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Many have used the term “unprecedented” to define 2020. Very few will lament its passing. Much has been written of its fires, Covid 19, political actions (or inactions), injustices and different ways of conducting business. Yes, it was exceptional and for those of us with coastal interests there was plenty to remember.

From a personal perspective, it changed many plans and yet provided new opportunities. Initially under strict instructions from my daughter, Covid led to restricted movements. Irene and I were pleasantly surprised at the number of younger neighbours who offered to deliver food and other supplies (including toilet paper!). Slowly these impositions on “freedom” were relaxed as Ruby Process sailed to oblivion and we began to appreciate the successes of all levels of government in restricting the spread of the dreaded virus. In this I played a little part in advocating that Woollahra Council could reopen its harbourside pools provided we “socially distanced” (in the water?).

Travel to the city to the office of the Wentworth Group ceased. The office was closed and we started communicating in different ways. My weekly meeting at Australia Square with WG staff and John Hudson the Secretary of the NSW Coastal Council was abandoned. Only three times since then have I visited the city contributing to its decline in services! But it opened up new ways to communicate via Zoom and Teams. We all saw each other’s rooms and more casual attire even pets and local bird noises! We all had to learn to mute and unmute. I saved heaps of time in travelling. New protocols of meetings emerged with less chit-chat. As the year rolled on the need for face-to-face meetings became more evident so one expects a new “hybrid” model of work will occur in 2021.

Three coastal conferences that interested me were scheduled for 2020. Coastal engineers planned to hold an international gathering in Sydney in mid-year; I understand that will now take place in 2022. Australian Coastal Society had to postpone the C2C Conference in Cairns till July this year. The Queensland Premier made sure of that. Jo Ludbrook and Nick Harvey made the decision to postpone and this will give the ACS an opportunity to bring us together at this great location. A virtual NSW Coastal Conference was held in November and was deemed a success. Coastal Council was able to give a summary of its current program in advising the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock MP. Unfortunately for me I was dragged away on some other matters and only made a brief appearance.

In May, the NSW Coastal Council saw a changing of the guard. Minister Hancock appointed four new members (Marijn Gough, Hannah Power, Pam-Dean Jones, and Shay Simpson). They replaced Angus Gordon, Ron Cox, Jane Lofthouse and Will Glamore. Annelise Tuor became the new Chair while Kate Brooks (representing MEMA) and I stayed on the Council. As the outgoing Chair, I paid tribute to the contribution of the former members who as part of the new Coastal Council that started in 2018 offered the NSW Government a range of advice on coastal issues. Details on this advice and current tasks and surveys can be found on the CC website. John Hudson continues to offer fantastic support as Secretary working within the administrative structure of EES in Dept. Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE).

I continued with my role as Chair of the Steering Committee of the Greater Sydney Harbour Coastal Management Program (CMP). Sarah Joyce from the Sydney Coastal Councils Group serves a Project Manager supported by Nell Graham of the Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG) and staff from DPIE led by the Acting Regional Director Dylan Cameron. Covid inhibited direct meetings but during the year we had many discussions with senior staff from different government agencies and local government, several political leaders, and others with a direct interest in waterway health. A roadmap for a long-term solution to improved coordinated management of the Harbour and its catchment is being prepared following the CMP model. MEMA kindly supplied funds to develop a video showing the route we have taken so far and why.

The past year had its very dramatic moments in term of three natural disasters: fire linked to drought, floods, and coastal storms. All three demanded the attention of the NSW Government and put lots of pressure on local councils. Funds and technical support were offered to assist councils, but it is evident that nature has a way of exposing our management systems including the implementation of coastal reforms; we have more to learn especially given projections of future impacts of extreme events as outlined in the 2020 report of the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.

Nationally three activities took some of my time. First, was the on-going role I have as Chair of the Scientific Advisory Panel on Environmental Economics Accounts with DAWE. Our team commented on the first major ocean accounts on Geographe Bay in WA. Second, the Wentworth Group continued its policy analysis of the Murray Darling Basin which led to a paper in River Research and Applications in January on the Murray Mouth. We also have been involved in the review of the EPBC Act as discussed in my last blog. And finally, along with Nick Harvey, have co-chaired the policy group contributing to the Academy of Science Future Earth Australia project on coasts and oceans. More on this in 2021.

Well what a year. Managed to get a few papers out with the great help of many colleagues, so thanks again for allowing me to be involved. The challenges of extreme events and Covid will long be remembered. Let us HOPE things will be better this year. Wishing all of you a Happy New Year and look forward to seeing you at coastal conferences in 2021 especially Coast to Coast in Cairns.

Bruce Thom 

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author’s thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2021. For correspondence about this blog post please email austcoastsoc@gmail.com