Study shows apathy towards sea-level rise

Half of NSW’s coastal community thinks rising sea levels will not impact them directly, according to new research – and 25% of surveyed accommodation businesses situated close to the coast are unsure if sea level rise is even occurring.

The report – released on the anniversary of the 2016 East Coast Low ‘superstorm’ that saw widespread damage along Australia’s east coast, including the collapse of a Collaroy swimmingpool – describes what the NSW community understands about coastal erosion and inundation, as well as the driving forces behind these hazards: sea level rise and severe coastal storms.

“Our coastline is changing. Many locations along the NSW coast are seeing amenity loss and infrastructure damage associated with erosion and inundation – that is, the flooding of normally dry land by sea water, often caused by storms surges or king tides,” says Professor Rob Brander from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who is also known as “Dr Rip”.

The researchers say people’s understanding and perception of storms and sea level rise, and their associated impacts of erosion and inundation, can significantly influence how and whether they engage in coastal adaptation actions – often influencing the success or failure of those actions.

“That’s why we wanted to find out what coastal communities understand and perceive about these hazards and how these hazards will affect their interactions with, and use of, the coast in the future,” says study author Anna Attard from UNSW Science.

“We think that’s an important aspect of building community resiliency and preparedness to coastal erosion and inundation.”

The My Coast NSW Study took place in 2017 and 2018, surveying more than 1000 people from all over the NSW coast, across three main groups: Coastal Management Professionals (i.e. government, academics, researchers and engineers), General Coastal Users (a cross section of people who use the NSW coast), and Coastal Accommodation Businesses (owners, managers or employees of accommodation businesses situated close to the coast).

The researchers say the resulting report provides an evidence-based information platform to help local governments and coastal management professionals in the future development of effective educational strategies and programs.

The My Coast study was funded under the joint State and Commonwealth Natural Disaster Resilience Program. The grant was awarded to UNSW in March 2017 and the study was conducted in partnership with the Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG), Surf Life Saving NSW (SLS NSW) and the NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

The full My Coast study report, along with multiple fact sheets and a guide for teachers, can be accessed online

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