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National Environmental Science Program
March 2021 update
Welcome to the latest edition of NESP News. This month we celebrate all our amazing women scientists for International Women's Day. Women lead or co-lead 153 out of 312 NESP projects. It is wonderful to see the work done by the head of the new Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub Professor Veena Sahajwalla, an internationally recognised materials scientist, engineer and inventor revolutionising recycling science, showcased on Australian Story. She talked about her optimism, her work and the various waste challenges we are tackling, as well as an important initiative in these challenges. Find out how Professor Sahajwalla’s inventions could offer some exciting new solutions to save waste from landfill.
Marine Biodiversity Hub
One of the many healthy juvenile giant kelp out-planted by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies team at a restoration trial site off eastern Tasmania. Photo: Dr Cayne Layton.
Encouraging results for giant kelp restoration in eastern Tasmania
Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forests once surrounded Tasmania. Now only 5% of these floating-kelp canopies remain in eastern Tasmania, and they are listed as a threatened ecological community under Australia's national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Active restoration is one conservation option, but this approach must account for ocean warming, which is the key driver of giant kelp forest loss.
Remnant giant kelp identified with a relatively high tolerance to warm-water were trialled as the foundation of restoration efforts in a Marine Biodiversity Hub project, led by the University of Tasmania Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS). Cultures from 6 remnant forests were established in the laboratory, creating one of the world’s first giant kelp ‘seed banks’, employing low temperature storage technology developed by IMAS. Individuals with the greatest tolerance to warm conditions (some survived at ~8°C above typical water temperatures) were chosen for breeding and out-planted to rocky reefs that no longer have giant kelp. The goal was to establish self-sustaining and potentially self-expanding patches at 3 trial sites. When 2 of the areas were revisited in early 2021, one showed excessive sedimentation and growth of filamentous turf algae, but no surviving giant kelps. The other site was highly successful in the number, growth, size and health of giant kelps in the restoration area.
This work generated new understanding about the complex life cycle and cultivation of giant kelp. This can provide a platform for future breeding and selection programs and the refinement and upscaling of restoration.
Tropical Water Quality Hub
Light filtering through the reef water column. Photo: Renata Ferrari
All the light we cannot sea: sediment and the reef
Light drives the ecosystems and industries of the Great Barrier Reef. The amount of light that reaches coral and seagrass ecosystems varies regionally and changes by season and year. Light at the surface is higher in summer than in winter due to the changing relative position of the sun. The tropical wet season brings rain, and river flows bring eroded sediments and discharge to the reef.
Benthic light as ecologically-validated Reef-wide indicator for water quality: Drivers, thresholds and cumulative risks, developed an index for monitoring the reef’s water quality based on variations in light reaching the bottom of the water column. Part of the project measured the stress corals and seagrasses experienced due to reductions in light during each season, from mid-2002 to 2019. It found year-to-year variations in light are strongly associated with variations in river sediment and nutrient loads. This index can feed into Reef 2050 water quality improvement plan report cards and can be used by reef managers to track improvements in water quality discharged onto the reef. Read more about the Tropical Water Quality Hub’s work on tracking light in reefs in this fact sheet.
Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub
The illustration shows some of the lessons shared by urban environmental managers in an example of a new conservation project: Restoring a degraded urban patch into a biodiversity-friendly urban wetland. Illustration: Elia Pirtle
Lessons from environmental managers in Australian cities
Urban areas are often overlooked and undervalued in conservation planning. However, Australian cities remain notable for their biodiversity, and support significant remnant vegetation, threatened ecological communities, and populations of threatened species.
To encourage positive actions for nature in our cities, the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub released a new booklet featuring lessons and tips shared by urban environmental managers across Australian cities. Researchers spoke with managers from 25 different organisations to learn about the breadth of urban biodiversity conservation projects they pursued. They shared many valuable lessons, such as engaging with communities early to make change happen, using policy and commitments to drive action, and focusing on the small wins.
