al., 2011). Adaptation options selected now, without considering alternative futures, may become ineffective or even maladaptive in the future. Thinking about decision timing draws people’s attention to the importance of path dependency in adaptation decision-making. This helps people understand how important it can be to take a long-term perspective in order to avoid inadvertently setting out along an undesirable path. The concept of Adaptation Pathways emphasises the importance of both decision timing and decision context, and frames adaptation as the evolution over time of the decision contexts that enable and constrain adaptation decisions (see Wise et al., 2014). Instead of seeing pathways as only a sequence of decisions, the Adaptation Pathways concept helps people view adaptation in terms of the evolution of systems of values, rules, and knowledge. This helps broaden the perspective on adaptation away from narrow framings of decision problems and helps us to understand the importance of uncertainty and learning as integral parts of the adaptation process.

Prevailing systems of societal values, rules and knowledge define the context in which decisions are made (see Gorddard et al., 2016). The interaction of values, rules and knowledge (VRK) both creates and limits the set of decisions that are practical and permissible in a given decision context. This means that successful adaptation may require changes to prevailing systems to enable new decisions to be made. The VRK model can be used to help diagnose constraints in decision processes. This means that adaptation initiatives can be reframed to reveal new approaches to developing adaptation responses to more complex problems.

In some cases, even while societal attitudes may shift, the rules for supporting species adaptation may not be suitable, and so legal frameworks may need to change (see McDonald et al., 2016). An example of developing options for adaptation that are technically suitable, institutionally possible, and socially acceptable has been developed for use with marine species (see Hobday et al., 2016; Alderman and Hobday 2016).

Response to Question 2
Trade-offs exist, conflicts exist, costs differ, and natural approaches offer considerable multiple benefits compared to built infrastructure. A combination of approaches will be needed around Australia’s coastline.

Infrastructure, such as seawalls, breakwaters, and groynes, can be built to protect coastal assets, such as roads, bridges, housing and other infrastructure from storm surge and sea-level rise. These hard structures can lead to additional geomorphological modification, such as the presence of beaches seaward of seawalls, or the movement of sand behind groynes. These changes may cause loss of public amenity, such as beaches, or increase the rate of erosion if sand supply is interrupted. The use of engineering solutions to protect coastal assets is expensive and so will only be possible when high value assets are in need of protection and there is someone to pay. Coastal protection via engineering structures is controversial, with a range of court battles serving as high profile examples of the conflict between protect and retreat strategies. Infrastructure can also limit the landward retreat of coastal habitats such as mangroves, saltmarshes, and dunes. Some of these habitats also provide ecosystem services such as coastal protection, carbon sequestration, and recreational opportunities, as well as providing important habitat for protected and fished species.

There is emerging evidence that natural systems can also provide buffering to coastal assets, for both gradual sea-level rise, and extreme events, such as storm surges and even tsunamis (the latter are not climate related). Seagrasses have a particularly high capacity to dissipate wave energy, whereas salt marshes and mangroves have a high capacity to protect from surges. When these ecosystems co-occur, their combined effectiveness in protecting from waves and surges in considerable. However, in cases where erosion is particularly strong and rapid, natural systems may not provide a sufficient buffer, and setting aside land for coastal retreat of these systems may be needed. The relative cost of natural and engineered coastal protection varies depending on the method used to assess the economics, however, natural habitats are considered the most cost-effective in the long run, and over the large coastlines that may need protection.

Response to Question 3
What regions may offer potential as climate refugia for different species under future climate scenarios? Are there any refugia areas which may function to protect multiple species (e.g. subtropical reefs for tropical fish and corals)? Will these areas shift under increased warming? Are these regions currently protected?

On land and in the ocean, there are fast and slow change areas. The slow change areas may protect multiple species. Research led by JCU (see further reading for question 3, below) has shown that while much of Australia would suffer dramatic species losses in the future, large parts of the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range would fare well. These areas would be less affected by climate change and would retain a greater potential to support significant wildlife populations. The researchers involved in this work have reported that the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has used these data in considering future extensions to wildlife reserves, and begun purchasing “future refuge” properties to add to the protected area estate. This story is similar to other places in Australia, where there are refuges, not all are within protected areas, and so new additions to the protected area estate will be needed. In the ocean, the fastest warming areas are in south-east and south-west Australia (Hobday and Pecl 2014), and so species in these locations must move, adapt or die.

