Reflections on the Australian Coastal Restoration Network Symposium: Strengthening Partnerships

Last week, a delegation from Revive Our Gulf headed to Townsville to participate in the Australian Coastal Restoration Network Symposium. This two-day conference brought together specialists in coastal restoration, from across Australia, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange.

A New Zealand delegation and the infusion of Māori tikanga into the conference gave the conference a distinctive lift! Nicola MacDonald (Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust) and Kīngi Makoare (Ngati Whātua Ōrākei) put forward captivating kaikaranga and kaikōrero respectively, in response to the Welcome to Country given by Aunties from the Bindal Tribe, on whose country the conference was taking place.

It was an exceptional opportunity to strengthen bonds among the Revive Our Gulf partners, including Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, and Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, who generously shared their indigenous perspectives throughout the event, and Dr. Jen Hillman from the University of Auckland, who also presented to her peers about kūtai restoration research and innovations across New Zealand.

Throughout the symposium, several key themes emerged, enhancing our collective understanding of coastal restoration. One resounding truth was that nearly all restoration projects are carried out in environments that have suffered extensive loss, with scale losses exceeding 90%. This sobering realisation underscores the urgent need for collaborative efforts between indigenous peoples, universities, governments, NGOs, and local communities to support and restore these environments.

While we can draw lessons from one another, it became evident that restoration is inherently site-specific, demanding tailored approaches and adaptive strategies. We observed that our Australian counterparts have substantial budgets, that far exceed those in New Zealand, but despite that, securing long-term funding was the top issue for most, closely followed by the need to streamline permitting and regulatory processes so that more of the scarce funds are spent on restoration progress.

Manual labour and small-scale interventions still dominate the field of coastal restoration, apart from oyster restoration which is occurring at reasonable scale and involves significant community and land-based infrastructure. Projects focused on the revitalisation of seagrass and kelp also require land-based infrastructure, including nurseries, and rely heavily on community efforts for seed collection. And, at the extreme innovation end, there are trials underway to cool and shade the Great Barrier Reef. The symposium showcased a shared willingness among practitioners to collaborate and share insights, recognising that collective knowledge and collaborative efforts are crucial to achieving impactful restoration outcomes at scale.

An essential takeaway from the symposium was the importance of raising awareness about the value of coastal ecosystems. Many attendees expressed the challenge of limited public knowledge regarding the significance of their restoration habitat, particularly those working on a specific strain of seagrass! Effective communication and education initiatives must be prioritised to garner support and promote the long-term sustainability of restoration efforts.

Matua Laurie Beamish (Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki), while providing a closing reflection, urged conference attendees to redouble their efforts in embracing partnerships with indigenous peoples. He emphasised the importance of making scientific information accessible to a wider non-science audience. Reflecting on the absence of Australian indigenous people’s involvement in presenting their restoration activities, he viewed it as a real opportunity for future ARCN conferences to embrace and incorporate indigenous knowledge.

Finally, the conference provided a timely reminder of the privileges we enjoy in New Zealand. We should not take for granted our access to decision-makers, including politicians, who are instrumental in driving environmental change. Moreover, we must cherish the strength and wisdom of Tangata Whenua, whose involvement in marine restoration stems from their ancestral ties and the recognition of their role as kaitiaki and helps ensure that restoration efforts are holistic. Let us also appreciate the unique advantage of living in waters free from the perils of crocodiles!

The Australian Coastal Restoration Network Symposium reinforced the importance of collaboration, cultural exchange, and innovative restoration practices. The Revive Our Gulf team returns from this symposium with renewed motivation and new contacts for our collective efforts to restore the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park / Tīkapa Moana / Te Moananui ā Toi.

The trip to Townsville was made possible through the generous support of The Nature Conservancy, a partner of the Revive Our Gulf project.