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Bleaching of Coral

Discuss about the Environment in Australia for Marine Ecosystem.

The Ocean Territory of Australia is twice as big as its land and is quite diverse in nature. What makes the oceans of Australia so unique is that it has five climate zones, three major oceans and there is the complex system of currents in the many underwater seascapes. The continent has the largest seagrass meadow, Shark Bay and the biggest single reef that is the Great Barrier Reef. Half of the earth’s seagrass and mangrove species are found in Australia, and the area of mangroves is the third largest in the world. The ocean plays a significant role in regulating the climate. As oceans become more acidic and with the rise of sea temperature, there will be a profound impact on the global climate change. This essay on Marine Ecosystems in Australia highlights the different issues of the ecosystem and the various governmental initiatives that have been undertaken or are ongoing. Discussions include coral bleaching, extinction of mangrove forests, destruction of kelp forests, the disappearance of mangrove forests, quality of water in the Great Barrier Reef, marine debris, conservation of sharks, and the mechanisms that are in place to prevent them.

Bleaching of Coral – In the first few months of 2016, the Great Barrier Reef experienced the coral bleaching which is worst in the recorded history. Great Barrier Reef in the Northern Section of Australia which was considered the most pristine, the quarter of which is now dead. The first worst bleaching event happened in 1998, then in 2010, and in this year it is predicted to continue until the end of 2016, which will also be the longest as per record. Climate change directly affects coral bleaching, and the oceans are getting warmer each year as they are absorbing heat from the atmosphere, which is caused by the constant burning of non-renewable sources like coal, wood, and gas, among others (Climatenetwork.org 2016). The existence of Great Barrier Reef continues to be in the state of threatening existence, as long fossil fuel continues to burn. Corals become more and more vulnerable as they get polluted from the runoff from farms, which makes it harder to recover from. Scientists made a prediction that coral bleaching events will be more severe and frequent with the rise of sea tea temperatures (Depczynski et al. 2013). Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has urged the Australian Government to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry which is to a tune of $7.7 billion per year and makes policies to move the entire industry and domestic energy usage towards the renewable and clean source of energy. With the rise of coral bleaching, the Australian government needs to provide a billion dollar package to improve fund catchment repair and farm practices while reducing sediment and chemical pollution (Mann and Lazier 2013).

Extinction of Mangrove forests

Extinction of Mangrove forests – According to Alongi (2015), Commercial fishers, conservationists, and scientists are all concerned with the large-scale disappearance of mangrove forests along the northern coastline of Australia. In the Gulf of Carpentaria, mangrove forests of 10,000 hectares have died along 700km of coastline. Karumba in Queensland and Limin Bright on the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory are the locations which are worth hit. The dieback of mangrove forests is correlated with the extreme warming with sustained high sea temperatures and unseasonably low monsoon rainfall. Mangroves are more than a necessity for sustaining climate and marine ecosystems (Mangrovewatch.org.au 2016). For marine species, they act as crucial nurseries, which spend some of their time in the mangrove roots. According to Professor Norm Duke of James Cook University, a mangrove expert, stated that the mangrove forests absorb carbon 50 times more than tropical forests. The topic of dieback of the mangrove forests came to the spotlight during an international wetland conference in Darwin, where the delegates urged to mangrove monitoring efforts as an urgent matter. To manage and isolate dieback events such as these, the scientists need to establish a baseline data (Reside 2014).   

The disappearance of Kelp forests – As stated by Bennett et al. (2016), Marine scientists expressed concerns that in the southwest of Australia, large areas of kelp forests have disappeared and effects of it will be permanent. According to findings, kelp forests from Cape Leeuwin to Ningaloo, which stretched for around 1000 square kilometers, are lost. Kelp forests are considered as the life support for Great Southern Reefs, which lies around the southern half of Australia. With the disappearance of these forests, some of the most valuable fisheries in Australia, such as rock lobster fishing and abalone could face extinction in the coming years. Australia currently experiences revenue of more than $10 billion a year with the fisheries and reef-related tourism combined. Compared to global average, the oceans around Australia are experiencing warming twice as fast. These kind of dramatic changes are unavoidable if the current state of heatwaves and warmer waters are driven by climate continue to happen (News | The University Of Western Australia 2016).