Further reading for question 1
Alderman, R. and A. J. Hobday (2016). Developing a climate adaptation strategy for vulnerable seabirds based on prioritisation of intervention options. Deep Sea Research II: doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2016.07.003.

Dunlop M, Parris, H, Ryan, P, Kroon, F (2013) Climate-ready conservation objectives: a scoping study, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, pp. 102.

Gorddard, R., M. J. Colloff, R. M. Wise, D. Ware and M. Dunlop (2016). Values, rules and knowledge: Adaptation as change in the decision context. Environmental Science & Policy 57: 60-69.doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2015.12.004.

Hobday, A. J., L. E. Chambers and J. P. Y. Arnould (2015). Prioritizing climate change adaptation options for iconic marine species. Biodiversity and Conservation 24(14): 3449-3468 DOI 10.1007/s10531-015-1007-4.

McDonald, J., P. C. McCormack, A. J. Fleming, R. M. B. Harris and M. Lockwood (2016). Rethinking legal objectives for climate-adaptive conservation. Ecology and Society 21(2): 25

Stafford-Smith, M., L. Horrocks, A. Harvey and C. Hamilton (2011). Rethinking adaptation for a 4°C world. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369: 196-216.

Wise, R. M., I. Fazey, M. Stafford Smith, S. E. Park, H. C. Eakin, E. R. M. Archer Van Garderen and B. Campbell (2014). Reconceptualising adaptation to climate change as part of pathways of change and response. Global Environmental Change:

Further reading for question 2
Duarte, C. M., I. J. Losada, I. E. Hendriks, I. Mazarrasa and N. Marbà (2013). The role of coastal plant communities for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Nature Climate Change.

Further reading for question 3

Hobday, A. J. and G. T. Pecl (2014). Identification of global marine hotspots: sentinels for change and vanguards for adaptation action. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 24: 415-425. DOI 10.1007/s11160-013-9326-6.

Question 4.

August 2016 Question by Rohan:

What are the implications for other communities of the recent ruling on Belongil?

(Answer by Ballanda Sack, Special Counsel, Beatty Legal Pty Limited)

Byron Shire Council’s coastal management of Belongil beach has been the subject of litigation initiated at various times by private landowners (in favour of the construction of protective measures) and concerned community groups (opposed to such measures) for well over 7 years.

In August this year Council announced that a settlement had been reached between it and owners of land at the beach to resolve a long running Supreme Court case commenced in 2010. Essentially, the case initiated by the landowners alleged negligence on the part of Council in its management of coastal erosion issues at Belongil beach. Specifically, the claims related to the construction of a structure/rock wall intended to protect the southern (main) beach in the 1960s-1970s. This structure was alleged to have caused erosion at Belongil to the north west. Council was also alleged to have been negligent in its ongoing management of the area and specifically in the policies expressed in draft planning instruments and a draft coastal zone management plan prepared in 2009 which gave effect to its policy of “planned retreat”. This policy had the effect of preventing landowners from installing permanent protective measures or maintaining measures already in place.

Early this year Council undertook public consultation for a revised Coastal Zone Management Plan (Draft CZMP) and this plan was lodged with the Minister for Planning for certification under the Coastal Protection Act 1979. The Draft CZMP permits landowner initiated emergency protective measures at Belongil beach and proposes the construction of a seawall at the beach. The estimated construction cost exceeds $14 million, $13 million of which is to be borne by the landowners.

The Draft CZMP has not yet been certified by the Minister. Coastal management in NSW is in a state of reform with a new Coastal Management Act 2016 enacted but not yet in force. Commencement of the legislation is being deferred until the Guidelines and SEPP underpinning the Act have been finalised and undergone public consultation. The new legislation establishes an alternative regime for the preparation of Coastal Management Programs by Council in accordance with the proposed detailed government guidelines. If the Minister certifies the Draft Byron CZMP within 6 months of the commencement of the Act then Council will be entitled to act on it until December 2021.

As the matter was settled out of court, it makes no new law and provides no guidance as to how a court might determine a negligence/nuisance claim against a local council in similar circumstances.

The circumstances at Belongil, however, demonstrate the challenges for local government in balancing private property interests with community interests, the complexities of coastal management and the pressures that can be exerted by very well resourced and persistent landowner litigators.

