Urgent action required to protect coastal waterways

Nature Conservation Council

21st September 2023

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC), the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, has today urged the NSW Government to take urgent action to protect our coastal waterways before the next drought sees many of them disappear.

“As dry weather returns to NSW, decades of inaction and bad decisions threaten to overwhelm and degrade these critical ecosystems,” Dr Brad Smith, NCC Acting CEO said today.

NSW’s coastal waterways are some of the most at risk ecosystems in the country, facing threats from inappropriate development, pollution, climate change, interrupted water flows and a looming drought.

“NSW’s coastline is world-renowned for its natural beauty, but the rate at which it is being destroyed and degraded means that coastal wetlands are some of the most at risk ecosystems in the country,” Dr Smith continued.

“NCC has heard from coastal residents who are increasingly concerned that the biodiverse and productive coastal wetlands that protect and provide for their communities are being destroyed.

“In 2019, we saw creeks run dry across the NSW coast. Since then, we’ve seen further devastation of coastal ecosystems, and the introduction of laws that take too much water.

“With El Niño and droughts approaching, we are at risk of losing the critical ecosystems that connect our land, sea and rivers, unless we act now.

“Any policy response sufficient to meet this crisis must recognise the essential interconnectedness of the estuaries, lagoons, rivers, marshes, lakes, floodplains and mangrove forests that connect our land, rivers and the sea.”

Statements attributable to NCC Acting CEO Dr Brad Smith.

“The NSW Government must act now to avoid any further destruction of these critical ecosystems.

“As a priority, the NSW government must reverse the Coalition’s ill-considered change which tripled the amount of water that could be taken by private dams along the coast.”

Coastal harvestable water rights were tripled in May 2022 by then Water Minister Kevin Anderson.

“This change has deprived our struggling rivers and wetlands of vital water flows. If allowed to continue, we will see salt water creep further inland while creeks and streams run dry, causing severe damage to the ecosystems and communities that depend on this fresh water.

“As we return to a period of dry weather, now is the time to reverse this reckless decision, to avoid our creeks running dry and more of our wetlands dying.

“The state government must also address so-called “zombie” development applications – projects that were approved before laws requiring environmental, cultural heritage, bushfire and flood risk assessment were enacted.

“Up and down the coast, from Tura Beach to Tweed Shire, so-called ‘zombie developments’ are rising from the dead and destroying sensitive wetlands and coastal habitats.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts for coastal communities as these sometimes decades old development approvals are allowed to flout current environmental and planning laws.”

“Wetlands purify our water, act as the world’s predominant carbon sink, provide us with food, and protect us from coastal erosion.

“Research has found that coastal wetlands prevent, on average, over $200 million worth of storm damage within communities, per storm. [1]

“Wetlands contribute millions of dollars to the economy via the tourism and fishing industries.

“Despite what they provide us, the world has lost over 70% of its coastal wetlands since 1900. In New South Wales, our wetlands are shrinking at an alarming and accelerating rate. [2]

“Currently, our coastal wetlands are subject to a complex set of regulatory frameworks that have not provided the protections that our coast deserves – we need to look at these systems holistically to protect them and the services they provide us.

“The single biggest thing we can do to protect our coastal communities from the effects of climate change is to strengthen our coastal wetland ecosystems, making our state more resilient and maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem function for future generations.”

Statement ends

[1] Mulder, O.J., Mulder, K.P., Kubiszewski, I., Anderson, S.J., Costanza, R., & Sutton, P., 2020, ‘The value of coastal wetlands for storm protection in Australia’, Ecosystem Services, vol. 46, p. 101205

[2] https://www.soe.epa.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/2022-02/21p3448-nsw-state-of-the-environment-2021_0.pdf

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