Australian Subtropic Seas Must be Protected

Leading Australian scientists and scientific organisations have come together to call for a greater national effort to protect the countries eastern and western coastlines.

The reason?

Many scientists believe and have witnessed, with the increase in global warming, a shift in marine life as they head south, seeking refuge from increasing temperatures in the tropics. Many scientists believe that the subtropics will play a major role in safeguarding Australia’s tropical marine life, especially if northern reefs die off as some scientists fear.

“The subtropics are really about life on the edge – where tropical and temperate marine species meet and mix in a rich diversity,” said Professor John Pandolfi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland. “There is already evidence that tropical species are migrating southwards in response to warming, making the subtropics all the more important. ”

“Unfortunately we only have a limited understanding of what’s out there and what’s happening to it, on which to base our future management – and this gap in our knowledge needs to be closed quickly, so we can integrate the management of our entire coastal regions better.”

Increasing Human Pressures on Ecosystems

Australia is home to the Great Barrier Reef, the planet’s largest reef system. Composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, it stretches for over 2,600 kilometres (1,600 miles) and covers an area approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 square miles). It can be seen from outer space, making it the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms, and is home to thousands of different species of marine life.

And much of this marine life and diversity is going to be pushed south as global temperatures continue to rise. Sadly, though, they are being pushed into areas which are already stressed as a result of increased human populations.

“These environments are already under major stress from changing climate and oceanic currents – and to this we are adding increased activities like pollution, runoff, coastal development and fishing,” said The University of Queensland’s Dr Maria Beger.

“We need to ensure we protect the resilience of this region, as well as the northern coral zones. At the same time, the future of our central coastal communities, their industries and their lifestyle depends on preserving a healthy marine environment.”

Declaration of Intent

A full copy of the declaration made by the scientists can be found here (PDF), where it outlines seven major priorities for improving the management of Australia’s subtropical marine environments;

  1. Integrate science and resource management across federal, state and local agencies to ensure better planning and management of subtropical marine areas;
  2. Study how social, economic and political factors affect the management of coastal resources and the services they in turn provide to coastal communities;
  3. Understand the existing ecology and map existing coastal habitat;
  4. Evaluate threats to marine resources from land-based activities, benchmark their past and current status and monitor changes;
  5. Determine pathways for tropical marine ‘invaders’ moving into the subtropics due to climate change, and the impact on local species;
  6. Determine which sites (refugia) are critical to preserving subtropical marine fish, corals and other species in the event of profound environmental change;
  7. Investigate natural variability of existing subtropical marine areas (so as to detect unusual changes).

In a country home to “the longest latitudinal tracts of subtropical coastal marine habitat in the world, encompassing beaches, rocky foreshores, offshore islands, shoals and reefs,” a declaration which leads to any action to preserve and ensure the health of such an environment is necessary.

The declaration finishes, saying “We call upon practitioners, managers, researchers, funding bodies and governments to recognise that these priority areas require urgent attention and investment to enable effective and efficient decision making for the future of subtropical reefs. A list of topics of studies underway or recommended by our members, is available on request.”

Source: The University of Queensland
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