(Answer by Sharon Pope, Manager Integrated Planning, Lake Macquarie City Council)

Each case needs to be reviewed on its merits. Existing protective work in one location may be causing accelerated erosion and damage to an adjoining property, or could be causing unacceptable hazards and risks to the public, so removal may be more critical. But if all things were the same as the circumstances surrounding this case, then it indicates that councils should not take steps to remove current protective works, as they currently exist, if this is against the wishes of the property owners who erected the works or those who benefit from them (e.g. subsequent property owners).
If the current protection work is damaged, destroyed, or washed away, the property owners must still follow the usual process to seek approval from the relevant consent authority, and the applicable landowner, for permission to rebuild, repair or replace the works. A full merit assessment would occur to determine whether to grant approval. The ruling maintains the status quo in this regard.
The ruling also indicates that councils should not unreasonably withhold access to their land for the purposes of allowing property owners to carry out approved protection works. Councils may still withhold access if they have a reasonable basis to do so – for example, if the carrying out of the proposed works would unreasonably interfere with public access or give rise to safety concerns. The concept of access not being unreasonably refused is based upon provisions in the New South Wales Coastal Protection Act which provide that a public authority must not unreasonably refuse a person access to public land to enable the person to lawfully place temporary coastal protection works on the land. So this aspect of the ruling also maintains the status quo.


Question 5.

August 2016 Kate asks:

When will we know that the environmental impacts we are seeing on the coast are actually being caused by changes to the climate?

Answer by Kevin Walsh, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne School of Earth Sciences

This is an important question but would probably need to be more specific to receive a tightly focused answer. “Environmental impacts” could mean biological as well as physical changes. If I stick to my relevant area of expertise, namely sea-level rise caused by global warming, we may already be seeing in some locations the early coastal effects of sea-level rise (NY Times, Sept. 3, 2016 – The main early effect would be what could be called “fair weather flooding”, which is just increased tidal flooding due to the same tides that have always occurred, plus the additional sea level caused by global warming. Note that in some locations the land is falling, which is a geological effect, so this would need to be added to the sea-level rise effect to get the total impact. Future fair weather flooding is relatively easy to predict and we know that certain locations will be affected by it or are already being affected.

As for more complicated effects like coastal erosion, the jury is out at present. The problem is that coastal effects are highly local: in one location, erosion could be large, but 10 kilometres down the coast there could be no effect, due to differences in the coastline composition, currents and wave climate. Models that are used to predict these effects are currently not very accurate at this scale, so they have a very limited ability to predict into the future to see when these local effects will become large as sea level continues to rise. Coastal erosion effects of sea level rise to date have also often been overwhelmed by the effects of large storms, natural variability like El Nino, human influences, and so on. Available observations indicate that most coasts have eroded in the past couple of decades, which is at least consistent with sea-level rise, but there is no scientific proof in the form of conclusive modelling experiments of the association of this increased erosion with global warming. Thus we actually don’t know when coastal erosion effects will grow to the point where they will be conclusively demonstrated to be caused by global warming or not.

Further reading
Cazenave, A., & Cozannet, G. L. (2014). Sea level rise and its coastal impacts. Earth’s Future, 2(2), 15-34.

Le Cozannet, G., Garcin, M., Yates, M., Idier, D. and Meyssignac, B., 2014. Approaches to evaluate the recent impacts of sea-level rise on shoreline changes. Earth-Science Reviews, 138, pp.47-60.

Question 6.

September 2015 Ralph Roob Asks:

The City of Greater Geelong Council are evaluating the effectiveness of establishing a near shore semi submersed breakwater to dampen wave energy with the primary objective of preventing further erosion along a vulnerable section of coast near Portarlington, 50km south of Melbourne. The structure will also aim to provide optimum structural habitat for shallow water reef communities.

Are any members of the expert panel aware of similar projects that have been trialled in Australia, particularly in waters less than 2 metres deep that are prone to severe wind derived waves?

Answer by Mark Gibbs, Director of Knowledge to Innovation, QUT

Artificial reefs and semi-submerged breakwaters have been used as a means of shore protection for centuries and can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Nearshore shallow water submerged or intertidal structures experienced a resurgence over recent decades as computer models that can predict breaking waves were developed. This enabled such structures to be designed in a way that could also create artificial surfing reefs so that the structures served as shore protection measures and added amenity value.
However, their utility as surfing breaks has been limited, often owing to the lack of precision in construction of these structures (for example, the Narrow neck artificial reef on the Gold Coast). Such structures can be very effective both as shoreline protection measures and as fish attraction devices. The Narrow neck reef, for example, is renowned for attracting biodiversity. To this end, a new such structure is being presently designed for Palm Beach, on the central Gold Coast.
Care must be taken when considering this option as, by design, these structures disrupt sediment transport pathways. Sediment trapped behind these structures, which can help stabilise the beach profile, is potentially sediment that becomes unavailable for shore protection elsewhere. Hence careful consideration of the opportunity cost must be given. Many consultants now offer a numerical (computer) shoreline evolution modelling service. However, these models are still relatively unsophisticated and must be treated with some caution.
There have been attempts to establish less permanent structures to achieve the same end. However, such temporary structures have a habit of coming unstuck even in relatively minor storms.