Water Quality in the Great Barrier Reef – As stated by De’ath (2012), the reason behind the attraction of Great Barrier Reef is its excellent water quality. The Great Barrier Reef is complex and diverse ecosystem but is also the most beautiful. Decline in the quality of water can affect marine animals, seagrass, corals and other necessary habitats while hurting fishing and tourism industry. Coastal ecosystems play a major role in the Great Barrier Reef as they not only control the quality of water which enters the Reef but also play a critical link between marine, land and freshwater environments. Vast areas of habitats that the Reef supports have been either cleared modified or infilled. Coastal habitat loss is concerning because it traps the sediment, acts as a nutrient filter for the water entering the Great Barrier Reef, and a breeding and feeding ground for marine species (Gbrmpa.gov.au 2016). The Great Barrier Reef Region will face an enormous pressure as the pressure on the ecosystem increases with two percent per annum projected increase of human population habitation in Great Barrier Reef. Another major impact on Great Barrier Reef is catchment run-off and its associated quality of water, which will have a considerable impact on the change in climate. The Reef Plan or the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan has been taken up by GBRMPA or Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority by partnering with the government of Queensland and the Australia. The reason for the collaboration is to stop the declination and switch the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef. To monitor the long-term health of vital marine ecosystems and quality of water in the inshore Reef lagoon, GBRMPA had made a Reef Rescue Monitoring Program. For the GBRM Park, the management has also created Water Quality Guidelines managers to take action when the trigger levels go above the permissible limit (Authority 2014).

The disappearance of Kelp forests

Marine Debris – According to Lawson et al. (2015), Marine litter or marine debris can be defined as the processed and manufactured solid objects that are disposed or abandoned of in the coastal and marine environment. Marine debris commonly includes food packaging, plastic bags and plastic bottles, fishing nets, and packing materials among others. Marine litter is harmful to aquatic animals such as marine mammals, turtles, sharks, and birds. It can also cause starvation through ingestion, internal injuries and damage through entanglement, and injury or death through drowning. Seabirds, marine mammals, and turtles can die or be severely injured by getting entangled in marine litter, causing smothering, drowning, amputation, infection, starvation and restricted mobility. Ropes, nets, and fishing line debris cut the skin of turtles and marine mammals, which leads to amputation or infection of flukes, tails, and flippers (Reisser et al. 2013). Many marine mammals confused marine debris like balloons, rubber, and bags of food and swallowed them, which causes blockage in their digestive system. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) states that, fatality and injury to vertebrate marine life caused by entanglement or swallowing of, toxic marine litter has been identified as a key threatening process. Following consultation with stakeholders including local, territory and state governments, conservation and industry groups, the Australian Government made a Plan in June of 2009 under the EPBC Act, called the Threat Abatement Plan for the Impacts of Marine Debris on Vertebrate Marine Life. The National Approach to Addressing Marine Biodiversity Decline as developed by the National Resource Management Ministerial Council identifies aquatic pollution as a major threat to the healthy species residing in the oceans (Verlis, Campbell and Wilson 2013). It offers a coordinated national approach and a framework with actions and timeframes. This planning strategy will inspect the joint agreements' effectiveness with nations of other states to resolve the problem of marine litter, and its wildlife impact while evaluating new ones. Grey Nurse Recovery Plan and Marine Turtle Recovery Plan are two such plans identified for animal and marine recovery plans, in abatement strategies coordinated by the plan. The plan also reviews existing activities, conventions, codes of practice, and policies to evaluate their effectiveness. Other initiatives taken by the Australian government are National Waste Policy, International Engagement, and Regional Action (Environment.gov.au 2016).

