When Jim Dahm graduated from the University of Waikato with a master's degree in earth sciences, he believed his studies had provided most of the knowledge needed for his work.
"What I have discovered since is that 99 per cent of it comes from the coastal communities I work with and my training is the other one per cent," Dahm said.
"Conversations with iwi in different coastal communities are always enlightening because often sound practices in caring for the environment already exist and they are intergenerational."
Dahm had been in Whanganui holding a number of "drop-in" sessions with the community during the past week to discuss how natural processes are shaping the beaches at Castlecliff and Kai Iwi while outlining some existing and potential issues and management possibilities.
As a scientist with more than 30 years' experience in managing coastal erosion, Dahm said he enjoyed the kind of work going on in Whanganui because it helped empower the community to make good decisions for their beaches.
The conversations, along with the results of the Whanganui District Council's coastal action plan survey, will inform the draft plan to address the impacts of climate change.
Climate change is causing additional erosion, particularly at Kai Iwi Beach (Mowhanau), and excessive sand movement at Castlecliff Beach. There are also valuable flora and fauna on the coast that require protection and restoration.
Dahm has presented suggestions for how the natural environment can be restored, while making adaptations for pedestrian and vehicle access that would allow that to continue.
Dahm's suggestions include the restoration of a foredune and relocation of the carparks at Castlecliff and the possible relocation of Archer's Bridge at Kai Iwi.
He has outlined the advantages and disadvantages of all the options along with those of the existing situations at both beaches.
"There is a good level of community awareness in Whanganui which puts it ahead of some coastal communities," Dahm said.
"It is a matter of looking for the right balance between taking care of the natural environment while allowing the community access to enjoy the beaches in the ways they want to.
"What impresses me about Whanganui is the willingness that groups with different interests have to work together."
The development and implementation of a coastal plan was adopted as one of the key challenges facing the council and community in its long-term plan deliberations last year.
Council policy manager Elise Broadbent said the plan would be a "living document" rather than a set of hard and fast rules.
"It is important that it should be adaptable and the plan subject to additions and alterations as we work through the different processes. In Whanganui, everything in the natural environment is so inter-connected with the river flowing from the mountains to the sea."
Broadbent said ongoing community and iwi consultations were intrinsic to making sure the plan would work for the environment and the people.
"We want to get a really good response to the survey as it will serve as a starting point to provide information about how people use their local beaches and what the main issues are," Broadbent said.
The coastal action plan survey can be found at whanganui.govt.nz/coastal-action-plan or call 06 349 0001.