Dispatches from the Field:  EBM best practices and innovative funding in Australia – and not from where you might expect!

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

By Tundi Agardy, Contributing Editor, MEAM. Email: tundiagardy [at] earthlink.net

People often have a strong reaction when I mention Australia in the context of marine management – they stop listening. Part of this may be because they think they have heard it all before – all those great lessons from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on how to do (and how not to do) planning and management have been told over and over again.

But don’t turn away – this is not about the Great Barrier Reef, but a state to the south that doesn't usually get much attention on the marine management front.

Holistic and cross-sectoral management to the south

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Melbourne and around the state of Victoria, and I came away tremendously impressed by the way planners there are addressing the many facets of marine and coastal management. Their approach is not only holistic and cross-sectoral but also equitable and forward-thinking.

Just to mention a few features of Victoria’s management of its 2,000 kilometer coast: the Victoria Coastal Council works with Coastal and Regional Boards for multi-scale, multi-sectoral management; the 2014 Victoria Coastal Strategy strikes a balance between securing public lands and allowing sustainable private development; and some 1,200 voluntary Committees of Management (CoMs), which are in turn supported by community volunteer groups, manage 1,500 Crown Land reserves, many of which are coastal.

Now the state is building on its coastal planning foundation to extend its co-management out to sea. The draft Coastal and Marine Act (released August 2016 and available for consultation) is a masterpiece of environmental and social issue integration and includes mechanisms for involving communities and aboriginal groups in deciding the future, launching marine spatial planning, and initiating a climate change adaptation program. The Act also builds on the institutional arrangement in which the coastal zone is organized into “coastal compartments” to capture watershed linkages and create planning areas at a scale that maximizes local involvement and stewardship.

In addition, there is the potential for individual coastal compartments to band together to steer sustainable development – including reducing resource use and controlling urban/suburban/exurban sprawl – at larger-than-local scales. This flexible structure allows EBM to be practiced at different scales according to the nature of the management problem to be addressed.

Funding EBM in Victoria

And this brings me to what Victoria is doing on the investment side of things – where Victoria’s current activities and future plans get really exciting.  A whopping 96% of Victoria’s coastline is public land, managed by partnerships of state management authorities (DELWP - Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning - which delegates to Parks Victoria) and various local authorities, committees, and volunteers. CoMs in the coastal compartments are essentially self-funded, deriving revenues from leasing and licensing, as well as grants and awards. A large source of revenues for coastal CoMs comes from concessions such as caravan parks (which can generate millions of Australian dollars per year) and museum entrance fees. Additional funds come from donations and damage assessment compensation. This final revenue source will be strengthened under the new Coastal and Marine Act which will have a fee system based on risk.

These locally-generated revenues, alongside state-disbursed funds, pay for the participation of the public in planning, hands-on management, restoration, and evaluation of how environmental protection is succeeding. Victorian citizens work closely with state management authorities on public outreach and education, and volunteer-driven CoMs assume the everyday management of public areas, beaches, and nearshore waters. Citizens are even funded to actively restore degraded areas, remove invasive flora and fauna, control visitor use, and patrol protected land and sea areas. The citizenry is a perfect partner to Parks Victoria in co-management, and co-mingled public-private financing streams make the public’s participation viable and sustainable.