New funding to predict cumulative impacts on coastal ecosystems

An international team, led by researchers from the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, have been funded by the Australian Research Council to develop new software tools that will help manage the cumulative impacts that threaten coastal ecosystems.

Ecosystems like seagrass meadows, mangroves and coral reefs are highly threatened but globally important. They provide habitat for fish, support fisheries, capture carbon from the atmosphere and are food for many animals including dugongs.

seagrass meadow

A seagrass meadow in Indonesia. Photo: Megan Saunders

Decision makers must manage a bewildering array of threats that coastal ecosystems face. Many coastal ecosystems are threatened by urbanisation, overfishing, pollution and climate change.

“Managers are often unsure about how to plan for cumulative impacts. They typically have very limited data on how cumulative impacts interact to degrade ecosystems” the grant lead Dr Chris Brown explained. “The tools we aim to develop will help make reliable predictions about cumulative impacts, even where there are little data. ”

“The project thus aims to overcome the largest remaining barrier to effective management of the world’s marine resources” said Professor Rod Connolly, a chief investigator on the grant.

The project will begin in Moreton Bay, near to Brisbane. Seagrass ecosystems in Moreton Bay have been in decline for decades due to multiple pressures brought on by urbanisation of Brisbane and surrounds. The team will collect new data to test the ability of the software tools to predict the impact of cumulative impacts, including urbanisation and pollution.

The team then aims to scale up the tools developed for Queensland seagrass so they can be used elsewhere.

The team also includes Professor Côté from Simon Fraser University in Canada, an international expert on cumulative impacts. Canadian seagrass meadows face many of the same threats as those in Australia, making it a perfect testing ground for the new tools.

“This is a unique opportunity to provide practical tools, underpinned by strong science, for decision-makers to tackle the most complex issues that affect coasts around the world.” Professor Côté said. “We hope that the results of this project will reduce the amount of guesswork currently involved in managing threatened coastal habitats”



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