Comment on listing assessment
Proposed Conservation Status: Endangered
Distribution: Limited to Victoria
About the ecological community under assessment
Each year on behalf of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, the Department of the Environment and Energy invites public nominations for items that merit listing as nationally threatened under the national environment law. The “Assemblage of species associated with open-coast salt-wedge estuaries of western and central Victoria” was nominated for listing as a threatened ecological community in 2013 and was prioritised for assessment that year. The proposed ecological community was considered to represent an important gap in the current list of nationally significant ecosystems.
The open-coast salt-wedge estuaries of western and central Victoria ecological community consists of the assemblage of native plants, animals and micro-organisms that are associated with the dynamic salt-wedge estuary systems found in the Mediterranean climate, microtidal regime (< 2 m) and high wave energy coastline of western and central Victoria.
The ecological community occurs within 25 salt-wedge forming estuaries in the coastal region defined by the border between South Australia and Victoria (to the west) and the most southerly point of Wilsons Promontory (to the east). These are intermittently opening and closing estuary systems with sand bars (berms) at the entrance. They typically have a highly stratified water column, with saline bottom waters forming a wedge (salt-wedge) below the inflowing fresh water layer from the parent river system. They usually have a well-formed halocline boundary layer between the two water-column layers, which may vary from a few centimetres to over 1.5 m.
Salt-wedge estuaries are typically ecosystems of high ecological value which are increasingly under threat. They contribute high levels of productivity to coastal and nearshore marine environments, and provide important refuge, nursery or breeding habitat for a wide range of invertebrates, fish and birds. Many Victorian estuaries also support rare and threatened flora and fauna, in addition to internationally significant bird species, such as the hooded plover and eastern curlew.
The ecological community requires a natural seasonal hydrological regime that supports salinity stratification and salt-wedge dynamics, and connectivity and ecological function between the estuary, river and ocean (and floodplain wetland components where applicable).
The 25 river systems identified as having salt-wedge estuaries that are part of the ecological community are: Glenelg River, Surry River, Fitzroy River, Eumeralla River, Merri River, Hopkins River, Curdies River, Sherbrook River, Gellibrand River, Johanna River, Aire River, Barham River, Kennett River, Wye River, St George River, Erskine River, Painkalac Creek, Anglesea River, Spring Creek, Thompson Creek, Powlett River, Darby River, Tidal River and Growlers Creek. The length of the salt-wedge estuary varies considerably between the individual estuaries. The length of the salt-wedge estuary (and therefore the extent of the ecological community) within the Glenelg River is the longest – at 67.9 km, and the Wye, Erskine and Darby Rivers are the shortest at around 1 km each.
This assessment is due for completion by 30 September 2017.
Invitation to comment
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) requires the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to undertake public consultation on nominations accepted for a full scientific assessment. The Committee particularly seeks comments on whether a nominated item is eligible for listing under the proposed conservation status, but also invites other relevant comments and information about the “Assemblage of species associated with open-coast salt-wedge estuaries of western and central Victoria”.
The draft scientific assessment, or Conservation Advice, recommends that the ecological community may be eligible for listing as endangered. The draft assessment found that:
- The naturally restricted geographic distribution (i.e. area of occupancy) and specific physico-chemical regime of these highly stratified, dynamic salt-wedge systems, combined with multiple threats make it likely that the ecological community could be lost in the ‘near’ future (e.g. the next 20 years)
- The distribution of the ecological community along a coastline hosting relatively high density human population and coastline utilisation (including agricultural activities and town centres) makes this ecological community susceptible to a variety of threats, including continued modification of the natural flow regime, climate change impacts, reduced water quality, pathogens, invasive weeds and animals, and inappropriate extractive and recreational activities.
The Department welcomes the views of experts, water and land managers, other stakeholders and the general public on the draft Conservation Advice for the ecological community.
A Guide for Consultation is available to help you understand the listing assessment for this ecological community and the potential implications of listing under the EPBC Act.
The Guidelines for Nominating and Assessing Ecological Communities are also available to explain the criteria and concepts by which an ecological community can be determined as threatened in a particular conservation category. [hyperlink underlined text to website]
A set of Questions to guide your comments is also provided, below.
Please advise other relevant key people or groups in your networks about this opportunity for comment. We would greatly appreciated your help to get input from other agencies and groups involved with biodiversity conservation, land management, primary industries and planning.
Questions to guide comments
- Does the draft description in the draft conservation advice clearly and accurately describe the proposed ecological community? If not, how should it be amended to help with on-ground identification and management?
- Are the lists of characteristic species accurate? If not, what should be added or removed?
- Is the description (particularly the key diagnostic characteristics) sufficient to differentiate the ecological community from other ecological communities? If not, how should it be modified?
- The key threats to the ecological community are detailed in Appendix D. In your opinion, are the key threats currently affecting the ecological community, or threats likely to affect the community in the future, adequately identified? If not, please provide details.
- Are you aware of additional data or other clear evidence of these threats and their likely impacts on the ecological community in the immediate, medium or long-term future?
- The draft conservation advice concludes that the ecological community merits listing as endangered. What do you propose is the appropriate conservation category for the ecological community, and the reasons supporting this? If you propose an alternative conservation status please provide supporting evidence for why it applies to this ecological community.
- Do you have any further comments or information about the ecological community that should be considered for the Conservation Advice?
Please support your comments with information and data, preferably supported by published studies or observations. If some of that information is not published, would you be willing to be quoted as an expert or source (“personal communication”)?
All comments received will be forwarded to both the Committee and the Minister for the Environment and Energy. Information in the draft advice, as well as other information received by the Department will be used by the Committee to determine the threatened status and advise the Minister on whether or not to amend the list of threatened ecological communities under the EPBC Act.
The public consultation period closes on Monday, 31 July 2017.
Please use the contact details, below, if you want more advice or help about this assessment. If you wish to comment, please send your comments quoting the ecological community name to:
Mail: The Director
Marine and Freshwater Species Conservation Section
Department of the Environment and Energy
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Privacy and confidentiality in regard to comments received
Submissions received will be forwarded to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and, subsequently, to the Minister for the Environment and Energy.
Information contained in any comments will be stored and used by the department in compliance with its obligations under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).
If you wish your comments to remain confidential, you should clearly mark the relevant part(s) of your comments as ‘confidential’. Notwithstanding any obligations of confidentiality, the department may be required by law or parliamentary process to disclose, or allow disclosure of, any information contained in or relating to any comments (including personal and/or confidential information), including in response to a request by a House or a Committee of the Parliament of the Commonwealth or under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth).