Celebrating Earth Hour – How we can help improve the health of coastal landscapes

In the lead-up to Earth Hour on 24 March 2018, it is important to explore the ways that young people can help care for their environment.

This excerpt from Oxford Big Ideas Geography 8 provides an inspiring insight into how damaged coastal landscapes and fauna are being rejuvenated, and how young people can get involved through organisations and programs such as Coastcare, Teach Wild and Ocean Care Australia.

Caring for coastal landscapes

Many human activities are changing coastal landscapes in negative ways.  Some of these changes (such as the building of new ports or holiday resorts) are deliberate, but many are accidental. A line of litter (such as fishing nets, plastic bottles and household rubbish) can be seen along the high tide mark of some beaches. The fragile vegetation on sand dunes is sometimes trampled and destroyed by thoughtless beach-goers; without the small bushes and trees that hold the dunes together, the wind blows sand further inland. Beaches are eroding, water quality is declining because of pollution and, in many places, coastal animals and plants are endangered by human activities.

Recognising that these threats exist, many people and organisations are working to preserve and protect our coastlines: from large global programs to individual volunteers who donate their time and energy. One such organisation is Coastcare, whose 60,000 volunteer members identify environmental problems in local coastal regions and work to solve those problems. Coastcare volunteers remove invasive weeds, litter and trampled plants from dune areas, and they plant new vegetation to anchor the dunes and keep the sand from blowing away.

Another organisation, Ocean Care Australia, is part of a global network that helps school and community groups to clean litter from coasts as part of an ‘adopt-a-beach’ program. Many schools, particularly those in coastal areas, have become involved in initiatives such as this.

Governments and large organisations have recognised the vital role that schools can play in educating young people about coastal issues. The Teach Wild program is just one of these. A partnership between the Australian Government (through CSIRO), Shell and Earthwatch Australia, this program enlists the help of school students to monitor the health of coastal ecosystems. As part of this program, school students collect and map debris (such as bottles, nets and other litter) found along the coast.

Case study: saving the Fairy Tern

Many plants and animals that live in the coastal environment are under threat from human activities. One bird that is considered to be at risk of extinction in Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia is the Fairy Tern. There are about 5000 Fairy Terns in Australia. About half of these live in Western Australia; the rest are found in a few smaller colonies, primarily in South Australia, Victoria and southern New South Wales. Fairy Terns lay their eggs and raise their chicks in open nests in sand dunes, without cover from grasses and bushes. This makes them especially vulnerable to attack from introduced predators, such as wild foxes and domestic cats and dogs. The other major threat comes from four-wheel-drive vehicles, which disturb nesting pairs and destroy nests by driving straight over them.

Those The terns that nest in national parks, however, have a helping hand. The managers of national parks can make and enforce clear rules about visitor behaviour. Restrictions on where people can go, and what they can and cannot do, are designed to protect the environment and to make the area safe for terns. In Coffin Bay National Park in South Australia, for example, Fairy Tern nesting sites have been fenced off and all vehicles are banned from these areas. Dogs are forbidden and fox numbers are kept under control through the use of poison baits. The numbers of birds are monitored by park rangers and by volunteer groups, such as Friends of Parks. These measures have seen the numbers of Fairy Terns in Coffin Bay stabilise. Rangers hope they will soon increase.


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