The scope of this chapter was based on the Coasts chapter of the 2016 state of the environment (SoE) report. A ‘scoping paper’ was first developed outlining the issues and topics to be covered, and feedback on this document from experts and stakeholders helped to refine the scope.

Situated at the interface between land and sea, the coasts cover topics relevant to both the Marine and Land chapters, as well as cross-cutting chapters such as Biodiversity, Indigenous, Extreme Events and the Urban Environment. Many issues important to coasts are therefore touched on in those chapters, and vice versa.

In general, the Coasts chapter covers waters inside headlands, including bays, estuaries, coastal lakes and lagoons. It also covers fauna and flora occupying these waters, such as seagrasses, crocodiles, dugongs, fish and invertebrates. The Marine chapter covers waters outside headlands and all biodiversity that predominantly occurs in those waters. Some topics occur in both estuarine and oceanic waters, such as recreational and commercial fishing. For readability, each topic has been allocated to a single chapter, acknowledging the relevance to both domains.

The coast of Australia is a vast and diverse area, and detailed reporting of every component is not possible in a single chapter. This chapter is therefore not intended to be comprehensive in coverage, but rather prioritise important topics and issues as determined by experts and stakeholders.

A significant change from the 2016 chapter is the inclusion of 2 additional knowledge sources – Traditional Owners and local government areas. These sources supplemented the information obtained from academic experts, providing perspectives at different spatial scales from ‘on-the-ground’ practitioners around Australia.

Assessing state and trend in this chapter

The SoE 2021 report provides national-scale assessments of the state and trend of environmental assets, pressures and management effectiveness. These have been a feature of previous Australian SoE reports, although the methods by which the grades are determined vary between SoE report editions and chapters.

National-scale assessments are valuable in rapidly identifying key areas of concern, but inevitably hide the diversity of conditions around Australia. Australian coasts are vast, and pressures affecting some parts of the coast are negligible in other parts. This creates considerable spatial variation in the state and trend of the coastal environment around Australia, which is not well represented by national-scale assessments. National-scale assessments tend to focus on the most-impacted areas of Australia, even though large stretches of remote coast may exist in relatively pristine condition. Local- and regional-scale assessments are therefore useful in representing this diversity and placing national assessments in a broader context.

Local assessments are also useful in partitioning the spatial extent and intensity (frequency or magnitude) of pressures. National assessments necessarily integrate these 2 components, potentially obscuring the true story. For example, a moderately intense but widespread pressure may attract the same grades as an intense pressure that is limited to a few locations.

Despite best efforts for consistency, the relative weightings given to spatial extent and intensity in national assessments may vary between topics and assessors. Local assessments can, however, be used to separate these components. The geographic distribution of local assessments indicates the spatial extent of a pressure, the average grades in areas where the pressure occurs indicate the intensity, and the sum of local grades indicates both the spatial extent and intensity.

Academics and scientists have been the primary knowledge source for previous Australian SoE reports, but other knowledge sources can bring important insights and perspectives. In this chapter, we widened the sources and incorporated the knowledge of Traditional Owners and local government areas (LGAs). Traditional Owners have a deep connection with land and sea Country, developed through more than 50,000 years of lived experiences and knowledge passed down through generations. LGAs have on-the-ground experience and detailed knowledge of their local areas.

Three knowledge sources (academics, Traditional Owners and LGAs) were consulted to determine the state and trend of each topic in this chapter, and each topic was assessed at local, regional and national scales (Table 8). Academic domain experts were asked to provide assessments at the national scale, Traditional Owners provided assessments at local, regional and national scales, and LGAs provided assessments at the local scale.

Table 8 The major knowledge sources drawn upon for assessing the state and trend of topics in this chapter




Academic domain experts


For each topic, an assessment was solicited from one or more Australian academic researchers with relevant domain knowledge. Each assessment was then peer-reviewed by other academic domain experts.

Traditional Owners

National, regional and local

Online survey of Indigenous practitioners. Participants were asked to assess topics for which they had expert local, regional and national knowledge.

Local government areas (LGAs)


Online survey of all Australian coastal LGAs, of which 34 responded (see Local Government Area survey).

Academic domain expert contributions

For each topic, an academic (or group of academics) specialising in that topic was engaged via email to provide a written assessment of the topic, based on a template provided. Assessments included a brief (approximately 500 words) narrative of the status, trend and major issues of the topic, as well as assessment ‘grades’ and summary statements. Each assessment was then reviewed by at least 1 independent domain expert. Case studies were also solicited from academics on topics of special interest.

Assessments were edited and curated by lead authors and professional editors (Biotext), with input from academic reviewers, additional experts, stakeholders and relevant government agencies.

