The health of the Sunshine Coast’s beaches, headlands, lower estuaries and coastal lagoons are in the spotlight after a novel investigation that will help shape the future of the Biosphere’s coastline.
The inaugural Coastal Health Report brings together years of monitoring and analysis in a joint project involving the University of the Sunshine Coast and Sunshine Coast Council, with input from Healthy Land and Water.
Lead researcher, UniSC Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology Dr Ben Gilby, said the program was the first of its kind in Australia and set the Sunshine Coast as a leader in monitoring and communicating scientific results for coastal aquatic ecosystems.
Our beaches and waterways are the jewels in the Sunshine Coast's crown,” Dr Gilby said. “The strength of this program is its wide scope across all our coastal ecosystems; its focus on everything from the fish in the sea to the birds of the sky, and the physical processes that link them."
Dr Gilby said the information was invaluable not only for coastal managers of the region, but also for residents and visitors interested in understanding more about their local environment. He also stressed the importance of the program for students at UniSC.
“It not only provides crucial information about the condition of our coastal ecosystems, but also supports significant opportunities for students, from undergraduate to PhD, to learn the skills they need for a successful career in environmental management.”
A 'starting line' to improve coastal health
The report will provide a baseline for the long-term monitoring of the coast as part of Council’s Environment and Liveability Strategy target to maintain and improve the health of our coast to good or excellent grade by 2041.
Lower estuaries including Maroochy River and Mooloolah River were the healthiest type of coastal ecosystem overall, with excellent grades for water quality and public benefits and a fair grade for biodiversity.
Meanwhile, region’s headlands such as Caloundra Headland and Moffat Headland scored highest for biodiversity as havens for an array of plants and wildlife.
Sunshine Coast Council Environment Portfolio Councillor Maria Suarez described the monitoring program and report as a “starting line” toward improving the health of our coastal aquatic ecosystems and their benefits to the community.
“Our coastal areas are central to our region’s character, community and economy, as well as the survival of many endangered and vulnerable species that call them home,” Cr Suarez said.
“This research and monitoring will help guide our decisions and highlight the areas where we can take steps to improve the health of our coastline and helps keep our community informed on the state of their local areas.”
The balancing act between people and nature
Cr Suarez said some beaches, including Mooloolaba and Maroochydore, were hotspots for community and visitor use and had been managed to meet those needs.
“By ensuring these areas of significant use continue to provide great public benefit, we position these as community and tourist hubs.
“Meanwhile, at our ecologically focused beaches where we have positive dune buffer results like Coolum Beach and biodiversity results like Bokarina Beach, we want to maintain or enhance those to ensure a healthy environment and a haven for wildlife.
“This is just one of the strategies we use to balance the needs of people and nature as we continue to manage growth in our region while caring for our environment.”
So how did each beach fare?
Individual report cards for every beach, headland, lower estuary and coastal lagoon in the study area are available through an easy-to-use mapping tool on Council’s Environment and Liveability Strategy website, along with the full report.
Environment Portfolio Councillor Peter Cox said the report card format ensured the whole community could easily access, understand and share the findings.
“I encourage everyone to explore Council’s interactive map to see their local report card,” Cr Cox said.
“In our Sunshine Coast Biosphere, we all enjoy these beautiful places and have a role in keeping them healthy; this starts with everyone understanding their current state. As a community we can celebrate our precious coastal areas and improve upon these benchmarks.”
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