The following comments represent feedback by the Nature Coast Marine Group and Coastwatchers on the discussion paper prepared for the Narooma workshop in March 2018.
The discussion paper does not mention the State Government’s 2014 Marine Estate Community Survey, which gathered extensive data on attitudes of NSW people towards the marine environment. This can be accessed at:
The survey is not without flaws, but is able to shed light on many aspects of the relationship between NSW residents and the coast.
A problem with the discussion paper is that it gives little attention to the main attraction of the area – its laid back unspoiled character. No mention is made of the extensive network of national and marine parks. While most people would wish to see development in tourism so that the region could benefit economically, particularly in terms of employment, any strategy has to be conscious also of the potentially adverse impact of increased visitation and population on the quality of the very attractions that draw people to the area. Any tourist development has to be focused on bringing benefit to the area and its people. If the result is just growth for the sake of growth, with benefit going to the few rather than the many, the exercise will have no point.
We are puzzled at the priority given to fishing in the discussion paper and were struck by the extent to which the statistics used are misleading. On the importance of fishing in the overall picture, the number involved in fishing (612,935) is just 6.2% of the total number of visitors (9.95 Million) so clearly is fairly small rather than of overriding significance. The claim that participation in fishing has grown on average by 5% p.a. over 6 years is simply a product of the time frame you have chosen to use. If you had used a 5 year time frame you would have had to conclude that participation in fishing had declined by over 3% p.a. Fishing is moreover a heavily male-oriented activity (NSW DPI, Survey of Recreational Fishing 2015, p 20), which indicates that its appeal is not broadly-based. This is not to say there is a problem with fishing per se, but it should be seen as a ‘traditional’ holiday activity that may be less and less a focus for future visitors, while still constituting a part of the region’s attraction.
The nature of people’s engagement with the marine environment is complex and sometimes can be difficult to articulate. Nevertheless there is no doubt that people feel a deep personal attachment to the ocean and shore that brings them a sense of peace, wonder and renewal. We believe it is this that attracts visitors, who experience these feelings through a range of activities that are in harmony wth their surroundings.
For this reason, it seems odd that the discussion paper would devote four pages to analysing ‘attributes’ and infrastructure relating to recreational fishing and virtually nothing to these other activities that are important attractions for visitors. These include:
- Whale watching
- Seal watching
- SCUBA diving
- Rock shelf rambling
- Joy flights
- Sky diving
We would see these areas as underpinning future growth and worthy of extensive consideration and promotion of how to maximise benefits to visitors. For example, scuba divers can, in a half-day trip out of Narooma, enjoy one of the world’s great wildlife experiences, diving first with the Grey Nurse Sharks and then with the Australian fur seals. Grey Nurse Sharks at the Tollgate Islands can also be visited from Batemans Bay. Ecotourism to Montague Island is consistently highly rated, with visitors able to see a wide range of wildlife, including whales, and to visit the historical attractions on the Island. There is also scope for innovative approaches to tourism, with a local entrepreneur, David Rowland, working on the use of underwater remotely operated cameras from tourist boats to show visitors the wonders of the marine world in real time (see www.undersearov.com). There are many ways in which low-impact measures could facilitate such activities – such as walking trails, signage, entry ramps to the water for scuba divers and snorkelers and a wider range of guided tours, for example to rock shelves and inlets.
The description provided of various ‘benchmarks’ for coastal tourism experiences are of interest, but we regard several of them as completely inappropriate to the local situation. References to the surroundings of large cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have little relevance for South Coast NSW. The San Francisco Bay, for example, has been utterly changed for the worse from its natural state by dredging and invasive species. Few South Coast residents would welcome the construction of theme parks as a substitute for natural attractions. Nova Scotia’s tourism approach is more relevant, but its status as a seafood exporter has to be seen against the background of the collapse of the previous cod fishery as a result of overfishing. There may also be lessons that could be drawn from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
We are sceptical of increasing cruise ship visitation to the region. We would oppose any infrastructure developments that had harmful impacts on the coastal environment. That said, visits that are consistent with care for the environment can be supported.
President, Nature Coast Marine Group