Climate Risk in the Coastal Zone forum discusses key issues

The Climate Risk in the Coastal Zone forum was held at CQUniversity in Mackay

The Climate Risk in the Coastal Zone forum was held at CQUniversity in Mackay

The Mackay Whitsunday region is no stranger to natural disasters, having experienced flooding, storm surges and cyclones in the past. Have you ever wondered how projected changes in climate could affect our coastal region, lifestyle, industry and homes?

This month, Reef Catchments focused on the issue at the Climate Risk in the Coastal Zone forum, held at CQU University on 9 May 2014.

The event attracted more than 45 people from the local community; including local council, state government, education, conservation and businesses representatives, to find out more about current and future potential climate risk.

The group also discussed steps that could be taken or adopted locally to minimise climate and weather related impacts.

Forum presenters were leading Australian and local climate experts including Robyn Birkett from Mackay Regional Council, Dr Neil Lazarow from CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship, Dr Darrell Strauss from the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management and Professor Catherine Lovelock, from the University of Queensland.

Information presented at the event was well-received by participants who enjoyed the diversity of the groups present, the scaling of issues (from global to local), the wide range of disciplines covered and the opportunity to share relevant up-to-date science, research and projects.

Robyn Birkett from the Mackay Regional Council provided insight into coastal and inland flood hazards specific to the Mackay region, and provided an update on planning processes in place within Council to address current and future risks.

Key messages from participants about this presentation included:

  • Mackay already has significant risk and is prone to further climate change impacts
  • It is good to hear that councils are using consistent approaches in planning methodologies

Dr Darrell Strauss covered the science of coastal processes, hazards and adaptation strategies with take home messages highlighted as:

  • Coastal processes are not the same, for a beach or even for a region (they are wave or tide dominated)
  • Beach profiles and therefore coastal vulnerabilities vary greatly along Queensland’s coastline
  • Hazards are increasing

Professor Cath Lovelock provided an overview of the ecosystem services and carbon storage potential of coastal marine vegetation. Key take home messages included:

  • Marine ecosystems store larger amounts of carbon than terrestrial ecosystems; termed as ‘blue carbon’
  • Seagrass is extremely valuable, yet very expensive to replace
  • There is already a coastal squeeze happening with mangroves migrating inland and taking over salt marsh
  • Coastal and marine ecosystems are important for many reasons, including their capacity to act as a buffer for the terrestrial environment and to offer protection of the natural coastline

Dr Neil Lazarow completed the presentation with the potential costs to communities of maladaptation. Recent severe weather events (floods, cyclones, drought, fire) nationally ensured there was plenty of material for case studies presented. Key take home messages were:

  • The impacts of climate will definitely be felt by the environment, but it is the impacts to our communities and our current economic and value system that will be prominent by-products of this, and which are often vastly underestimated
  • This issue needs good communication
  • We need a balance – where we consider economy, environment and society

Participants then took part in an open panel discussion with presenters to further clarify any issues that were raised during the day and to discuss options for moving forward.

For more information contact Dr Robyn Bell –

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