Marine conservation in South Australia

26 01 2009

© U.R. Zimmer

© U.R. Zimmer

Just before the holidays last year I participated in the Conservation Council of South Australia‘s (CCSA) Coast & Marine in a Changing Climate Summit 2008. It was an interesting, mature and intelligent summit with some good recommendation surfacing. Although I certainly didn’t agree with all the recommendations (view the entire report here), I must say up front that I have been very impressed with the CCSA’s approach in their ‘Blueprint’ summit series to address South Australia’s environmental problems.

Many environmental groups, especially regional ones, are seen by many as raving environists1 with little notion for balance or intelligent debate. CCSA is definitely not one of those. They are very careful to engage with scientists, public servants, industry leaders and politicians to hone their recommendations into something realistic and useful. Indeed, I am now certain the only way to convince people of the necessity of dealing with the world’s environmental mess is to make intelligent, scientifically defensible arguments about how environmental degradation worsens our quality of life (yes, this is the principal aim of ConservationBytes.com). So, good on the CCSA for a rationale approach.

Enough about the CCSA for now – let’s move onto some of their marine-related recommendations. I won’t reprint the entire summary document here, but a few things are worthy of repetition:

Significantly increase the amount of resources available for marine species research and taxonomy, especially for non-commercial species.

Despite my obvious conflict of interest, I couldn’t agree more. One of the principal problems with our ability to plan for inevitable environmental change to lessen the negative outcomes for biodiversity, industry and people in general is that we have for too long neglected marine research in Australia. Given that most Australians live near the coast and almost all of us rely on the oceans in some way, it is insane that marine research in this country is funded almost as an afterthought. How can we possibly know what we’re doing to our life-support system if we don’t even know how it works?

Take climate change for example. The majority of climate change predictions are merely single-species predictions based on physiological tolerances. Most almost completely ignore species interactions. Any given species must compete with, eat and be eaten by others, so it’s insane not to combine community relationships into predictive models.

A strict monitoring regime should be implemented in all ports and harbours to continuously monitor [sic] for introduced marine pests in order to inform better management, in conjunction with the species outlined in the Monitoring section of the National System for the Prevention and Management of Marine Pest Incursions.

Many people, and scientists in particular, have traditionally turned their noses up at so-called ‘monitoring’. However, as a few Australian colleagues of mine recently observed, the marine realm has a huge, gaping hole in monitoring data necessary to determine the future of Australia’s marine environment. Take it from me, a scientist who regularly uses time-series data to infer long-term patterns (see Publications), it’s essential that we have more long-term data on species distributions, reproductive output, survival, etc. to make inference about the future.

Recreational fishing should be licensed, with the license fees being directed towards increased research of non-commercial species and education of recreational fishers.

I really like this one. It seems South Australia is the only state in the country that doesn’t have mandatory recreational fishing licences. Absolute madness. Given the capacity of recreational fishing to outstrip commercial harvests for some species (e.g., King George whiting Sillaginodes punctatus), we need vastly better monitoring via licences to determine local impacts. Not to mention the necessary generation of money to support monitoring and research, which to the average recreational fisher, would not be such a hefty price to pay. The political drive to keep the status quo is woefully outdated and counter-productive. See one of my previous posts on the potential impacts of recreational fishing.

There is a need for a co-ordinated, state/Adelaide-wide stormwater strategy. Currently the Stormwater Management Authority examines individual projects but does not manage a bigger picture with a co-ordinated approach.

A colleague of mine recently published an article showing how South Australian waters, being more oligotrophic on average than other areas of the country, are particularly susceptible to nutrient overloading. The main losers are seagrasses and macroalgae (kelp) forests – the Adelaide metropolitan coast has lost up to 70 % of its kelp forests since major urbanisation began last century.

There are many more recommendations that you can peruse at your leisure, and many of them will be updated this year once the CCSA incorporates all the received comments. I thank them for the opportunity to take part in their worthy aims.

CJA Bradshaw

1My colleague, Barry Brook, invented this excellent term to describe those people who blindly support anything ‘green’ without really thinking of the consequences. It’s also a great way to differentiate serious ‘environmentalists’ and conservation biologists from raving ‘greenies’.

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3 responses

29 01 2009
South Australian marine park boundaries released « ConservationBytes.com

[...] Australian marine park boundaries released 29 01 2009 As an addendum to my last post (Marine Conservation in South Australia), I thought it worth mentioning that the South Australian government has released its plans for [...]

28 01 2009
Corey Bradshaw

Apologies, Barry. I thought it was your original.

Also, apologies to Tom Blees.

27 01 2009
Barry Brook

Actually, alas, I can’t take credit for inventing the term. That goes (at least as far as I’m aware) to Tom Blees, author of Prescription for the Planet.

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