The booklet serves as a companion document to a 3-part CAUL project exploring opportunities and pathways for urban conservation action. The first stage of the research involved interviews with environmental managers to find out what kinds of things they did for urban biodiversity, the challenges they faced and how they achieved their goals. The second part of this project was led by independent Indigenous agency INDIGI LAB and outlined opportunities to integrate Indigenous knowledge and practice in urban biodiversity conservation. Finally, the researchers created a handy inventory of 353 actions to inspire urban land managers.
Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub
The critically endangered Eastern Curlew is one of many migratory shorebirds that feed and fatten up on the gulf’s mudflats and sandflats. Photo: Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub
Shoring up food supplies for migratory shorebirds
River flows in the Gulf of Carpentaria are critical for ensuring food is available for migratory shorebirds on their way in and out of Australia. Professor Michele Burford leads collaborative research that is investigating the links between river flows and food for shorebirds. This collaboration is between Griffith University, the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation and the Queensland Wader Study Group.
The Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub's research focussed on nutrients that flow downstream with seasonal floods to understand the risks associated with altering future flows. Experiments showed that these nutrients are critical for fuelling algal production of estuarine mudflats and sandflats. This production nourishes the worms, crabs and bivalves that shorebirds feed on to fatten up around their long migrations to and from the Arctic every year.
The first ground surveys of the Mitchell and the Gilbert rivers found that shorebird numbers were so high that these sites are internationally or nationally significant for birds of the East Asian–Australasian Flyway. This includes the critically endangered Eastern Curlew.
This collaborative research was designed to improve understanding of how shorebirds use the Queensland coast. The importance of gulf flood flows in maintaining productive mudflats and sandflats is providing key knowledge to Australian and Queensland Government wetlands managers. This informs how shorebird sites are managed and ensures that these vital staging and fuelling areas are maintained for migratory shorebirds into the future. Learn more in this research impact video.
Threatened Species Recovery Hub
Ngurrara Senior Ranger Sumayah Surprise undertaking burning. Photo: Chantelle Murray
Ngurrara Rangers’ fire and biodiversity survey reveals insights into reptiles
Yanunijarra Aboriginal Corporation and the Ngurrara Rangers are leading research on jila and jumu (desert water sources). This involves the relationship between time since fire and biodiversity in the Warlu Jilajaa Jumu Indigenous Protected Area and the Ngurrara exclusive possession areas, located in the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia.
In September 2020, the rangers completed biodiversity surveys at Kuduarra using trap lines in spinifex of different ages (time since fire). The trip used and valued both Ngurrara and scientific cultures. The results are now available, and even though this was the first survey, the data is already telling a story about the vegetation age preferences of many reptiles. It reinforces the need for active fire management that maintains patches of spinifex of different ages.
The trip was supported by the Threatened Species Recovery (TSR) Hub, the Australian Government’s Indigenous Protected Area and Indigenous Ranger Programs, and the Western Australian Government’s Aboriginal Ranger Program. It received technical support from Karajarri Rangers, the TSR Hub, Environs Kimberley, 10 Deserts, and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub
Screenshot of the Climate Change in Australia website.
The new refreshed website home page with a new look and improved navigation and accessibility
After 5 years of providing a state-of-the-art climate projections portal, the Climate Change in Australia website was refreshed and relaunched on 17 March 2021 to improve the accessibility and searchability of the climate projections information within the website. Based on user feedback, the website now has a new look, better navigation menus, improving accessibility of information with a search function and limited new content.
New content added to the website includes information on reframing climate change projections for Australia for various global warming levels since the pre-industrial era, and high-level statements on past and future climate changes for all states and territories, and at a national level. Improving the user experience of the website and the functionality, utility and accessibility of information, data and tools within the website will assist in ensuring that climate change projections information is better applied by target user groups to inform policy development, management planning, risk assessment and associated decision-making.
Head on over to the new website to see what climate change projections information, climate model data and tools are available to help you better understand your current and future climate risks.
Stay in touch and find out more about the interesting work happening across the Australian Government’s agriculture, water and environment portfolios: