Tomorrow's Coasts - Complex and Impermanent

I have just received a copy of a book edited by Don Wright and Reid Nichols entitled Tomorrow’s Coasts: Complex and Impermanent (Springer). It is also Volume 27 in the Coastal Research Library (Ed. Charles Finkl), and is the result of a collaborative synthesis promoted by the Coastal and Environmental Research Committee of the Southeastern Universities Research Association in the USA. As stated in the forward to the volume by David Shaw, the Chair of the this Committee, this book represents a synthesis that will provide a “foundation for future collaborations aimed at improving predictions and strategies for responding to changes that are occurring, and are expected to occur in the future, within the world’s diverse coastal systems”.

Don Wright is known to many of us in Australia with his connection to the Coastal Studies Unit at Sydney University (1974-82). He is the inspiration behind this book. He and his colleagues were very concerned at the direction public policy was heading in coastal management in the USA and hence the need to extend an understanding of the complexity of coastal processes and evolution beyond the scientific community to include decision-makers, politicians and the general public. A big ask in these challenging times not just in the USA. So the editors collected a group of authors to write chapters that would provide an understanding of the interconnections of factors that are driving coastal change and “will determine what the future may hold”. It is not a technical treatise. In Don’s words, it aims “to communicate with all who care about the future of coastal environments”. He offers as a theme a quote from that famous writer “Anonymous”: If we understand what is happening and accept the fact of change, we can go with the flow and still do some steering to adapt and survive.

The book is divided into four parts consisting in total of 21 chapters involving 21 authors (I am the only one not based in the USA). Part I presents some underlying material applicable to coastal processes and change worldwide. Part II goes into more depth on important physical, ecological, and societal causes and outcomes of coastal change. Part III offers a selection of case studies of some prominent and highly vulnerable coastal regions (none from Australia or New Zealand); and the book concludes in Part IV with a discussion of strategies for facilitating and supporting collaboration amongst all interested in coastal environmental change that will enhance future coastal resilience.

Although this book has a strong focus on US issues, there are many examples of coastal problems associated with current and future conditions in other countries. A good example is Chapter 6 which explores coastal systems in the Anthropocene. Here problems of urbanisation and population growth are discussed along with other pressures of human occupance of the coastal zone and marine waters arising in many parts of the world. Given the background to the volume, it is not unexpected that three of the five case studies are located on the US east and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Chapter 12 looks at the vulnerability of the Pearl River and Guangzhou region in China.

I was invited to participate in Part IV. It was a chance to explore further various ideas on adaptation to pressures of population growth and global change around the theme of collaboration to enhance future coastal resilience. In Chapter 19, I was able to bring together some of the work that occupied my time in working with the former Department of Climate Change on its first pass risk assessment (2009); some aspects of the NCCARF work on CoastAdapt, especially the sediment compartment study; and a further expansion of the Thornton model on a legal framework for future adaptive coastal management (I have previously blogged on this framework (10-8-17). It was therefore possible to introduce into this chapter some of the Australian coastal experiences.

Don also asked me to contribute to the final chapter. This was a most challenging exercise given all that went before it in the book, as reflected in our quote at the beginning of the chapter: Get the Black Beauty Kato. Those clowns are in trouble (The Green Hornet). The question we posed was how best to anticipate and prepare for a future in many coastal regions where there is a need to minimise the detrimental impacts of global change. Besides promoting a deep enough understanding of the myriad complex interactions of coastal processes to allow for planners and managers to develop strategies for what lies ahead, we also seek to embed coastal science, including matters related to future impacts of climate change, into state and federal policies and law. As noted on page 341: “The aim must be to ensure that regional coastal strategies are based on the best available science to reduce risk to built and natural assets from the adverse effects of short-term practices driven by vested interests”. In this context we build on what was said in the introduction to the book that: “ A high priority vision for future coastal science should be to enhance resilience of coastal communities by anticipating and mitigating hazards to human health, safety and welfare and reducing economic harm to coastal industries such as tourism, fisheries and shipping”. I think we can see elements of the current program of coastal reform in New South Wales in this chapter and thus it was a privilege to be able to convey some of our work.

Bruce Thom

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author’s thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2018, posted 3 August 2018, for correspondence about this blog post please email