From CSIRO (AU) ECOS : “What will it take to bring Australia’s lost coastal ecosystems back from the brink?”


Molly McShane

Australia’s coastal and marine ecosystems have suffered death from a thousand cuts. But scientists say it’s possible to bring them back from the brink – if we act now.

The Mungalla wetland, adjacent to the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, have been subject to rehabilitation and restoration projects for over 10 years. Image: JCU TropWATER.

Biodiversity loss and climate change are two tightly threaded crises, and the greatest humankind has faced. Coastal and marine ecosystem restoration has never been more urgent on a large scale, and our window of opportunity to regain what’s lost is vanishing.

Research led by scientists at CSIRO and James Cook University TropWATER has found that despite recent advances, coastal and marine restoration in Australia is often small-scale and experimental, and not yet expansive enough to meet biodiversity and climate change mitigation and adaptation objectives.

But the team also present a roadmap forward [below], showing how we can coordinate efforts to scale-up restoration and fast-track a national coastal restoration strategy.

Involving input from more than 170 contributors, including scientists, First Nations people, government agencies and funders, A Roadmap for Coordinated Landscape-scale Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Restoration [below] is the most forward-looking restoration review in Australia to date.

What’s the fuss – why is coastal restoration important?

We’ve lost a devastating amount of marine and coastal ecosystems over the past 200 years. That’s wetlands, saltmarshes, seagrasses, oyster reefs and kelp beds.

We’ve seen South Australian oyster reefs go extinct during our lifetime. The catastrophic death of 40 million mangrove trees in the Gulf of Carpentaria in 2015/2016. The disappearance of 95% of Tasmania’s giant kelp forests. And much more.

This ecosystem loss means a loss of habitats, and a loss of species. It means we’ve lost the ability to store vast amounts of carbon, ways to treat water, protect coastlines from erosion, and critical ‘highways’ for fish to breed or seek refuge.

Australians need coastal habitats, too, with about half of our population living on the coast. These ecosystems support our livelihoods and have high cultural significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The State of the Environment report [below] also found that ecosystem degradation is affecting our health and wellbeing.

Elevated ecological restoration is one of the most critical activities to mitigate and adapt to climate change, according to the recent IPCC report [below], with these ‘blue carbon’ coastal ecosystems storing ten times more carbon per unit area than most terrestrial ecosystems, like rain forests.

The decline of these ecosystems is crippling the planet, says CSIRO’s Dr Megan Saunders and lead co-author, and recovering this damage is needed at a large scale, urgently.

“The degradation of these habitats and the added pressure from climate change can be overwhelming and may seem an unsurmountable challenge to overcome,” she said.

“But we can also look at this challenge in another way – we know exactly what we must do.

“Large-scale ecosystem restoration is entirely possible. But we must work together, break down barriers and maximise our efforts in this vanishing window of opportunity.”

Dr Saunders conducting marine restoration fieldwork.

Cut to the chase – what’s holding coastal restoration back?

Co-lead author and JCU TropWATER’s Assoc Prof Nathan Waltham said momentum was building in coastal restoration in Australia. But improvements were usually seen on a small scale and aimed at reducing damage rather than large-scale restoration efforts.

“Despite a uptick in investment, current resources are not enough to restore all of Australia’s lost and degraded coastal and marine ecosystems,” he said.

A major speed bump in scaling up restoration is legislative barriers. This causes unanticipated costs, challenges in gaining permits, and delays in the start date of projects. The barriers may event prevent some projects from going ahead.

“Lack of coordination across projects and missed opportunities to co-design with diverse stakeholders is a huge challenge. It’s one of the biggest barriers stopping large-scale restoration,” he said.

“We’re investing lots of money and time in restoration. It takes more than 10 years to start seeing outcomes from restored sites so it’s imperative restoration projects are done right from the start.”

Assoc Prof Nathan Waltham is working to restore coastal wetlands along Great Barrier Reef catchment. Image: JCU TropWATER.

The roadmap – so how do we improve coastal restoration?

Restoration is a complex process involving lots of stakeholders, and it can be expensive.

While it’s clear there’s more than one challenge with marine and coastal restoration projects in Australia, it’s definitely not all doom and gloom, and there is a road forward.

The roadmap recommends a state and local rollout of a national science-based coastal and marine restoration plan. The plan hits environmental and climate change mitigation targets in addition to providing economic recovery.

“The urgency is real, and we can’t undersell how important it is to act with nature-based solutions,” Dr Saunders said.

“We need a large-scale coordinated approach that co-designs projects, opens funding pipelines, and supports the development of fit-for-purpose permitting processes. The approach should actively bring in all levels of communities, Indigenous groups, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and governments.”

Dr Saunders says the report highlights the power of communities in driving restoration goals.

“Globally, restoration projects which have strong community involvement tend to be most successful. There is a lot of pride and knowledge in communities, in the people and their land. People drive change – and this is powerful and inspiring.”

Following the roadmap has the potential to elevate the state, condition and function of Australia’s coastal and marine assets. It will increase our capacity to adapt to climate change and improve Australian’s social, cultural and economic wellbeing.

“Humanity’s impact on Australia’s coastal regions is severe, and climate change is escalating the impacts,” Dr Waltham said.

“But it is possible to restore environmental degradation if we reimagine a different future. We have to work together to achieve this.”

State of the Environment
A Roadmap for Coordinated Landscape-scale Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Restoration
roadmap forward
IPCC report

See the full article here.


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CSIRO -Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (AU) , is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

CSIRO works with leading organizations around the world. From its headquarters in Canberra, CSIRO maintains more than 50 sites across Australia and in France, Chile and the United States, employing about 5,500 people.

Federally funded scientific research began in Australia 104 years ago. The Advisory Council of Science and Industry was established in 1916 but was hampered by insufficient available finance. In 1926 the research effort was reinvigorated by establishment of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which strengthened national science leadership and increased research funding. CSIR grew rapidly and achieved significant early successes. In 1949 further legislated changes included renaming the organization as CSIRO.

Notable developments by CSIRO have included the invention of atomic absorption spectroscopy; essential components of Wi-Fi technology; development of the first commercially successful polymer banknote; the invention of the insect repellent in Aerogard and the introduction of a series of biological controls into Australia, such as the introduction of myxomatosis and rabbit calicivirus for the control of rabbit populations.

Research and focus areas

Research Business Units

As at 2019, CSIRO’s research areas are identified as “Impact science” and organized into the following Business Units:

Agriculture and Food
Health and Biosecurity
Data 61
Land and Water
Mineral Resources
Oceans and Atmosphere

National Facilities

CSIRO manages national research facilities and scientific infrastructure on behalf of the nation to assist with the delivery of research. The national facilities and specialized laboratories are available to both international and Australian users from industry and research. As at 2019, the following National Facilities are listed:
Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL)
Australia Telescope National Facility – radio telescopes included in the Facility include the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the Parkes Observatory, Mopra Radio Telescope Observatory and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder.

STCA CSIRO Australia Compact Array (AU), six radio telescopes at the Paul Wild Observatory, is an array of six 22-m antennas located about twenty five kilometres (16 mi) west of the town of Narrabri in Australia.

CSIRO-Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (AU) Parkes Observatory [Murriyang, the traditional Indigenous name], located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia, 414.80m above sea level.

NASA Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, AU, Deep Space Network. Credit: NASA.

CSIRO Canberra campus.

ESA DSA 1, hosts a 35-metre deep-space antenna with transmission and reception in both S- and X-band and is located 140 kilometres north of Perth, Western Australia, near the town of New Norcia.

CSIRO-Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (AU)CSIRO R/V Investigator.

UK Space NovaSAR-1 satellite (UK) synthetic aperture radar satellite.

CSIRO Pawsey Supercomputing Centre AU)

Magnus Cray XC40 supercomputer at Pawsey Supercomputer Centre Perth Australia.

Galaxy Cray XC30 Series Supercomputer at at Pawsey Supercomputer Centre Perth Australia.

Pausey Supercomputer CSIRO Zeus SGI Linux cluster.

Others not shown


SKA- Square Kilometer Array.

SKA Square Kilometre Array low frequency at Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia on the traditional lands of the Wajarri peoples.

EDGES telescope in a radio quiet zone at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia, on the traditional lands of the Wajarri peoples.