Question 7.

October 2016 Question submitted by Dave Rissik

1. Climate change will affect future generations. What can we do to involve more young people in adaptation ideation and decision making such as sitting on committees?

Answer by Annette Xiberras, Managing Director, U.C.A. Pty Ltd Cultural Heritage Planners.

We need to have a youth forum on climate change, inviting students and young adults to write the agenda. This would include a competition for delivering the agenda and papers at the forum, leading to possible employment opportunities, positions on the committee, and awards. The forum could be advertised in papers, social media, posters around schools and so on.

Also, we should give the opportunity to present posters and art as well as papers, to be more inclusive of the diverse approach within our youth of Australia. Making young people feel that they own the forum and are in control will empower them to look at possible alternative solutions to problems. Being part of a forum committee and having a voice that will be heard I think will be the biggest draw card.

We also should be looking at the education curriculum and introducing climate change as a subject within schools, which looks at the effects of climate change and physically measures the impact on the environment, using a holistic approach to understanding present and future changes.

Education is the best from of knowledge and awareness, which is lacking in our youth of Australia. The basic introduction of the dangers of climate change need to come in at a fundamental level that is understandable, interesting and informative. I think that education and interaction with our youth will be the way to introduce them to the problem and be a great starting point to interest them. This will then in turn make them want to get involved and part of a movement to start looking at ways to stop or try and combat global warming.

We need to include the multi-cultural youth of Australia by selecting leader’s from these cultures to lead the youth to the table and give them a voice. This needs to be a fully supported committee with sitting fees and secretariat support. These voices need a space on the more senior and government committees representing our youths’ point of views and ideas.

Question 8.

October 2016 Question submitted by Dave Rissik

2. How can we access carbon mitigation funding to pay for adaptation projects such as riparian revegetation, salt marsh mangrove restoration, and dune stabilization? These projects often seem too small for the funding bodies to take seriously and yet present opportunities with significant benefits.

Answer by Melanie Bishop, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

Mangrove forests, saltmarshes and seagrass beds are among the most effective ecosystems in the world for sequestering and storing carbon. Although they account for less than 0.5% of the Earth’s area, collectively these so-called ‘blue carbon’ habitats account for 30 to 40% of carbon taken up by living organisms, and can store as much as five times the carbon of terrestrial forests per unit area (Mcleod et al. 2011). Unlike terrestrial forests, where most carbon is held in the live plants themselves, in coastal ecosystems the majority of carbon is stored in sediments below. The carbon-rich material from dead plants is trapped by the shoots and roots of coastal vegetation, and becomes buried in the waterlogged sediments below where it may be stored for millennia.

When coastal vegetation is degraded or lost, so too is its ability to sequester and store carbon. Carbon stores already accumulated may be remobilised – putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Pendleton et al. 2012). Hence, there are significant carbon mitigation benefits of stabilising and restoring coastal vegetation.

The Australian Department of the Environment and Energy is presently scoping a method to estimate the emissions reduction that results from protection and restoration of mangroves. If a method is approved, such activities will then be eligible for consideration under the Emissions Reduction Fund. In the meantime, many State governments and several private foundations offer funding for community and/or local government projects that repair degraded ecosystems, in some cases for carbon mitigation benefits.

In addition to sequestering and storing carbon, the protection and repair of coastal vegetation has many other benefits, including dune stabilisation, erosion control, enhancement of fisheries productivity and improvement of water quality. Some funding opportunities for habitat rehabilitation projects specifically focus around these other ecosystem services. For example, funding from the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust can support projects that can demonstrate benefits to essential fish habitat. Thinking creatively about the multiple benefits of coastal habitat repair will assist in identifying other potential funding sources.

The case for repair of coastal vegetation is strengthened by data demonstrating the success of projects in meeting goals such as carbon sequestration, erosion control, fisheries productivity and/or clean water quality. Hence, it is essential that when projects are funded, they include a monitoring component that evaluates their success.


Mcleod, E., Chmura, G.L., Bouillon, S., Salm, R., Björk, M., Duarte, C.M., Lovelock, C.E., Schlesinger, W.H. and Silliman, B.R., 2011. A blueprint for blue carbon: toward an improved understanding of the role of vegetated coastal habitats in sequestering CO2. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 9(10), pp.552-560.

Pendleton, L., Donato, D.C., Murray, B.C., Crooks, S., Jenkins, W.A., Sifleet, S., Craft, C., Fourqurean, J.W., Kauffman, J.B., Marbà, N. and Megonigal, P., 2012. Estimating global “blue carbon” emissions from conversion and degradation of vegetated coastal ecosystems. PloS one, 7(9), p.e43542.

Question 9.

October 2016 Question (Steve) asks:

coastal hazard risk management and adaptation planning) process within the Western Australian Policy context prescribes a process to understand coastal hazard risks from both inundation and erosion. In terms of erosion, the policy is very limited on how to determine the effect of erosion from either storm surge and sea level rise. Basically the policy is very focused around Perth and therefore on ‘sandy coastlines’. In the north west of Australia, we have a range of alternative coast types namely ‘coastal lowlands’ within sheltered areas (e.g. protected by mangroves and large tidal flats). Therefore, the level of risk from erosion in this context is extremely minimal to non-existent.

However, the policy position requires that erosion for sea level rise be determined as for ‘sandy coastlines’ (e.g. Bruun Rule) which therefore mandates a 90m erosion setback (S3) be added to the erosion hazard lines over the 100-year planning framework. In the context of our environment, the extent of this ‘hazard’ is not realistic. This is reinforced through the historic observations (S2) which shows a stable, if not accreting coastline over the past 50 years.

Therefore, my question is: As the policy prescribes an unrealistic starting point, how much justification is required to outline the erosion hazard as insignificant and rare, and therefore a risk that does not require any further consideration?

Answer by Dr Philip Haines, Managing Director, Water & Environment Group, BMT WBM Pty Ltd

Your question raises a few interesting points. Firstly, as a word of caution, historical observations (S2) are not necessarily a good indicator of potential shoreline response to future sea level (S3), and instead, a more detailed coastal assessment should always be done to understand local coastal processes, including sediment transport, and responses to projected sea-level rise conditions. It is widely recognised in the coastal engineering industry that the ‘Bruun Rule’ is quite restrictive, and not necessarily relevant even on sandy coastlines, especially where there is strong longshore sediment transport and influences on coastal processes from onshore and offshore structures, reefs etc. That said, within the context of CHRMAP, the Bruun Rule has been used to estimate a generic allowance on the WA coast to cater for shoreline recession associated with future sea-level rise (90m as specified in SPP2.6 Schedule One). But the CHRMAP also mandates the use of a risk-based assessment, meaning that such an allowance is to consider both likelihood and consequence of such an event occurring. The generic allowance is a simple way to delineate broad spatial planning control area overlays and is often used to raise stakeholders’ awareness of coastal hazards.

The risk assessment process adopted by CHRMAP provides a mechanism for dealing with uncertainties of hazards, through the use of likelihood and consequence scales. Identified hazards that have a low chance of occurring over a nominated timeframe can be assigned as low likelihood within the risk framework. It is always best to provide justification for a decision made within a risk assessment framework, especially with regard to assigning quantified likelihoods or consequences. With respect to the generic 90m sea-level rise allowance, there is no explicit method provided in the WA policy to quantify the actual likelihood of the hazard. Some examples are provided in the CHRMAP guidelines, but I recommend you seek professional advice on a case-by-case basis and by using the best available information to deliver a robust and defensible risk assessment.

With respect to your specific question, if I were in the shoes of the officer administering the Policy, I would need to be convinced that the likelihood is indeed low in the areas you have suggested. But I would be looking for consideration of the full spectrum of coastal hazards, covering both recession and inundation. So even though the likelihood of shoreline recession due to future sea-level rise may be low in your particular location, the likelihood of increased coastal inundation may actually be high as it is a coastal lowland. If this is the case, you should also be mindful that consequences may be different between recession hazards and inundation hazards. That is, consequences would likely be high if the land was to erode away completely, whereas consequences would probably be lower if the land was only inundated on an occasional basis.

From a policy perspective, use of the mandated 90m setback provides a level of assurance to the administrator that ‘worst case’ conditions are considered. For greenfield development sites, sensible risk management may advocate an ‘avoidance’ strategy. For sites of existing development though, or where consequences are particularly high, it would be best to proceed with the other components the CHRMAP risk-based process and to seek more detailed investigations to refine definitions of likelihood, consequence and risk based on best available information, science and engineering methods.

Question 10.

October 2016 Question (Daniel)

There are many ways in which risk is communicated and even more ways in which it’s interpreted. Engineers use assessments like “design for 1 in 100 years” while climate risk is sometimes used in terminology such as “likelihood” of something happening now, by 2050 or by 2100. These and many other terms confuse the community and the practitioner when delivering projects or information. Are there simple but effective ways all these terms/approaches can be contextualised and communicated to improve understanding?

Answer by Mark Gibbs, Director of Knowledge to Innovation, QUT

This is a great question and I’m happy that you have asked it.
While more than one Greek philosopher identified with the concept of risk, and that risk would be related to the consequence and the likelihood of an event occurring, the formal definition of risk is often attributed to the French philosopher Blaise Pascal in the late 1600s. Most famous for “Pascal’s Wager”, Pascal defined risk as directly and simultaneously dependent on both the likelihood (commonly expressed as a probability) and the consequence of a hazard occurring. This definition has been enshrined in the international standard ISO 31000 series and is widely used in many technical disciplines, including the engineering and actuarial professions.
For example, the commonly used term of 1-in-100 years expresses the average likelihood of an event occurring, but not the consequence of such an event. Therefore, such terms do not express risk; only likelihood. As an aside, the term 1-in-100 years is now better expressed at the 1% AEP (Annual Exceedance Probability) event.
Unfortunately over the past decade or so, a new generation of climate and natural hazard practitioners and researchers thought it best to attempt to re-invent the formal definition of risk. The result is exactly what you have identified – there are now multiple definitions being used. My personal view is that this is unhelpful and leads to confusion. My recommendation is therefore that we all stick to the existing, accepted definition that is defined in the international standards (that is, risk=likelihood*consequence).
Having said that, we know that there is widespread lack of understanding among communities on what 1-in-100 years, or 1%AEP, actually means. Some reading on this is as follows, and I would be happy to discuss further.

Gibbs, MT, (2016). Why is coastal retreat so hard to implement? Understanding the political risk of coastal adaptation pathways. Ocean & Coastal Management 130, 107-114

Gibbs, MT, (2015). Pitfalls in developing coastal climate adaptation responses. Climate Risk Management 8, 1-8

Gibbs, MT and Browman, HI (2015). Risk assessment and risk management: a primer for marine scientists, ICES Journal of Marine Science, 72(3), 992–996. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsu232
Gibbs, MT, (2015). Guiding principles for infrastructure climate change risk and adaptation studies. Civil Engineering and Environmental Systems, DOI:

Question 11.

November 2016 Question from Cr John McCallum:


Is the thermal expansion of the oceans as the atmosphere heats up as much of a problem as the sea level rise (3mm/year)? In other words, many models show SLR at an almost constant rising gradient but does thermal expansion reach a maximum level and then stop?

Answer by Dr Kevin Walsh, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne School of Earth Sciences

This question has two parts. First, does the density of water reach a plateau as temperature rises? The answer to this is unequivocally no. Below is a graph showing the density at various pressures of water, as a function of temperature. Density continues to decrease with increasing temperature (Figure 1), so if the temperature of the ocean continues to increase, the density will be less, so the volume of the ocean will be more, and so thermal expansion of the oceans will continue.

Figure 1. Density as a function of temperature, for various pressures (1 bar is about one atmospheric pressure).

The other part of the question is whether the ocean temperatures will continue to increase, thus causing further thermal expansion. Based on the latest projections, we have no indication that they will stop warming, although of course there is a range of predictions. Also, as the question correctly points out, thermal expansion is not the only component of sea-level rise: another large component is the melting of land-based ice. The relevant proportion of these two effects in the total rise in sea level will change with time, but in all future projections, thermal expansion remains the largest component (Church et al. 2013), unless the Antarctic ice sheets become unstable.

Further reading

Church, J.A., et al. , 2013: Sea Level Change. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Question 12.

November 2016 – A member of the Natural Ecosystems Network asks:

(a) What are the connectivity issues for coastal environments: the land/sea interface, estuaries and near-shore marine systems?
(b) How will ecosystem processes (self-purification, delivery of ecosystem services to adjacent environments etc.) be affected by climate change?
(c) What are the direct impacts of climate change on interconnected realms?

Answer by Dr Melanie Bishop, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

Estuarine and coastal zones are transition zones between land and sea. As low points in the environment, to which the land drains, estuaries and coasts are strongly influenced by freshwater, nutrient and sediment inputs from freshwater systems, as well as run-off of nutrients, sediments and pollutants from catchments (Sheaves 2009). Connectivity with the sea determines the extent of saltwater intrusion and tides into estuaries, and the opportunity for larval exchange between estuarine, coastal and marine domains.

Many estuarine and coastal species are dependent on multiple habitats to complete their life cycles (Sheaves 2009). Several species of fish, such as lamprey, salmon and eels, display large-scale migrations from freshwater to marine environments, or vice versa, to spawn. Additionally, many aquatic organisms display a larval stage in their life history, and may be transported kilometres from source to sink populations by wind, waves and currents.

Processes that enhance or inhibit the flow of organisms and resources between land and sea, and along coastlines, are likely to have large impacts on coastal ecosystems, and the ecosystem services they provide (Sheaves 2009).

Several of the physical impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise, change in rainfall patterns, and altered storminess, may have large effects on estuarine and coastal ecosystems by directly and indirectly modifying connectivity. For example, altered rainfall patterns, coupled with sea-level rise, are expected to result in significant saltwater intrusion of the Kakadu wetland system (BMT WBM 2010). For estuarine habitats, the potential impacts include decreases in the abundance of migratory birds that utilise the area for foraging and breeding, decreases in culturally important fisheries species such as mud crabs and threadfin salmon, as well as changes in the extent of mangroves (with retraction in some areas and expansion in others; BMT WBM 2010).

In addition, adaptation of human settlements to climate change may influence coastal ecosystems by modifying land-sea connectivity (Bishop et al. in press). In areas of increased rainfall, reservoirs may be built for flood mitigation, while in areas of decreased rainfall, natural flows may be redistributed for agriculture and human consumption. Water retaining structures can serve as barriers to fish migration, unless fish ladders are provided. These barriers can also serve as barriers to sediment transport, leading to loss of mudflats and erosion of beaches at downstream, coastal locations. Where water-retaining structures alter the timing, frequency and volume of freshwater flows into the coastal zone, they may interfere with spawning events that are often triggered by changes in salinity and/or flow.

Seawalls, breakwaters, groynes, and barrages built to protect coastal infrastructure from more frequent storm surges and coastal flooding under sea-level rise, can also produce substantive collateral damage to coastal ecosystems by disrupting land-sea and long-shore connectivity of organisms and resources (Bishop et al. in press). For example, these structures may facilitate movement by marine pest species that utilize the increased hard-substrate as a stepping stone for spread. Additionally, dead seaweed has been observed to accumulate on the up-current side of groynes, producing unsightly and odorous banks of decaying material which local authorities have to remove on tourist beaches. This accumulation results in starvation of down-drift beaches of this nutrient source that fuels the productivity of sandy beach ecosystems.

Understanding the mechanisms by which climate change directly and indirectly modifies connectivity is essential if marine spatial planning and green engineering are to be effectively utilised to minimise impacts.

Further reading

Bishop MJ, Mayer-Pinto M, Airoldi L, Firth LB, Morris RL, Loke LHL, Hawkins SJ, Naylor LA, Coleman RA, Chee SY, Dafforn KA (in press) Effects of ocean sprawl on ecological connectivity: impacts and solutions. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol (accepted, 29 May, 2016)

BMT WBM (2010). Kakadu-Vulnerability to climate change impacts. A report to the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

Sheaves M (2009) Consequences of ecological connectivity: the coastal ecosystem mosaic. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 391: 107-115.


Question 13.

November 2016 Question from Robert Gibson:

How do the risks of losing sand following renourishment compare between a large embayment such as Port Phillip Bay and an east facing ocean beach on the south coast such as that found at Port Fairy? What are the risks/benefits of sourcing sand from approximately 800m offshore and placing it on the beach as part of a beach renourishment program? How does this affect the overall sand budget of the system?

Answer by Dr Philip Haines, Managing Director, Water & Environment Group, BMT WBM Pty Ltd

Sand dynamics in all coastal embayments are driven by the wave climate. Swell waves do not penetrate far into Port Phillip Bay, meaning that the majority of wave action around the Bay foreshores is derived from local winds. This means that the Port Phillip Bay wave climate is characterised by relatively small amplitude and small period waves.

