Coastal Restoration Trust of New Zealand

Coastal Dune Ecosystem Reference Database

Towards a more-than-human political ecology of coastal protection: Coast Care practices in Aotearoa New Zealand

Gesing, F.
Journal / Source
Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Coastal protection measures are intended to stabilize the boundaries of land and sea—and of private property. But structural engineering solutions, such as seawalls, have negative side-effects in terms of environmental and climate justice: they cause erosion of adjacent areas, they limit public access, and they can lead to the loss of sandy beaches. So-called “soft” coastal protection approaches promise more sustainable and just alternatives. The article explores the role of the more-than-human in such practices. Arguing that the popular framing of coastal protection as “working with nature” is a strategic naturalization, the paper aims to develop a more-than-human take on the political ecology of coastal protection. The empirical basis is built from ethnographic material on volunteer dune restoration by Coast Care groups in Aotearoa New Zealand. The analysis shows that the “multispecies agencies” (Locke, 2013) at work in various practices associated with Coast Care include communities of plants and animals, human care work and artefacts, as well as abiotic elements such as sand, wind, water and concrete. The article argues that to foster political and practical engagements for more sustainable coastal naturecultures, these entanglements should be made explicit and accountable. A more-than-human political ecology approach to understand the promises of soft coastal protection therefore combines three analytic sensibilities. Firstly, it looks at the ontological politics and categorization practices that define and enact specific versions of coastal nature. Secondly, it focuses on the politics of care in multispecies worlds, including the abiotic. And thirdly, it takes into account the “ordinary politics” of contested coastal space, decision-making and planning.