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National Environmental Science Program
June 2021 update
Welcome to the latest edition of NESP News. It is a busy time for the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) as the 6 current research hubs start wrapping up. We acknowledge their significant research and outcome legacy, and thank all their researchers, staff and partners for their commitment to enhancing Australia’s stewardship of our unique environment. Read about some of the key outcomes achieved by the program across the 5 years to 2020 in the Outcomes 2020 e-book.
The program’s second phase will foster existing relationships while also developing new partnerships that bring researchers, decision-makers and communities together to enable the delivery of strong outcomes for the environment. Under the new cross-cutting missions there will be coordinated research across all the second-phase hubs under 4 critical themes: climate adaptation, protected place management, waste-impact management, and threatened and migratory species and threatened ecological communities.
Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub
Three-category approach workbook, featuring illustrations by Dixon Patten of Bayila Creative. Photo: Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub.
Cities are Indigenous places
Collaborative partnerships are key to the success of NESP, with its researchers routinely working with Indigenous experts and Traditional Owners across Australia to improve outcomes for the environment.
The Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub’s recently released guide for non-Indigenous researchers and practitioners looking to support Indigenous-led research and co-design is a good example of this commitment. The Three-category approach toolkit was developed in collaboration with the Tropical Water Quality Hub and a range of Indigenous researchers, communicators and designers. It supports Indigenous aspirations to maintain, protect and manage culture, language, land and sea Country, and heritage. As the CAUL Hub concludes 6 years of research, we celebrate its significant work to strengthen Indigenous partnerships.
The NESP Indigenous Knowledge Broker, Jade Gould, said: 'In providing an evidence base for the state of cities in Australia today, the hub also made space for Indigenous voices. The work has emphasised that all cities in Australia are Indigenous places where First Peoples’ deep connections to land, water and sky continue.'
The hub’s research spanned air quality, urban biodiversity, and urban vegetation cover and its relationship with urban heat. It also explored the liveability of our cities and the benefits of urban greenspaces, together with the complex relationships between people and their environment.
Congratulations to the hub and all the staff involved in this significant achievement.
Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub
Earth systems and climate change research to inform decision-making and policies. Photo: iStock.com/SolStock.
Climate change in a land of extremes: celebrating the achievements of the Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub
Australia relies on climate change science to help manage the influence of a variable and changing climate on our environment, economy and communities. The Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub strived to ensure Australia’s policy and management decisions are effectively informed by climate change science.
The hub quickly positioned itself as a trusted source of information, capable of delivering important benefits to government, the private sector and the wider Australian community. The hub’s achievements will have longevity and impact well beyond the lifetime of the hub. These achievements include providing world-class climate change science, co-designing research and engagement activities, building partnerships with Indigenous stakeholders, and increasing the capacity of policymakers and researchers to better communicate and work together. The hub’s work is already being used to inform policies and management decisions in Australia. It will continue to play a critical role in the coming decades to ensure climate change science is developed for the benefit of all Australians.
We look forward to the hub’s achievements being continued through the Climate Systems Hub in the next phase of NESP, which includes a focus on climate adaptation. Read about the hub’s achievements and key findings in its landmark summary report.
Threatened Species Recovery Hub
A new series of videos help to explain key concepts and challenges in biodiversity offsetting. Photo: Threatened Species Recovery Hub.
New videos explain the ins and outs of biodiversity offsetting
Australia and many other countries around the world use biodiversity offset policies to compensate for unavoidable impacts to the environment caused by developments. But how does it work? A new series of 9 short videos from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub looks at the basics of biodiversity offsetting, key elements of best practice, and the risks and dangers of poor offset design and implementation. The videos offer real insight to anyone wanting to learn more about this important offset policy tool. They are a must-watch for anyone involved in offset plans and programs, whether as a developer or assessor.
For many threatened species and ecological communities, a key challenge for decision-makers assessing offset proposals is a lack of evidence about the effectiveness of different management actions. For these cases, the hub developed a structured expert elicitation protocol, as experts can represent a quick and relatively inexpensive source of information that can inform better environmental decision-making.
The hub tested and proved the approach using several case-study species that commonly trigger offset requirements, and for which developing appropriate offset proposals is considered challenging. For example, check out the findings for the Night Parrot. The Better Offsets for Threatened Species project web page also has a wide range of other knowledge products.
Marine Biodiversity Hub
Short-nosed sea snakes are frequently encountered as bycatch in the Exmouth Gulf fishery. Photo: Vinay Udyawer, The Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Mapping Australia’s sea snake populations
Sea snakes were once abundant in many parts of Australia, but reported population declines raised concerns about their status. In addition, species once thought locally extinct in remote locations have subsequently been sighted. A better understanding of sea snake habitat, distribution, status and threats is needed to guide management and recovery planning.
Marine Biodiversity Hub scientists reviewed existing data for 27 sea snake species across Australia and collected additional data in the North and North-west Marine Regions. They mapped sea snake distribution patterns, identified areas of high diversity and endemism, and assessed the vulnerability of sea snake species to being caught as bycatch in trawl fisheries.
The south-western Gulf of Carpentaria had the highest diversity of sea snakes, while Scott Reef and the north-west shoals in the North West Shelf region had the highest endemism. Trawl fishing overlapped sea snake habitat in the Gulf of Carpentaria and along the Pilbara coastline, where certain species with restricted ranges were highly exposed to fishing.
Based on the new understanding, the hub's project report made recommendations relevant to the conservation status of 3 endemic species. These were the Short-nosed Sea Snake and Leaf-scaled Sea Snake (both listed as critically endangered), and the Dusky Sea Snake (a listed marine species).
Tropical Water Quality Hub
Dr Aaron Davis, from James Cook University, discusses nitrogen sensing with growers in the Russell-Mulgrave catchment. Photo: Reef and Rainforest Research Centre.
Approach to grower engagement yields local leaders in science advocacy
Recent monitoring from the Great Barrier Reef catchment areas indicates that current dissolved inorganic nitrogen load reduction routes are not meeting desired targets. This is despite considerable investment in best management practice programs for agriculture.
The Tropical Water Quality Hub's ‘Project 25’ - Farmers, Water Quality and On-farm Decision-making showed that building trust between scientists and farmers can lead to real on-ground changes in farm practices to improve water quality entering the reef. It also helped set standards of behaviour within the Russell-Mulgrave farming community.
Growers involved in the real-time water quality monitoring approach are now regularly advocating the rationale and benefit of the project, demonstrating social and environmental responsibility to the public, and contributing to local self-regulation. This is a major step forward in rebuilding trust with the agriculture industry and maximising practical applied science outcomes. A final report presenting this framework is now available on the hub website.
Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub
Senior Gooniyandi artist Mervyn Street. Photo: Sarah Laborde, Griffith University.
Veins of the Country – a story by Mervyn Street
In the face of growing interest in the waters of the Warlibiddi and Martuwarra (Margaret and Fitzroy rivers) in north-west Western Australia, Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub researchers partnered with Traditional Owners to increase our understanding of the rivers’ important cultural and environmental requirements.
In this short film, senior Gooniyandi artist Mervyn Street shares his art and storytelling about the waters of the Warlibiddi and Martuwarra, and the waters’ vital significance to Country and people’s lives. Mervyn shares his wisdom to help viewers understand the rhythms of water and life and what they mean in his philosophical tradition. He also hopes it will help viewers understand the importance of the Warlibiddi and Martuwarra waters to not only sustain life, but also enable social connections and sustain culture for future generations.
Mervyn and other Traditional Owners worked with hub researcher Dr Sarah Laborde to help explain the relationships between water, people and places along the Warlibiddi and Martuwarra. This research is part of a larger project improving understanding of Indigenous water requirements of the Fitzroy River and supporting Indigenous water management in the catchment, which is led by Griffith University’s Professor Sue Jackson.
Stay in touch and find out more about the interesting work happening across the Australian Government’s agriculture, water and environment portfolios: