I recently received information about the Californian Coastal Sediment Management Workgroup. It involves a collaborative taskforce of state, federal (US Army Corps of Engineers) and local/regional entities, concerned about adverse impacts of coastal erosion and excess sedimentation. The group is using the concept of Regional Sediment Management (RSM) to augment or restore natural processes through the development of a coastal Sediment Master Plan (SMP).

Their website notes that currently the group’s main thrust is for SMP development through regionally-based RSM strategy plans. Such plans will “identify how governance, outreach and technical approaches can support beneficial use of sediment resources within that region without causing environmental degradation or public nuisance”. They make the important point that sediment is an “integral component of the coastal ecosystem, representing a public good that must be managed to provide for quality of life, natural resource protection, and economic sustainability” . And critically they add: “coordinated beneficial use of sediment resources within a regional context augments natural processes while simultaneously addressing sediment imbalances”. What wonderful words; what grand aspirations!

Australia has benefitted in the past from coastal research and policy development in California. For instance, the NSW Coastal Protection Act 1979 owes a lot to their 1976 coastal legislation. Research on coastal compartments by Davies in the 70s followed early work by Inman and others in California; and this is only a fraction of what we have gained from that US state and its institutions. But we have also been in a position to build on those studies and policies not just in past research but in recent actions involving state and federal governments.

I think the Californians would be interested in the way we have embedded the concept of Coastal Sediment Compartments in the new NSW Coastal Management Act 2016 (see Section 16 and Schedule 1). Here for the first time in legislation to my knowledge, a government has recognised the importance of sediment movements between local councils in coastal management. New CMPs in NSW will require councils on the open coast to talk to each other on the implications of sediments pathways from sources to sinks. Guided by the new Manual, they will seek to achieve that which the Californian Group is discussing. It is a grand vision for NSW.

At a national level, NCCARF through CoastAdapt has presented the Shoreline Explorer tool. This embraces a description of 359 coastal sediment compartments at the secondary scale. This task followed a set of pilot studies undertaken by Damara in WA and WRL in NSW and work undertaken by Geoscience Australia on the division of the Australian coast into geographic units at different scales. Recently, Colin Woodroffe, Andy Short, Chris Sharples, Ian Eliot, Matt Eliot, Nick Harvey, Dave Rissik and myself completed a paper for submission to an international journal on our work as a team in assisting this national project. It highlights the value of examining geomorphic contexts for sediment movements that will assist decision-makers better understand how shorelines and coastal habitats will respond under climate change. We are keen to demonstrate internationally the scale and scope of this project and its potential value in coastal planning and management.

What is heartening is to see how different collaborative groups are working to a common cause. The British have demonstrated what they term the littoral cell approach to the development of Shoreline Management Plans. What we hear from California is another expressing of how important it is to understand sediment dynamics. And in Australia we are now in a position to also build on the science and incorporate it into policy and management of our precious coastal resources.

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect Bruce Thom’s thoughts and reference where appropriately: (c) ACS, 2017, posted 23 July 2017, for correspondence about this blog post please email admin@australiancoastalsociety.org