Scientists call for protection of Australia's subtropic seas

Nov 22, 2010

Leading scientists and marine managers have called for a greater national effort to protect vital 1000-kilometre stretches in the middle of Australia's eastern and western coastlines.

In a major statement entitled The Coffs Harbour Subtropical Reefs Declaration, they urge increased focus and better management for reefs south of the and WA tropical coral zone, explaining that these more southerly areas are expected to become critical refuges for northern tropical marine life under .

The declaration follows a workshop by researchers and marine managers at Coffs Harbour in September which concluded that the subtropics will play a key role in safeguarding Australia's tropical marine life as ocean warming drives it southwards – especially if northern coral reefs die off, as some scientists fear.

The Coffs Harbor Declaration was made by a new expert group called the Sustainable Subtropical Reefs Alliance (SuSRA), which has been established to advocate for greater ocean research and conservation on coastal areas between Sydney and Bundaberg on the east coast and Perth and Shark Bay on the west coast.

Among its signatories are scientists from five of Australia's east coast universities – Tasmania, Sydney, Southern Cross, Queensland and James Cook, marine park managers, and the CSIRO (Queensland and Western ).

“The subtropics are really about life on the edge - where tropical and temperate marine species meet and mix in a rich diversity," said Professor John Pandolfi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland.

"There is already evidence that tropical species are migrating southwards in response to warming, making the subtropics all the more important.

“Unfortunately we only have a limited understanding of what's out there and what's happening to it, on which to base our future management – and this gap in our knowledge needs to be closed quickly, so we can integrate the management of our entire coastal regions better.”

The eastern subtropical coastline, and increasingly the west too, are among Australia's fastest-growing regions, throwing surging human pressures on ocean ecosystems, The University of Queensland's Dr Maria Beger said.

“These environments are already under major stress from changing climate and oceanic currents – and to this we are adding increased activities like pollution, runoff, coastal development and fishing," she said.

“We need to ensure we protect the resilience of this region, as well as the northern coral zones.

"At the same time, the future of our central coastal communities, their industries and their lifestyle depends on preserving a healthy marine environment.”

The Coffs Harbour Declaration states that the eastern and western coasts of Australia are amongst the longest latitudinal tracts of subtropical coastal marine habitat in the world, encompassing beaches, rocky foreshores, offshore islands, shoals and reefs.

Changes in fish and coral distribution now being observed by scientists have made it imperative to re-evaluate conservation plans for the central coasts and strengthen them where necessary, it states.

The declaration highlights seven priorities for improving the management of Australia subtropical marine environment:

1. Integrate science and resource management across federal, state and local agencies to ensure better planning and management of subtropical marine areas;
2. Study how social, economic and political factors affect the management of coastal resources and the services they in turn provide to coastal communities;
3. Understand the existing ecology and map existing coastal habitat;
4. Evaluate threats to marine resources from land-based activities, benchmark their past and current status and monitor changes;
5. Determine pathways for tropical marine ‘invaders' moving into the due to climate change, and the impact on local species;
6. Determine which sites (refugia) are critical to preserving subtropical marine fish, corals and other species in the event of profound environmental change;
7. Investigate natural variability of existing subtropical marine areas (so as to detect unusual changes).

The declaration says: “We call upon practitioners, managers, researchers, funding bodies and governments to recognise that these priority areas require urgent attention and investment to enable effective and efficient decision making for the future of subtropical reefs.”

Explore further: Toolkit for ocean health

More information: The full text of the Coffs Harbour Declaration is available at: www.coralcoe.org.au/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Call to heal the world's coral reefs

Oct 07, 2010

There is still time to save the world's ailing coral reefs, if prompt and decisive action can be taken to improve their overall health, leading marine researchers say.

Recommended for you

Toolkit for ocean health

1 hour ago

The ocean is undergoing global changes at a remarkable pace and we must change with it to attain our best possible future ocean, warns the head of The University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute.

Tool kit for ocean health

4 hours ago

The ocean is undergoing global changes at a remarkable pace and we must change with it to attain our best possible future ocean, warns the head of The University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute.

Researcher studies interactions between land and water

4 hours ago

Early one morning last January, MIT undergraduate Theresa Oehmke was eating breakfast at the Kilauea Military Camp on Hawaii's Big Island when a colleague burst into the room, yelling, "Oh my god, the plume, ...

Geoengineering our climate is not a 'quick fix'

5 hours ago

The deliberate, large-scale intervention in the Earth's climate system is not a "quick fix" for global warming, according to the findings of the UK's first publicly funded studies on geoengineering.

US to propose stricter smog standard

7 hours ago

Coming full circle on a campaign promise, the Obama administration will propose Wednesday to reduce the amount of smog-forming pollution allowed in the air, which has been linked to asthma, lung damage and ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.