I recently returned from a trip to Adelaide in my capacity as a member of the Wentworth Group where I met members of a remarkable group. They refer to themselves as Healthy Rivers Ambassadors with the aim of “promoting a healthy, working Murray-Darling Basin for the future”. They are a group of citizens with widely varied backgrounds and a common love and concern for the Murray-Darling Basin. Their network is wide given the numerous rivers and catchments that feed this mighty river system. But they see threats to the successful implementation of the MDB Plan, in particular to environmental flows. From their perspective, the balance in the Plan has swung away from the environment to favour short term economic objectives.

These ambassadors are using various means to communicate their views, for instance presentations to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and to the media. But they are thinking of other ways to highlight the importance of a healthy river system at regional and local scales, keeping an eye open for any misuse of water that from their perspective is contrary to the intent of the Plan as accepted by federal and state governments. This is not just about environmental values as they also articulate various social, cultural and economic matters that may be placed in jeopardy by vested interests.

The way in which this network of articulate and concerned citizens are operating reminded me of an idea that Naomi Edwards kicked off at C2C 2012 with her Young ACS (YACS) program. While we were not able to establish the network of young passionate coastal folk in the way she envisaged, the concept of ambassadors for a place or a region still is something that ACS could entertain.

During the period of the old NSW Coastal Council, before it was removed in 2004, the secretariat of the Council made use of a network of mostly mature citizens, who were not part of any institution, to provide information on local activities relevant to the implementation of the 1997 NSW Coastal Policy. As Chair of the Council, I found this informal network very useful.

Can we develop something that brings together the experiences of these, and other, citizen groups to promote a “healthy, working Australian coast for the future”? In essence I am proposing the establishment of an informal network of concerned citizens who are aware of the issues facing coastal management in their area. Through ACS they could find a mouthpiece for communicating their concerns via an informed and supportive process. If it can work for our greatest river system then I feel we should try to engage as many people as possible who would just dream of the opportunity to be an Ambassador for the Australian coast.

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect Bruce Thom’s thoughts and reference where appropriately: (c) ACS, 2017, posted 9th February 2017, for correspondence about this blog post please email admin@australiancoastalsociety.org