The coast has many qualities that make it attractive for living, including economic, social, recreational and cultural benefits. Human populations have been growing in Australian coastal areas since European colonisation, and have not slowed since 2011. With increasing coastal population comes increased pressures on the environment, many of which are discussed in the following sections. Of particular importance is urban sprawl, which results in natural habitats being lost to housing, roads and supporting facilities. Simultaneously, native vegetation is also converted to agriculture as food production intensifies to meet growing demands.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that, at the national scale, since 1991, population growth has been fastest near the coast (Figure COA1, left column). This trend was even stronger from 2011 to 2014 (Figure COA1, right column), indicating that coastal population growth is accelerating. Nationally, and especially in New South Wales and Victoria, there are also some signals of rapid population growth approximately 30 kilometres from the coast, which likely reflects growth of suburban residential areas close to major coastal cities.
There are strong differences in population density between tropical and temperate regions in Australia; most areas of tropical coast have low population densities. In contrast, temperate coasts host most of Australia’s major cities—such as Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong, Melbourne, Geelong, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth—and considerable lengths of urbanised coasts. Although population growth is large in some parts of northern Australia, it is increasing off a very low base compared with the south.