Protecting our coastal environments

Coastal zones cover a diverse range of coastal ecosystems within marine, estuarine, and freshwater environments. These zones are some of the most heavily populated and visited areas on the planet and they are also some of the most threatened environments. Coastal zones are critically important not only to the people who live there but to the health of the planet.

A changing climate, warmer waters, rising sea levels, tropical cyclones, and coastal erosion are just some of the elements impacting coastal communities worldwide and transforming coastal environments. Coastal hazards such as storm events with associated storm surges are increasing in frequency and intensity, as are marine heatwaves that devastate coral reefs. Human activities like land reclamation, overfishing, dredging, and the construction of shipping ports are also responsible for coastal pollution and degradation. The potential coastal impacts are varied and can include damage to estuarine and marine environments and a loss of coastal biodiversity, or erosion—causing permanent changes to the coastline.

Associated schools, institutes & centres


Researchers at UNSW Canberra are playing a vital role in developing strategies to manage coastal changes and protect coastal systems for future generations. Our research focuses on the observation and numerical modelling of coastal environments and sea-level changes due to the impacts of climate change, anthropogenic interventions and mesoscale atmospheric modelling of landfalling tropical cyclones. This research supports sustainable development and improves the management of coastal zones both in Australia and worldwide.

Our research is conducted through two main research groups:

Our research covers:

  • Coastal Oceanography – utilising cutting-edge technologies to explore the interactions of marine ecosystems and common environmental stressors within estuarine and coastal waters.
  • Coastal and marine natural resource management – developing a scientific and technical understanding of natural resources and marine ecology to influence the policies and practices responsible for protecting and optimising these environmental assets.
  • Remote sensing and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) - utilising computer-based tools and sensors to map and analyse the Earth’s surface to assist in the sustainable management of natural resources and address the threats of climate change.

Successful applications

  • Successfully produced numerical simulations of Darwin Harbour which indicate that if the mangroves and tidal flats are reclaimed, the total sediment flux could be orientated reversely from seaward to landward causing increased harbour siltation.
  • Successfully developed marine microplastic tracking model TrackMPD. The model tracked and predicted the dispersion of lost cargo debris due to the Port Stephens shipping container spill in May 2018. 


We work closely with the Ocean University of China and several other Chinese partners in collaborative research on coastal oceanography and management. The UNSW Canberra campus and several faculties of UNSW in Sydney contribute to the Research Consortium.

Our researchers

 Thomas Oliver
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Professor and Associate Dean Education Liz Ritchie-Tyo
Professor and Associate Dean Education
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 Xiao Hua Wang
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