Conservation of Sharks – In the study undertaken by The International Union for Conservation of Nature, it has been found that over one-third of the open ocean shark species are facing extinction. Sharks are often killed for their fins and meat, and the number stands around at 73 million each year. Despite being an old practice, the Queensland, and NSW government kills sharks in drum lines and nets (Environment.gov.au 2016). Due to the efforts put by the Australian Marine Conservation Society, the practice of cutting fins and dumping shark bodies have been made banned in all regions of Australia. The method was popularly referred to as “Live shark finning."  Sharks are the important species in maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystems, and removing a substantial number of them can cause a shift in the balance of the ecosystem which will affect the whole food chain in oceans (Muter et al. 2013).

Water Quality in the Great Barrier Reef


Mechanism and its effectiveness
– To address critical threats, the Queensland, and government drew up the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, which delivers an extensive framework for Reef protection. It takes findings and notes from the Outlook Report, and 25-year management plan, which combined provides the most comprehensive and updated information on the administration and health of Reef. The Australian Government statutory agency, the GBRMPA is tasked with managing and protecting the environment, heritage values, and biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef Region. Many Queensland and Australian agencies work in close collaboration with the Authority in the Region, to carry out its responsibilities (Hughes, Day and Brodie 2015). The Authority also strongly focuses on the stewardship programs and partnership arrangements with individuals, community groups, industry sectors, and Traditional Owners who participate directly in Great Barrier Reef’s protection and management.  The Reef 2050 Integrated Reporting and Monitoring Program justifies the approach to Reef 2050 Plan's adaptive management while assessing whether targets can be achieved through actions (Gbrmpa.gov.au 2016). The program ensures the investments are emphasized on activities that will deliver results in a measurable way. It also enables advanced identification of changes and trends in the Reef's environment; notifies the evaluation of future risks and critical threats, and delivers management responses promptly. The program also drives reporting and modeling programs, integration and alignment of existing monitoring, coordination driving, to gain an advantage in avoiding duplication of effort, improving efficiency, providing value for money, and existing program investment (Normile and Dayton 2014).

As opined by Dale (2016), the Reef 2050 Plan includes reporting on the effectiveness, and implementation of this plan will happen periodically. To improve governance arrangements for Reef management; objectives, targets, and outcomes are outlined in the scheme. The theme of economic benefits puts emphasis on maintaining and enhancing the economic, social and ecological sustainability of Reef-associated and Reef-dependent industries. The plan also outlines the objectives to develop a common understanding of the Reef derived community advantages. The development of a long-term economic and social monitoring program has been scheduled for the future. The plan also aims to make sure that the water entering the Great Barrier Reef is safe and clean. The themes and overarching vision take into account the heritage values of the Reef including spiritual, social, cultural, scientific, historical, aesthetic and natural values. Actions and targets to conserve and protect biodiversity over the years have been included in the Reef 2050 Plan. The program will assess track the development of the actions and objectives for biodiversity (Authority 2015).

Marine Debris

Coastlines and oceans are changing, and the world needs more leaders and best minds, those who will record the rapid changes, and make a smooth transition to renewable energy from current carbon intensive economy. It will pave the way for a more sustainable approach to this world. A clean and sustainable future can only happen if the blue planet starts recovering. AMCS is already working towards creating a brighter and better future.

Conclusion

The marine ecosystem of Australia is rich in biodiversity, which provides necessary ecosystem services and goods to people and marine industries. Climate change poses a significant risk to the ecosystems, and many ecological communities and species are observing the impacts. Though different government initiatives and research efforts have been undertaken to emphasize on the issues of the ecosystems in Australia, research gaps still exist in involving monitoring and review as knowledge changes with conditions and circumstances. Change of climate is currently impacting the marine ecosystems of Australia which are now manifesting in the northern, southwest, and southeast tropics, but predictions are that it will spread broad and significant, that will challenge the conservation management. Finally, conservation management needs to be based on ecosystem and based on the available information, “no regrets” adoption can be implemented for marine ecosystems of Australia to survive shortly.

References

Alongi, D.M., 2015. The impact of climate change on mangrove forests.Current Climate Change Reports, 1(1), pp.30-39.

Authority, G.B.M.P., 2015. Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan.

Authority, G.B.R.M.P., 2014. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Science Strategy and Information Needs 2014-2019.

