On the coast of Western Australia, the town of Busselton awaits the arrival of a 3,000 ton concrete and steel whale breaking out of the depths of the Indian Ocean.
The Leviathan is part of a marine observation center, the Australian Underwater Discovery Center, a project costing A $ 30 million, approximately $ 23 million, and designed by Baca Architects and Subcon, a shipbuilding company. Located at the end of Busselton Jetty, a city attraction, it will be Australia's largest natural ocean observatory when it opens in December 2022.
The multi-level structure, which hosts art and science exhibits and allows visitors to marvel at life beneath the ocean's surface, is the latest example of a new onslaught of developments constantly popping up on the Australian coast to entertain and entertain locals attract international visitors.
Coastal developments in Australia are nothing new. Beach culture is part of national identity, and more than 80 percent of the country's population lives in coastal areas. However, population growth has spurred a surge in coastal projects, and experts say the pandemic is only accelerating the trend.
After years of delay, commercial development is picking up, said Mark Coster, director of capital markets for the Pacific at CBRE, a commercial real estate analyst.
"There has been significant coastal infrastructure spending in recent years. This has been fueled by population growth and a lack of spending for much of the past decade," he said.
This is certainly the case in Busselton – a town of 40,000 people about two and a half hours south of Perth. It has grown steadily and is expected to be one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. The development followed: the marine center, an airport extension, an art center, an open-air market, a Hilton hotel and a coastal project are under construction.
The whale-like structure is opposite the existing observatory, which struggled to accommodate the average of 700,000 visitors in the years leading up to the pandemic. Instead of removing the old observatory, officials will turn it into a working science laboratory and marine conservation education center.
"This new center is an investment in our local community and we hope to share it with people from all over the world soon," said Lisa Shreeve, Managing Director of Busselton Jetty. "There's something for everyone here."
According to a report by McKinsey & Company released in December, Australia weathered the pandemic well through lower lockdowns with lower Covid-19 infection and death rates than many comparable developing countries. "The economic downturn during the pandemic was also less pronounced than in many comparable economies," the report said.
However, this has not stopped the migration shifts, especially the growing attraction of leaving large cities in coastal enclaves. On the east coast, both Sydney and Melbourne saw population losses last year as people flocked to coastal and regional cities for comfort and space.
"Covid has been quick to fuel Australians' desire to be closer to the water, and the result is that smaller but well-equipped cities are booming," Coster said.
The net loss of population is unlikely to continue in major cities, but analysts predict that coastal cities and towns will continue to grow. The shift towards remote working only helps, said Mr Coster. "We are in the middle of a lifestyle change movement and we will see many more projects in these areas," he said.
Queensland's Gold Coast – a perennial lifestyle destination known for its white sand and blue coastline – is one such boomtown.
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The population grew and development accelerated at some of the highest rates in the country before the pandemic. State and national border closings have halted internal migration and tourism, but both are expected to snap back in the years to come.
Gold Coast City Council officials are adjusting their plan to keep up with the expected migration. The more noticeable part of this strategy involves further investment in large-ticket attractions like the Gold Coast Dive attraction – the world's first man-made floating reef.
Described by Kim Mayberry, the city's project coordinator, the underwater location is a “fusion of science, technology and art” and includes nine sculptures up to 65 feet tall, similarly slender trees tied to the sea floor. The structures move in the warm currents and over time they become covered in coral and algae that attract marine life.
The effort is an attempt to diversify the city's tourism beyond amusement parks and surfing. According to the city, more than A $ 30 million is expected to flow into the local economy in the first decade.
Smaller bourgeois spaces geared towards their communities are also experiencing a moment.
On most major beaches, the coastal patrol pavilions known as Surf Life Saving Clubs were once overlooked as functional buildings full of equipment such as surfboards and boats with perhaps a club room or bar. Now they are in great demand from developers and architects, who turn them into multifaceted community meeting places.
Roger Wood, a Melbourne architect who grew up on the Victoria coast, sees the trend as a more thoughtful approach to coastal development.
"There is a fundamental wave towards our coast and out of the big cities," said Mr. Wood. "Many people came and stayed in regional areas during the pandemic, so these small buildings on our beaches have suddenly become important parts of leisure and community infrastructure."
In 2019, Mr. Wood's architectural firm converted a Surf Life Saving Club in the popular Victorian coastal town of Ocean Grove into a modern wood and glass club with an eye-catching design that partially submerges the two-story building in a nearby sand dune. Inside is a mix of functional and social spaces, including a cafe and bar, which spill outside in the warmer months.
"It's now more of a community hub than a traditional life-saving place," said Wood. The development model is applied across the country. Other life-saving clubs, communal promenades and pavilions are to be renovated.
Both types of commercial projects – from the smaller, more community-oriented to the tourist attractions – are likely to play a role in the recovery of Australia's "blue economy", valued at around A $ 70 billion to A $ 100 billion annually, from fishing to marine industries to tourism.
In Australia, the tourism industry has spent most of its two years hibernating with international tourists who were prevented from traveling during the 2019-2020 bushfire season and then virtually inaccessible because of the pandemic.
To fuel recovery, tourism operators and developers will continue to create attractions and developments on the coast that are both attractive and environmentally friendly.
By and large, coastal developments in Australia have improved as the commercial real estate industry works more closely with other sectors such as science, said Dr. Beth Fulton, senior research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia's national science agency.
"There has been more cooperation over the past decade, which means that we are going in the right direction from a development perspective," she said.
Smart development needs to continue because "these are the places where there will be many changes in the coming decades due to climate change," she said. "We still have so much to learn from our oceans."
The team at Busselton Jetty shares this feeling as it prepares to install its whale-shaped underwater discovery center.
"We wanted to do it right from the start," said Ms. Shreeve. "Part of it may be about entertainment, but we are also equally interested in educating and working for our marine and marine life."