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Great Southern Seascapes

The southern coastlines of temperate Australia are home to some of the most diverse collections of underwater seascapes in the world. From giant kelp forests, to vast seagrass meadows, high-latitude mangroves, cool-water corals and kaleidoscopic sponge gardens, 85 percent 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. Paradoxically, however, southern seascapes are also known as the “forgotten coastlines.” Until now, relatively little attention has been paid to protecting or restoring coastal habitats and the essential human services they provide.

Australia’s oceans are expected to contribute $100 billion per annum to our economy by 2025, yet there is increasing uncertainty in how our oceans will cope with growing exploitation and climate change. Thus, our planning, conservation and investment decisions need to factor in the health and resilience of Australia’s oceans.

Dr. Peter Macreadie

Deakin University

Projects and Places

Port Phillip Bay

Port Phillip Bay Saltmarsh (credit Donna Squire/Deakin University)

Port Phillip Bay and Western Port lie on the doorstep of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest and fastest growing city with a population of 4.4 million people. Within these bays lies an intermingling network of saltmarsh, mangroves and seagrass habitats. Importantly, these marine habitats are the only habitats on earth that can store atmospheric carbon dioxide for millennia.

It is estimated that Melbourne’s marine habitats store the equivalent of 5% of the city’s annual carbon emissions and enhance our coastal fisheries, at the rate of 1 kg of fish per year, just those two benefits are worth up to $110m annually. These, and other findings were part of a case study on ecosystem services written for the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Victoria   and its 2016 State of the Bays Report.  This included preliminary maps developed for coastal blue carbon and fish productivity for Victoria.

The Mapping Ocean Wealth project in Australia is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Deakin University, Department of Land Water and Planning, Victoria, Victorian Fisheries Authority, Parks Victoria, NSW Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries, and NSW Office of Environment and Heritage with support from The Thomas Foundation, HSBC Australia, Ian Potter Foundation and Australian Research Council.

Richmond River Estuary


Our Approach

The generalized Mapping Ocean Wealth method can be summarized as “Review–Model–Map”. By reviewing and analyzing existing information about ecosystems and ecological processes (Review), we can use that information to construct new mathematical models, “production functions”, to better understand the social and economic benefits provided by coastal ecosystems (Model).  OzMOW has broadly followed this approach, however data isn’t always available to review, so a new, very conventional step has been added “Review–Collect–Model–Map”. To this end the MOW Oz team have been out amongst Australia’s mangroves, seagrass and saltmarsh collecting new data. The data collecting step has enabled us to use a number of novel and exciting technologies, but also some well established tools of the trade.


Scientific use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones is growing.

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They are a great tool to collect high resolution imagery, as they increase fieldwork efficiency and reduce costs by increasing the amount of area a research team can cover. OzMOW are using drones to map mangrove, seagrass and saltmarsh vegetation and to generate 3d models enhancing our capacity to monitor the amount of carbon bound in the living tissues (biomass) of these coastal plants.

Some example uses of UAVs by the marine mapping group at Deakin University part of the OzMOW team can be seen here and here

Mobile Phones & Satellites

Mobile phone and GPS data has recently been used to monitor human population changes almost in real time (REFS).

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Often it is difficult to monitor human use of coastal ecosystems, particularly in Australia where our coastal ecosystems can be very remote.  Using this exciting mobile phone technology, we can track the risk of transmission of infectious diseases (Buckee et al., 2013, Tatem et al., 2014, Wesolowski et al., 2015) and exposure to air pollutants (Gariazzo et al., 2016). OzMOW are hoping to take advantage of recent changes in Australian legislation that has ruled mobile phone location information as non-personal information and to use this information to understand human movements within remote Australian coastal ecosystems and compare these to satellite images where we can identify recreational and commercial fishing boats. Detailed knowledge about human use of coastal ecosystems can provide insight of targeted areas by recreational users, outline areas of high economic interest, and help to prioritize management actions. 

Soil Cores & Measuring Tape

The OzMOW team are collecting sediment core samples and taking vegetation measurements from saltmarsh, mangroves, and seagrasses across southeastern Australia.

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We can use sediment core samples to measure blue carbon sediment stocks, as well as the age of the sediment, which is used to calculate the rate that carbon is stored (Carbon sequestration). Vegetation measurements can be used to estimate how much carbon is stored in the form of biomass – leaves, stems and roots, we can there combine the soil cores and above ground biomass to know how much carbon is stored by different coastal wetland types. By comparing these samples to samples taken in nearby, non-wetland areas, we can calculate the carbon storage and sequestration potential of each ecosystem type, and measure variation in the amount of carbon stored by coastal ecosystems. 


Project Team & Partners

Dr. Paul Carnell


Dr. Peter Macreadie

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Simon Reeves

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Photo Credits