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, rose-gold dipped saltmarshes, 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, these southern seascapes are also known as the “forgotten coastlines.” Until now, relatively little attention has been paid to protecting or restoring southern coastal habitats and the essential human services they provide. A report released in 2019 reveals the often underappreciated value of Australia’s coastal wetlands.
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.
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.
Projects and Places
Port Phillip Bay and Western Port
It is estimated that Victoria’s mangroves and saltmarsh, store 23 thousand tons of carbon each year, or the equivalent of 18,350 cars. Not only do they store carbon, but they also enhance coastal fisheries, just seagrasses alone, in Port Phillip Bay, enhance our coastal fisheries by 343 tonnes of fish per year, or equivalent to $6.1 million 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 team recently published a paper on optimal soil carbon sampling designs based on their work in this region.
Richmond River Estuary
The Richmond River is one of the five largest estuaries in the region that support highly productive ecosystems and human land uses. The estuary of the Richmond River is a significant natural community asset. For millennia the estuary and surrounding floodplain (the largest in coastal NSW) supported local Bungalung aboriginal communities. European settlement in the area began during the early 1800s with the river used for transportation of timber. As the local population grew and thrived, increasing development and land-use changes have impacted the estuary’s health. Historical and current day activities such as broad scale vegetation clearing, drainage of the floodplain wetlands and changes to vegetation species have led to widespread reduction in the resilience of the estuary and surrounding floodplain.
Over the last 20 years a number of habitat restoration projects have occurred in the Richmond River estuary. Therefore, the Richmond River estuary not only provides the MOW-AUS team with an opportunity to study the delivery of benefits from coastal habitats, but also how restoration can provide additional benefit to the local community. Additionally, the Richmond River also provides a unique case-study to better appreciate the delivery of fish, blue-carbon, and tourism and recreation opportunities for humans by coastal habitats provided by the Northern Rivers region’s estuaries.
View a map of Richmond River blue carbon here.
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.
Mobile Phones & Satellites
Mobile phone and GPS data has recently been used to monitor human population changes almost in real time.
Soil Cores & Measuring Tape
The OzMOW team are collecting sediment core samples and taking vegetation measurements from saltmarsh, mangroves, and seagrasses across southeastern Australia.
Project Team & Partners
Dr. Chris Gilles
Dr. Peter Macreadie
Dr. Daniel Ierodiaconou
Dr. Emily Nicholson
Dr. Simon Reeves
Dr. Mary Young
Dr. Paul Carnell
Dr. Biao Huang
Dr. Clare Duncan
Dr. Pawel Waryszak
Mapping Ocean Wealth Australia: The value of coastal wetlands to people and nature. Carnell, P.E, Reeves, S.E, Nicholson, E., Macreadie, P. Ierodiaconou, D., Young, M., Kelvin, J., Janes, H., Navarro, A., Fitzsimons, J., Gillies, C.L. The Nature Conservancy, Melbourne. (2019).
Optimal soil carbon sampling designs to achieve cost-effectiveness: a case study in blue carbon ecosystems. Young, M.A., Macreadie, P., Duncan, C., Carnell, P.E., Nicholson, E., Serrano, O., Duarte, C.M., Shiell, G., Baldock, J., Ierodiaconou, D. Biology Letters (2018).
Image credit: © Simon Reeves