An Australian scientist told the Australian Academy of Science’s Earth System Outlook Conference in Canberra that Australia could be a world leader in developing marine reserves that are able to keep pace with climate change and absorb the impact of warming oceans, storms, and flood events.
“The challenge we face is that a marine reserve or park usually covers a fixed geographical area – but bodies of hot ocean water, storms and flood runoff move unpredictably in space and time,” said Professor Bob Pressey of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.
“This means either that the reserve boundaries may have to move as things change – or else they need to located and designed carefully. If they’re fixed reserves, they need to be placed away from frequent disturbances, or configured so that individual disturbance events don’t affect them entirely. That way, we can include areas where sea life may take refuge to be safe from the impact.”
“While we can’t easily predict when an episode of hot ocean water will move in, we can definitely see some areas which appear to avoid the harshest effects over time – whether because they are shielded in some way or cooled by cold upwelling currents.
“This gives us the ability to design marine protected areas for the GBR and elsewhere that are resilient over time, no matter what changes take place.
“On top of the sea temperatures, we can also potentially factor in historical data from cyclone tracks and flood plumes, or bodies of floodwater with high loads of sediment. By superimposing all these we can identify and be sure to protect those special areas of the reef which are naturally resilient and which can recharge other areas that may be damaged.”