This paper examines how legal structures interact with land-use decisions in the coastal zone. The emphasis is on NSW where there has been a steady evolution of legislative and other measures to regulate how the coast is to be planned and managed. These measures arise from a long history of
individual, corporate, local government and State agency actions directed more at private benefit than at protecting and conserving environmental values for the public good. Alienation of foreshores, restrictions on access, buildings located in hazardous areas, canals exposing soils rich in acids,
and pollution of waterways are examples of degradation on this coast. Yet much remains to be protected. Expansion of coastal national parks over the past decade has helped. But new planning controls have been introduced to support the NSW Coastal Policy (1997). In essence, there is
evidence that the State government seeks to implement environmentally sustainable development principles to ensure that as the population continues to grow, decisions on future land uses will reflect the functioning of ecosystems and the dynamics of coastal and catchment geomorphology and
hydrology. Pressures from individuals and corporations exercising traditional property rights need to be managed within a statutory framework that facilitates sustainability of coastal environmental values cherished by so many.