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Coastal Protection

The EPA commissioned an independent expert to prepare this analysis of an important environmental issue. The views expressed are that of the author and not necessarily those of the EPA or of the South Australia Government.

Dealing with coastal impacts

Mark Western
Integrated Coasts

View any media report about the threat of sea level rise and it is usually accompanied by a graphical depiction of some poor soul’s house falling into the sea. And the usual implication in the report is that things can only get worse from here. Attend any climate change conference, which as a coastal consultant I often do, and someone will refer to the Federal Government’s first pass risk assessment conducted in 2011. A well-meaning report that seemed to suggest that a significant portion of Adelaide may fall into the sea by 2100 with financial losses in the billions1. As a general observation, it seems that our public response to the threat of sea level rise so far is to take the International Panel on Climate Change projections, stand on a figurative shoreline somewhere, and gesticulate wildly about the impending doom.

Fear is only a short-term motivator, useful for outrunning a tiger, but not that useful for motivating people to make longer term behavioural changes.

1 The assumptions in the report included: where SMARTLINE identified a soft erodible coast then infrastructure was included up until 110 metre from the shoreline, and no account was made of existing protection works or strategies.

However, on the flip side, when the largest storm surge on record flowed up past Kangaroo Island in May 2016 and crashed into our coastline, I was at Moana Beach. And I will admit, as I stood on the shoreline, I felt some fear.

soer2018_moana_coastMoana Beach during a storm surge. Source: Mark Western

I am sure that this feeling of fear was also replicated a few months later in Spencer Gulf when the storm of September 2016 slammed into towns on the western side of Yorke Peninsula, and then the lights went out.

soer2018_port_germein_foreshorePort Germein foreshore. Source: Port Pirie Recorder

However, while the media understandably reported on the sensational images from these events, one little-known fact went unnoticed. In Gulf St Vincent, only 5 houses had water over their floor levels, 2 of which are already under land management agreements because they were identified as vulnerable when moving from leasehold to freehold. This little-known fact suggested that this state has managed to get some things right over the last few decades.

Of course, the response from the state government has been much more measured than standing on a beach and gesticulating wildly. The recent release of the South Australian Government’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which builds on the previous adaptation framework introduced in 2012, demonstrates that significant progress has been made in preparing for the sea level rise problem.

The purpose of this report is:

  • What strategies are required for managing sea-level rise threats over time?
  • What is the state government’s response so far?
  • What are realistic goals to deal with this threat over the coming century?