Half of the residents living in NSW coastal communities think rising sea levels will not affect them directly, new data released by scientists at the University of NSW has shown.

The report describes what the NSW community understands about coastal erosion and inundation, as well as the driving forces behind these hazards such as sea level rise and severe coastal storms. It was released on the anniversary of the 2016 east coast low ‘superstorm’ which caused widespread damage along Australia’s east coast.

“Our coastline is changing,” said Professor Rob Brander from the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. “Many locations along the NSW coast are seeing amenity loss and infrastructure damage associated with flooding of normally dry land by sea water, often caused by storms surges or king tides.

“These storm events will continue in the future,” he said. “Combined with projected sea level rise, they will increase the extent of coastal erosion damage and lead to greater inundation of coastal zones throughout NSW, particularly in low-lying estuarine areas,” he says.

The researchers say people’s understanding and perception of storms and sea level rise, and their associated impacts of erosion and inundation, can significantly influence how and whether they engage in coastal adaptation actions – often influencing the success or failure of those actions.

“That’s why we wanted to find out what coastal communities understand and perceive about coastal hazards and how these hazards will affect their use of the coast in the future,” says study author Anna Attard from UNSW Science. “We think that’s an important aspect of building community resiliency and preparedness to coastal erosion and inundation.”

The My Coast NSW Study surveyed more than 1000 people from NSW coastal areas across three main groups – Coastal Management Professionals, General Coastal Users and people operating Coastal Accommodation Businesses. The report is intended to help local councils and coastal management professionals develop effective educational strategies and programs.

“Our ultimate goal is to help improve the ability of NSW coastal communities to adapt sustainably to the risk of coastal erosion and inundation,” Ms Attard says.

Lack of community knowledge about the direct impact of sea level rise is one of the key aspects of the report findings, which the authors say is concerning, given that sea level rise is a key factor driving coastal erosion and inundation.

The report identified a clear disconnect between what coastal management professionals think the public should know about coastal hazards, and what the public wants to know more about. “General coastal users told us that would like to know more about how climate change will impact their immediate coast, what the possible solutions are and who the ‘key players’ of coastal management are,” says Ms Attard.

“But coastal professionals said coastal communities need more information about direct personal and public risks associated with coastal hazards, general information about coastal hazards and processes, and their impacts on the greater NSW community – that’s very different from what the general users said their information needs are. Community engagement needs to be a two-way process to address that disconnect.”

The full report is available at – https://www.bees.unsw.edu.au/nsw-my-coast-study