Bennett, S., Wernberg, T., Connell, S.D., Hobday, A.J., Johnson, C.R. and Poloczanska, E.S., 2016. The'Great Southern Reef': social, ecological and economic value of Australia's neglected kelp forests. Marine and Freshwater Research, 67(1), pp.47-56.

Climatenetwork.org. (2016). Australian Marine Conservation Society | CAN International. [online] Available at: https://www.climatenetwork.org/profile/member/australian-marine-conservation-society [Accessed 7 Oct. 2016].

Dale, A.P., Vella, K., Pressey, R.L., Brodie, J., Gooch, M., Potts, R. and Eberhard, R., 2016. Risk analysis of the governance system affecting outcomes in the Great Barrier Reef. Journal of Environmental Management.

De’ath, G., Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H. and Puotinen, M., 2012. The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(44), pp.17995-17999.

Depczynski, M., Gilmour, J.P., Ridgway, T., Barnes, H., Heyward, A.J., Holmes, T.H., Moore, J.A.Y., Radford, B.T., Thomson, D.P., Tinkler, P. and Wilson, S.K., 2013. Bleaching, coral mortality and subsequent survivorship on a West Australian fringing reef. Coral Reefs, 32(1), pp.233-238.

Environment.gov.au. (2016). Marine Debris - What is Australia doing - Home Page. [online] Available at: https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/marine-pollution/marine-debris [Accessed 7 Oct. 2016].

Environment.gov.au. (2016). Sharks in Australian waters - Marine Species Conservation in Australia. [online] Available at: https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/marine-species/sharks [Accessed 7 Oct. 2016].

Gbrmpa.gov.au. (2016). Declining water quality - GBRMPA. [online] Available at: https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/declining-water-quality [Accessed 7 Oct. 2016].

Gbrmpa.gov.au. (2016). Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program - GBRMPA. [online] Available at: https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/reef-2050/reef-integrated-monitoring-and-reporting-program [Accessed 7 Oct. 2016].

Hughes, T.P., Day, J.C. and Brodie, J., 2015. Securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef. Nature Climate Change, 5(6), pp.508-511.

Lawson, T.J., Wilcox, C., Johns, K., Dann, P. and Hardesty, B.D., 2015. Characteristics of marine debris that entangle Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) in southern Australia. Marine pollution bulletin, 98(1), pp.354-357.

Mangrovewatch.org.au. (2016). Threats and Pressures on Mangrove Ecosystems. [online] Available at: https://www.mangrovewatch.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=26&Itemid=300161 [Accessed 7 Oct. 2016].

Mann, K.H. and Lazier, J.R., 2013. Dynamics of marine ecosystems: biological-physical interactions in the oceans. John Wiley & Sons.

Muter, B.A., Gore, M.L., Gledhill, K.S., Lamont, C. and Huveneers, C., 2013. Australian and US news media portrayal of sharks and their conservation.Conservation Biology, 27(1), pp.187-196.

News | The University Of Western Australia. (2016). Kelp forests in the Great Southern Reef wiped out by marine heatwave. [online] Available at: https://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201607088828/kelp-forests-great-southern-reef-wiped-out-marine-heatwave [Accessed 7 Oct. 2016].

Normile, D. and Dayton, L., 2014. Plan to protect Great Barrier Reef under fire. Science, 346(6210), pp.683-683.

Reisser, J., Shaw, J., Wilcox, C., Hardesty, B.D., Proietti, M., Thums, M. and Pattiaratchi, C., 2013. Marine plastic pollution in waters around Australia: characteristics, concentrations, and pathways. PloS one, 8(11), p.e80466.

Reside, A.E., Welbergen, J.A., Phillips, B.L., Wardell?Johnson, G.W., Keppel, G., Ferrier, S., Williams, S.E. and VanDerWal, J., 2014. Characteristics of climate change refugia for Australian biodiversity. Austral Ecology, 39(8), pp.887-897.

Verlis, K.M., Campbell, M.L. and Wilson, S.P., 2013. Ingestion of marine debris plastic by the wedge-tailed shearwater Ardenna pacifica in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Marine pollution bulletin, 72(1), pp.244-249.

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