October 28, 2015

Australia’s Environment Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, joined University of Tasmania scientists and volunteer divers on a Reef Life Survey at Tinderbox Marine Reserve south of Hobart today.

After the dive, the Minister joined UTAS Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen, at Hobart’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies to launch the Marine Biodiversity Hub, one of six hubs funded under the National Environmental Science Programme (NESP).

The NESP is a six-year, $142.5 million initiative to help decision-makers understand, manage and conserve Australia’s environment by funding world-class biodiversity and climate science.

The Marine Biodiversity Hub follows on from two earlier hubs and will support marine biodiversity management and conservation with funding of $23.88 million delivered through UTAS.

The first and second marine hubs contributed biological knowledge for Australia’s Commonwealth Marine Reserve network, and supported bioregional planning and management with new survey and monitoring methods, including for rare and threatened species, and studies of community views on marine conservation.

The new Hub embraces more coastal issues and more listed species, and aims to achieve measurable improvements in the marine environment, through better management or actions such as coastal restoration. 

“Australia’s ocean territory is greater than its landmass, and most of the action lies beneath the surface, invisible to the naked eye,” Hub Director, Professor Nic Bax says.

“The Hub brings together more than 100 scientists from 10 partner agencies to look beneath the ocean surface: to measure, predict and report on how the ocean is responding to pressures such as climate change and the use of marine resources from offshore shipping to coastal pollution.

“We need to know not only what is there, but how it is being affected by human activities (including management) and what actions could be taken to improve its value to the Australian public. This is not easy.

“While Reef Life Survey engages citizen scientists in shallow waters, we also use satellites and ships, remote cameras, gliders and robots from our partners including Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System to study ocean features such as canyons, seamounts, seabeds and upwellings.

“Acoustic telemetry, DNA sampling and aerial photography are being used to track northern river sharks, white sharks, hammerhead sharks and right whales to support plans for their recovery.”

Prof. Bax says that while knowledge may be its own reward, the information must reach managers, marine users and the public in order to improve the value of the marine environment to Australians.

“We’re working with marine managers to understand the decisions they make and the information they need,” he says.

“We’ll be providing cost-effective tools such as new maps of pressures affecting the marine environment, smart search engines giving fast access to national data collections, and new approaches to monitoring what is changing and why.

“As a national collaboration of 10 partners we are able to prioritise areas that would profit from research or restoration, such as shellfish reefs and saltmarshes, which play a critical role in supporting healthy estuarine systems.

“We will also shine a light on the success stories: pressures that have declined, the results of effective management, and species and habitats that are either relatively unaffected or recovering. It may be dark below the ocean surface, but it is not all gloomy.”

NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub partners

Australian Institute of Marine Science, Charles Darwin University, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, Integrated Marine Observing System, Museum Victoria, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, University of Tasmania, University of Western Australia

Research users

Fisheries Management, Fishing and Aquaculture, Department of the Environment, Oil and Gas management, Oil and Gas industry, Environmental NGO, Parks Australia, Indigenous interests.

Further reading

Lord Howe Island.  Image Reef Life Survey, Rick Stuart-Smith