Indigenous expert contributions

The SoE 2021 report differs from previous reports by using a more inclusive approach to incorporating Indigenous peoples’ contributions and knowledge of the environment. For the Marine and Coasts chapters, Indigenous participation was sought for input into the assessments, outcomes and case studies, as described below.

New Indigenous contributions have been included in this chapter through:

  • seeking Traditional Owner interest in participating in an online yarning circle about sea Country management
  • seeking Traditional Owner interest in contributing their expert opinion about the state and trends across the range of Marine and Coasts assessment indicators.

Past contributions made by Indigenous practitioners and rangers to the environmental sector have been recognised in this chapter through:

  • referencing the Indigenous-led environmental work carried out by Indigenous practitioners and rangers across the country
  • acknowledging the leadership and collaborations involved in strengthening the assertion of Indigenous knowledge and learnings.

Ownership of all Indigenous cultural and intellectual property is retained by the relevant Indigenous knowledge holders contributing to the SoE report.


Before the activities involving Traditional Owner participation commenced, the aims and proposed methods were reviewed for approval by the CSIRO Social Science Human Research Ethics Committee (CSSHREC). Key aspects of the participant consent process were outlined to CSSHREC, including that participation in the project was entirely voluntary, and no information of a personally or culturally restricted nature would be sought or recorded. In order for free, prior and informed consent to be achieved, potential participants were provided with clear explanations of the process. A full ethics application was submitted to the CSSHREC and ethics approval number 150/20 was granted.

Assessments and outcomes

Two activities were developed to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander views and inputs into the Marine and Coasts chapters:

  • online yarning circles with Traditional Owners about outcomes and sea Country management
  • an online survey to seek Traditional Owner views about assessment indicators.

Online yarning circles

An expression-of-interest call was made to seek national interest among Traditional Owners to attend an online yarning circle about sea Country management. Criteria for selection were 1) interest and availability to attend the yarning circle, 2) experience with marine and coastal management, and 3) location diversity. The online yarning circles commenced by seeking the free, prior and informed consent of participating Traditional Owners. The information sheet contained important details including how information is safeguarded and shared by addressing Indigenous cultural and intellectual property. Each online yarning circle ran for 3 hours and had a maximum of 10 Traditional Owners, including the 2 Indigenous facilitators. The online yarning circles were designed around openly discussing sea Country management and outcome topics, as well as the option for individuals to anonymously provide grades for outcome statements. If permitted by their work conditions, Traditional Owners were remunerated for their time if they provided grades.

Online survey for assessment indicators

Participants in the online yarning circle were invited to complete an online survey about assessment indicators. Individuals decided if they wished to participate in the online survey. A background information sheet was developed and provided to give detailed information about the SoE assessment indicators and grading system. Traditional Owners selected the indicators where their expert opinion could be provided. It was made clear that there was no expectation to score each indicator. Participants also selected the range of their expert opinion from the options of local, regional and national. The status and trends selected by Traditional Owners were used to inform the gradings presented in this report for Indigenous expert opinion of assessment indicators. Traditional Owners were remunerated for the time spent providing this input.

Indigenous case studies

A case study from each state, the Northern Territory and Torres Strait Islands was planned to provide reach around the nation. This meant 8 different case studies were sought, 4 to be included in the Marine chapter and 4 in the Coasts chapter. Each case study was selected to highlight some key aspect involving either recent Indigenous-led change, Indigenous management, traditional knowledge and/or an emerging area of growth. The potential authors for Indigenous case studies were contacted to seek their availability to develop the case study by the cut-off date. Five of the 8 planned Indigenous case studies were included: 3 were included in the Marine chapter and 2 were included in the Coasts chapter. Traditional Owners were remunerated for their time spent making this contribution.

Local Government Area survey

An online survey of all local governments areas (LGAs) in Australia was conducted to solicit information for the Coasts, Heritage and Urban Environment chapters in the SoE 2021 report. Each LGA that identified as ‘coastal’ (contained area within 50 kilometres of the sea) was asked to assess the status, trend and management effectiveness of coastal environmental components and pressures that occurred within their LGA, from the list of topics covered in this chapter. Thirty-four coastal LGAs responded with assessments (Figures 45 to 53).

Figure 45 Coastal local government areas that responded to the survey

Figure 46 LGA assessments of their own beaches and shorelines

Figure 47 LGA assessments of their local waterways

Figure 48 LGA assessments of their local habitat-forming species

Figure 49 LGA assessments of their local coastal species

Figure 50 LGA assessments of climate-driven pressures in their local coastal environment

Figure 51 LGA assessments of population-driven pressures in their local coastal environment

Figure 52 LGA assessments of industry-driven pressures in their local coastal environment

Figure 53 LGA assessments of biological pressures in their local coastal environment