Nourished sand that is placed on the foreshores of Port Phillip Bay will respond to the local wave climate. Given the wave climate is relatively small (compared to open ocean embayments at least), mobilisation and loss of sand after nourishment will likely be limited. If the sand is placed carefully on the beach, cognisant of the wave climate, then losses can indeed be minimised. In contrast, placement of nourished sand on an open coast beach, such as Port Fairy, will be more susceptible to loss given the higher degree of sediment mobility, purely because of the larger wave climate. Again, placement can be designed to roughly match the every-day wave climate, and thus minimise sand loss to a degree. However, if a larger storm occurs, or the dominant wave direction changes for a time, then the beach will respond and nourished sand may be lost more rapidly.

Sourcing of sand for nourishment is a challenge. Nearshore sand is often an alluring option, as transportation costs would be low, and the sediment characteristics are usually compatible. However, taking sand from nearshore sand bars may affect the local or regional sand transport processes. Sand is mobilised and transported under the action of waves and tides. Along the Eastern seaboard of Australia, a large wave climate means that sand in water depths of up to 20-30 metres can still be mobilised and interact with the coastal processes. Only bigger waves during more severe storm events will mobilise sand in deeper waters, so the occurrence of such mobilisation is relatively infrequent. It is for this reason that offshore sand sourcing in the Gold Coast occurs at depths greater than 30 metres. Unfortunately, this depth requires special dredgers, generally brought in from overseas.

Offshore dredging could potentially have a significant impact on local and regional sand budgets if it occurs in water depths that are too shallow, that is, where sand is transported from time to time both in cross-shore and alongshore directions. Interruption with natural sand transport processes, through offshore dredging, may inhibit the natural on-shore transport of sand, leading to beach recession, especially if the dredged sand is not placed locally. If offshore dredging is proposed as part of a beach nourishment program, it is imperative to have a detailed appreciation of local and regional sand transport processes to ensure that the dredging will not cause secondary impacts on coastal responses.

Another important consideration for beach nourishment of offshore sand reserves is the placement methodology. Options generally are:
i. bottom dumping closer to the beach, but not directly onto the beach;
ii. rainbowing (ejecting in an arc) onto the lower profile of the beach; or
iii. mooring and pumping via pipeline to the upper beach profile.
The costs increase in this order, as does the ‘immediate’ benefit to the beach.


Question 14.

December 2016 – Joanne asks:

I get asked quite a bit about the planning horizons for coastal adaptation, particularly related to sea-level rise. Please help me better understand/explain the reasoning behind most planning, engineering and policy decisions being set to the 2100 or 2110 timeframes.

Answer by Leo Dobes, Crawford School of Economics and Government, ANU, and Professor Jean Palutikof, NCCARF Director

There is no “correct” or ideal planning horizon for coastal adaptation to sea level rise (SLR). There is no scientific, economic or engineering reason to use only the 100-year timeframe. It has simply become conventional to do so. 

Like most conventions, it is not entirely clear why 100 years has become common usage, but policy makers and modellers do tend to copy each other, mainly because it makes life simpler. One hundred is a nice round number; using it provides comparability with other studies, and one can get away without justifying it on the grounds that everyone else uses it too. 

However, there is some underlying rationale for using 100 years. The estimated values and climate effects of the Global Warming Potential (GWP) and Global Temperature change Potential (GTP) concepts used by the IPCC vary depending on timeframes and the different lifetimes of greenhouse gases. The dominant convention nowadays is a 100-year period for GWPs. To ensure consistency in modelling, use of 100-year GWPs or GTPs is generally matched by corresponding estimates of the physical effects and economic implications of climate change over the course of a century. If you want to learn more about GWP and GTP, there is more information at

Some global climate models are used to project the effects of climate change beyond 100 years. Sea-level rise is projected to be relatively gradual because it depends on many different factors. For this reason, 500-year modelling projections are sometimes used. However, climate model results need to be interpreted in the context of local conditions to be of practical use.

Choice of timeframe ultimately depends on the purpose for undertaking the modelling. Coastal councils would be less likely to require information on sea-level rise or temperature increases beyond 100 years because most infrastructure for which they are responsible has an effective life of a century or less. Roads, for example, are considered by Austroads to have a life of about 20 years, although repairs and maintenance can extend this. NCCARF provides some illustrative information on infrastructure lives and climate change for the UK on page 3 of their Policy Guidance Brief 7, Climate proofing Australia’s infrastructure.