Victoria’s mainland and island coastline totals 2,512 kilometres in length. The Victorian coast is a naturally dynamic environment that is constantly changing and evolving.
The coast is also an area of immense environmental, cultural, social and economic significance. Given these values, there are competing demands for the use and development of the coast and decision-makers are challenged to balance these values.
Victoria's coast supports a diverse range of ecosystems. The south coast of Australia is the only major south-facing coastline in the world and has been isolated for approximately 65 million years. This isolation has meant many species have evolved that only exist in south-eastern and southern Australian waters. Reef systems, seagrass beds, towering kelp forests, sponge gardens, intertidal rock platforms and other habitats support the world's largest diversity of red and brown seaweeds, sea mosses, crabs, shrimps and sea squirts. Recent marine mapping has discovered previously unexplored seascapes and communities of organisms new to science.
There are about 123 bays, inlets and estuaries - varying in water area from around one square kilometre to 2,000 square kilometres. Estuaries are important for fish spawning or as nursery grounds. Salt marshes, mangroves and wetlands are important nesting and feeding grounds for a broad range of significant waterbirds and waders, including migratory species.
Ecosystems on the foreshore and hinterland vary greatly. Large and small beaches give way to dune systems. In the swales behind the dunes, woodlands commonly exist, with some small pockets of threatened coastal Moonah woodlands still surviving. In other parts, dry forests can be found down to the beach edge and coastal heath exists along cliffs and rocky coasts.
The coast provides significant social values for Victorians. The coast's natural aesthetics, heritage, and the diverse range of recreational pursuits it supports make it attractive and valuable for residents, visitors and tourists. In Victoria, the coast is largely accessible to the general public and provides for a wide range of experiences, from the bustling city beaches to smaller seaside settlements and untouched coastline in remote areas.
Coastal heritage values play an important role in creating our sense of place and defining who we are. Coastal heritage comprises many different layers of history and meaning, from areas of natural significance to past and present Aboriginal traditions. Coastal heritage encompasses places created by early and recent settlers; and includes customs, celebrations and special characteristics that build community pride and enhance social cohesion.
Commercial activities on the coast rely on, and are supported by the natural assets of the Victorian coast. Coastal-dependent industries such as fishing, aquaculture, tourism and recreational pursuits, ports, shipping, and oil and gas extraction make a significant contribution to local and regional economies and the Victorian economy as a whole (VCS 2008).
A study by consultants, URS in 2007: Assessing the Value of the Coast to Victoria, identified some of the commercial and intrinsic economic contributions the coast makes to Victoria's economy each year.
Commercial ports, shipping, commercial fishing, aquaculture and some renewable energy industries rely directly on coastal assets. Together with coastal tourism, these industries contribute over $2.8 billion a year to the Victorian economy. If the petroleum industry is included, the total value is over $5.8 billion, and although most of the industry's raw resources are outside state waters, much of the handling, processing and refining operations are within the coastal area (URS, 2007).
The value of informal recreation such as walking, recreational fishing, sailing, and sightseeing has been estimated at more than $1.9 billion (URS, 2007). This shows how significant coastal ecosystem services are, and how protecting natural coastal ecosystems is crucial because of their inherent value and their contribution to Victoria's economy.