The 2003 National Coastal Community Survey : results for Waikato beach communities

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Stewart, C.; Leonard, G.S.; Johnston, D.M.; Hume, T.M. 2005 The 2003 National Coastal Community Survey : results for Waikato beach communities . Lower Hutt: Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences. Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences science report 2005/28 114 p.

Abstract: Between January and June 2003, a national survey of people living in and visiting coastal communities was conducted to determine their awareness and perceptions of, and preparedness for, natural hazards. This report presents and discusses results for three Waikato coastal communities: Whitianga, Cooks Beach and Whangamata. These beaches are highly sought-after places to live, and attract large numbers of visitors. They also face a range of natural hazards. Whitianga and Cooks Beach are much more vulnerable to coastal erosion than Whangamata. Storms and cyclones can be expected to affect all three communities similarly, though local topography may intensify wind speeds at Cooks Beach. Whitianga is most prone to flooding (including storm surges) because of low-lying land along the beach front and estuary shores, and its large catchment size relative to the capacity of its estuary. Whitianga and Cooks Beach are particularly vulnerable to tsunami because of amplification effects in Mercury Bay. Questionnaires were delivered to Whitianga, Cooks Beach and Whangamata during January 2003. The overall sample size for these three communities was 298 responses from households (a return rate of 37%), and 119 responses from surveys administered to beachgoers (a return rate of 27%). The first set of questions was concerned with respondents’ perceptions of a range of natural hazards. When asked to choose, from a list provided, the two hazards most likely to affect the local area, hazards fell into two groups: high-frequency (coastal erosion, storms/cyclones and flooding), and low-frequency (tsunami, forest fires, earthquakes, landslides and volcanic ashfall). The high-frequency group was generally associated with higher proportions of respondents considering these hazards likely to affect the local area within 10 years, and with higher proportions of respondents claiming personal experience, and having suffered loss or damage, as a result of these hazards. Compared to the national average, Waikato survey respondents have had more personal experience of flooding, storms and cyclones, and less experience of earthquakes and volcanic ashfall. Coastal erosion was chosen as a special focus for this study. It is perceived as being a highly probable hazard, particularly for Whitianga and Cooks Beach where 92% and 86% of household respondents consider erosion likely to affect these areas within 10 years. However, the incidence of damage to personal property is very low. Only a small proportion (4%) of Waikato household respondents have personally experienced loss or damage as a result of erosion, which is about the same as for earthquakes and well behind numbers having experienced damage from flooding, storms or cyclones. This finding is consistent with the fact that only a few beachfront properties are directly at risk of coastal erosion. Over half of respondents in all samples consider that their property is likely to be affected by sea-level rise within 100 years . This perception is probably unduly alarmist, as development setback maps for these beaches show that only front-row properties are considered at risk within a 100-year timeframe. Storms are perceived as being the main cause of coastal erosion. However, expert opinion is that the fundamental cause of coastal erosion is more likely to be sea-level rise, as each incursion from the sea moves further inland over time. Preferred options for protecting against severe coastal erosion vary with location. People living in erosion-prone areas tend to be strongly in favour of hard defences (seawalls and rock barriers). Waikato household survey respondents are well-informed about coastal erosion (only 12% had seen no information on the topic, compared to the national average of 25%). However, only about 5% of respondents definitely intend to seek further information, or to become involved with a local group concerned with protection against coastal erosion. Tsunami were chosen as a contrasting special focus for this study, and are considered a low frequency hazard. The last major tsunami to reach New Zealand was in 1960, and its effects were noted in many areas including the Coromandel. In Whitianga, there was widespread flooding along the waterfront, and strong currents swept boats out to sea. Our findings suggest that this event is still remembered in Whitianga, and has influenced perceptions of this hazard. Whitianga household respondents were more likely (69% compared to 40-55% of other samples) to consider a tsunami likely within their lifetime. This sample was also much more likely to choose the most appropriate timescale (‘in the last 100 years’) when asked how recently the local area had last experienced a tsunami, and also showed greater familiarity with New Zealand’s tsunami warning system. Regardless of location, almost all (>90%) survey respondents know what to do if they hear a tsunami warning: to go inland or to high ground. However, there are some concerns that respondents may not understand how quickly tsunami waves from a large local earthquake could arrive. Risk perception of tsunami hazards can be described as very low overall, although somewhat higher for Whitianga household respondents. All respondents are much less well-informed about tsunami than about coastal erosion, with around 70% of the Waikato household sample having seen no information on tsunami compared with 12% who have seen no information on coastal erosion. Similar to the situation for coastal erosion, only about 5% of respondents definitely intend to seek further information on tsunami hazards, how to prepare for tsunami, or to join a local group concerned with reducing tsunami risk. The theoretical basis for this study was a proposed risk perception-preparation model, of which the key feature is the proposition that the major determinant of whether people will take action to prepare themselves for natural disasters is that they will first develop the conscious resolve to do so (‘intention formation’). Given that intention formation is thought to be the main precursor to an actual state of being prepared, the very low levels of respondents indicating a definite resolve to prepare themselves is of concern, especially if the self selection of respondents who presumably are interested in this topic is taken into account. (auth)