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An exploration of the characteristics, structures and functions of Australian voluntary coastal conservation groups

posted on 15.10.2020, 00:00 by Julian Reid
The place where the land meets the sea, has an iconic status in the Australian culture and way of life with more than 85% of the population living a maximum of one hour away from the sea. Coastal and marine biodiversity underpins human existence, health and prosperity, but is under increasing environmental challenge.This challenge is met formally through government investment in biodiversity conservation, however, the levels of funding are declining. Alongside funded action, civic participation in voluntary work has presented one solution to addressing ecological challenges. The Australian federal, state and local governments have called on citizens to voluntarily participate in natural resource management programs associated with conserving biodiversity.On the other hand, there is a downward trend in participation across all voluntary sectors. It is important that the recruitment, ongoing participation and actions of environmental volunteer groups are better understood so that their contribution can be sustained and enhanced. The purpose of this research was to improve our understanding of the efficacy and sustainability of voluntary coastal conservation groups (CCGs) and to contribute to academic knowledge using approaches that are able to support this understanding. It used a qualitative mixed methods research approach. A review of the literature showed insufficient academic knowledge about the volunteer experience, and the operations and functions of present-day CCGs. One common approach outlined in the literature is the function’s approach to understanding the motivations, benefits and experience of volunteers in conservation work. This research investigated the functions of CCGs in the contemporary Australian volunteering context. It suggested modifications to these functions based on the findings in the data in the unique coastal context in this nation. However, understanding the functions of volunteers as individuals does not fully explain the ways in which CCGs operate to engage their i volunteers. To support an approach through which to understand the way the organisation itself operated, this research used a community of practice framework. This model was shown in the data to support the understanding of the ways in which volunteers drew together in the context of coastal conservation to work as a community in this domain. This focus on the operations of the CCG supported greater understanding of the way in which the social community of volunteers interacted and engaged in conservation work. The research findings were used to develop a CCG Functions Framework, specific to the coastal conservation volunteering context, which can be used by practitioners to further understand volunteers’ personal characteristics, reasons for volunteering, satisfaction and benefits attained from volunteering. This knowledge can be used to support the recruitment and retention of volunteers. The results of this research supported a CCG Communities of Practice Framework which was used to explain the operation of the CCGs and to make recommendations of community actions that are able to support and enhance the operations of CCGs and through this to improve conservation outcomes. The unique contribution of this research is the combination of two models that result in simple tools that can be used to audit CCGs. The first is a tool that integrates the motivations, perceived benefits and sources of satisfaction as characteristics of volunteers in coastal conservation work. The second is a tool that can be used to audit the operations of the CCG as a community of practice to better understand ways in which to enhance their function.



Central Queensland University

Additional Rights


Open Access


Author Research Institute

Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC)

Era Eligible



Dr Wendy Fasso ; Professor Bruce Knight

Thesis Type

Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format