Global Water Institute Research - NSW Long Beach - Nick Schofield

GWI researchers report on Australia's coasts

The 2016 State of the Environment (SoE) Report was recently released by the Australian Government, with GWI’s Dr Graeme Clark and Professor Emma Johnston preparing the important chapter on the current state, and future outlook, of Australia’s vast coastlines.

The report found that the current state of the coastal environment is tightly correlated with human population and agricultural or industrial development. While coasts are in a satisfactory state in the north-west and far north-east of the country, coasts in the east, south-east and south-west of Australia are looking much direr.

Dr Graeme Clark, Applied Marine and Estuarine Ecology expert at the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said that given the high likelihood of major climate-related stress in coming decades, coastal environments that are already under high pressure are likely to become further degraded.

 “Coastal systems are being squeezed by both landward pressures relating to urban development, agriculture, and resource extraction, and seaward pressures relating to climate, such as increased storm surge and sea-level rise,” said Dr Clark.

Since 2011, climate change has manifested as increased frequencies of marine heatwaves and severe storms, such as the Ningaloo heatwave, tropical cyclone Yasi of 2011, and the 2016 marine heatwave that caused severe bleaching in large sections of the northern Great Barrier Reef. Tropical cyclone Debbie recently wreaked havoc across coastlines in the east, and the full extent of the damage caused is yet to be assessed.

There is a need for more comprehensive monitoring of coastal systems, processes and effectiveness of management practices.

Dr Graeme Clark, Applied Estuarine and Ecology Expert, BEES

The report also found that data alone is insufficient to assess the many aspects of the state of the coast.

“There is a need for more comprehensive monitoring of coastal systems, processes and effectiveness of management practices,” said Dr Clark.

The key challenge in the short term will be to implement strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change, while conserving the natural integrity of the coast.

 

The full set of key findings from the report can be found here