AUSTRALIA 2025: How will science address the challenges of the future? In collaboration with Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb, we’re asking how each science discipline will contribute to Australia now and in the future. Written by luminaries and accompanied by two expert commentaries to ensure a broader perspective, these articles run fortnightly and focus on each of the major scientific areas. In this instalment we dive into marine science.
Why are our oceans important to us? How is our health, the health of the environment, the strength of our economy and indeed, our future, dependent on the seas? How can marine science help us, collectively, to sustainably develop our marine-based industries and at the same time protect our unique marine ecosystems so that they can be appreciated and enjoyed by future generations?
In many ways, Australia is defined by the oceans that surround us. We have the third largest ocean territory in the world. The majority of our trade travels by sea, vast offshore oil and gas resources earn vital export income and offer a long term, cleaner energy source than coal and our fisheries and aquaculture industries provide healthy food.
We are custodians of two magnificent marine World Heritage Areas – the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef – and we are a nation that loves to sit by, swim, surf, dive, fish and sail in the (mostly) clean waters and healthy marine ecosystems that surround our continent.
Australia’s affinity with our ocean estate is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that 85% of our population lives within 50km of the coast. Marine industries contributed approximately A$42 billion to our economy in 2010. This is projected to grow to approximately A$100 billion by 2025 with the expansion of current industries and development of new opportunities in areas such as renewable energy. As a nation we will increasingly be dependent on our “blue economy” for our future prosperity.
In addition to their economic and aesthetic value, our oceans also provide a suite of essential “ecosystem services” – most importantly in their role within the global climate system. Since the end of the 18th century, about 30% percent of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions have been taken up by the oceans while over the past 50 years, they have absorbed about 90% of the extra heat generated through the impacts of the greenhouse effect. The moderating influence of the oceans as our planet warms, and their very strong influences on our island continent’s weather, impact on every Australian, every day.
If Australia, and indeed the world at large, is to continue to enjoy and grow the benefits accrued from our oceans, we need to face up to and meet a number of significant (and in some cases urgent) challenges.
Australia’s marine science community recently collaborated with governments, not-for-profit organisations and the private sector to produce the report Marine Nation 2025: Marine Science to Support Australia’s Blue Economy.
Marine Nation 2025 outlined six, interconnected “grand challenges” facing Australia, each of which has a significant marine dimension with gaps in understanding or requirement for tools that can be addressed by marine science:
1) sovereignty, security, natural hazards: needs improved operational oceanographic forecasting and increased effort on fine-scale hydrographic data and charts.
2) energy security: needs support for developing energy resources, particularly liquid natural gas and renewable energy and research to support carbon sequestration.
3) food security: needs research to support a booming aquaculture industry, as well as data and tools to improve management of wild-catch fisheries.
4) biodiversity conservation and ecosystem health: needs environmental baselines, effective indicators of ecosystem health to guides national marine environmental monitoring, and tools to predict impacts of development on marine biodiversity.
5) dealing with changing climate: needs enhanced understanding and skill in prediction of the impacts of sea level rise, increasing sea temperature and ocean acidification and the role of the ocean as a carbon sink.
6) optimal resource allocation: needs integrated social, economic and environmental information and tools to assist transparent, robust and accountable decision-making.
The multidisciplinary nature of marine science, the geographic scale and connectedness of marine systems, and the complexity of the challenges above mean that in the majority of cases no one institution (or in the case of industry, one company) can build the evidence base or tools required to adequately address these challenges, even at local scales.
Thus, a dedicated and coordinated effort across our national marine science community, governments and industry is required.
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Via www.bionautic.com, Marian Locksley