Contributed by Helen Savidge

Mapping Ocean Wealth Picks Up Marine Conservation Across Australia’s Forgotten Coastlines.

On the Southern edge of the Australian continent sit beautiful waterscapes, grass meadows and kelp forests. These southern coastlines are home to some of the most diverse collections of underwater seascapes in the world, and 85% of the estimated 12,000 marine species here are found nowhere else on Earth. These seascapes provide over 19 million Australians (80 percent of the total population) and five-out-of-eight capital cities with fresh seafood, abundant recreational opportunities and critical waste treatment and removal. These iconic coastlines draw people to them to live, dive, surf and eat, a wealth of social and economic activity. Paradoxically, however, southern seascapes are also known as the “forgotten coastlines.” Until now, conservation efforts have paid relatively little attention to restoring coastal habitats and the essential human services they provide, and protecting them from exploitation, coastal development and coastal eutrophication. These coastlines have witnessed considerable change.

This past year the Mapping Ocean Wealth project really picked up “down under” as The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Australia and its partners being preparing to map the coast as one of many global geographies focused on calculating and describing — in quantitative and spatial terms — all that the ocean does for us. “The aim of the Australia Mapping Ocean Wealth project is to help the local economy see this coast as a social and economic asset that returns investment in terms of care and cultivation. For example, people should be able to understand the value that healthy habitats provide our local economies and use that information to support smart investments and decision-making around ocean planning and protection,” explained Natalie Holland, Project Manager for TNC.

Australia-Oyster-ReefsFor example, oysters, saltmarsh, seagrass meadows and kelp forests, and the myriad of ecosystem services they provide, are usually under-appreciated coastal citizens. While oysters filter water and keep entire bays and estuaries clean of nutrients, their reefs provide homes and shelter for fish. On land they feed populations both directly and indirectly with the fish populations they help cultivate. And their incredibly useful presence in coastal ecosystems costs us nothing. Understanding the exact value of each of these functions (water filtration, fish production, seafood) and their outputs allows managers, planners and other decision-makers to evaluate the real cost and potential trade-offs between different uses of areas with shellfish reefs. The project will develop a series of localized spatial maps that quantify ecosystem services provided by temperate marine habitats like oysters including saltmarsh, mangroves and seagrass, focusing on marine habitats in central Victoria and northern New South Wales. They will assign a value to these ecosystems services in terms of social and economic benefits to people using locally relevant valuation methodologies for coastal protection, fisheries, tourism and/or recreation.

“Even though we are in the very early stages of the project”, explains Dr. Gillies, marine manager for Australia TNC, “We’re very excited so far about the response we have had when reaching out to our community, research and other partners. We believe that we can reach a vast audience and harness a wealth of new energy to rapidly accelerate the scale of estuary coastal restoration and protection across Australia’s coastline.”

Top photo: Shellfish reef restoration and research scientists in Melbourne waters, Australia. Photo credit: Chris Gillies.  

Middle photo:Native Australian oyster reefs. Photo credit: Chris Gillies.