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Communities are key to keeping our estuaries healthy

Estuarine health is everyone's business, so empowering the community to make habitual change that benefits coastal lakes and estuaries is crucial. The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has partnered with local stakeholders, including councils and community groups across NSW to increase community understanding of a wide range of complex ecological processes and to explain how their actions can make a difference to estuarine health.

As part of the estuary health monitoring program, OEH staff have worked with councils to support monitoring and reporting activities. They have also been instrumental in communicating with the broader community about how estuaries function, so the community understands how local behaviour change can create important conservation outcomes.

OEH has worked to get all members of the community involved, conducting regular face-to-face meetings with small groups of council staff, as well as larger community forums during the week for business and pensioners, and on the weekend for workers and children.

In helping councils to engage, OEH has developed a range of communication materials that easily explain complex environmental processes. This includes a comprehensive portfolio of PowerPoint slides and videos summarising results, processes and estuarine functions, specific to each estuary.

Councils have used this material to create simple, colourful and informative presentations, website content, presentations at schools, and teacher resource packs to communicate with the broader community about ecological processes and the need for local behaviour change.

The Wyong Shire Council's Love our Living Lakes website is an example of this dynamic communication approach, which recognises that different audiences want information in a range of formats, depending on their background and experience.

Feedback from councils is that they have subsequently been able to 'base strong policy changes on scientifically robust information that was clearly understood and accepted by the decision-makers (Councillors) and the rate payers (general public)' (Prue Tucker, Great Lakes Council).

The active inclusion of community groups in the estuary health assessment process is another way in which OEH has fostered collective management of estuary health. Here, OEH staff conducted collaborative 'citizen science' programs with local residents, including the involvement of a local community action group in the collection and study of data related to the Myall River. This project has delivered positive outcomes on issues along with strong and respectful working relationships.

Following these efforts, the level of community interest and participation has been particularly satisfying.

The OEH Estuaries and Catchments Team's win in the Innovation category at the 2013 Annual NSW Coastal Management Awards is also reflective of the project's success.

Lake Ainsworth, mangrove and saltmarsh areas

Page last updated: 13 July 2015