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National Environmental Science Program
May 2021 update
Welcome to the latest edition of NESP News. As we move into Reconciliation Week, we celebrate the Indigenous partnerships that have developed throughout the program, including the successful National First Peoples Gathering on Climate Change 2021, held in March 2021.
Collaborations with First Nations peoples will continue to be a focus for the new Climate Systems Hub, led by Dr Simon Marsland from CSIRO. Dr Marsland is a renowned global ocean and climate modeller and has led international ocean-modelling collaborations through the World Climate Research Programme. He also led the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator contribution to the most recent phase 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project.
In the new hub, Simon will build on current partnerships and lead a national consortium of researchers concentrating on maintaining our world-class capability in multidisciplinary earth-systems science and modelling.
Collaborative partnerships are key to our success. Researchers from all hubs are working with individuals, communities, government, industry and Traditional Owner groups to help achieve improved on-ground outcomes for the environment.
Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub
Workshop participants and researchers using the tabletop interactive projector to examine spatial data.
Photo: Dr Ro Hill, CSIRO.
Handover of research data and tools to Traditional Owners in the Kimberley
Delegates from the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Walalakoo and Yanunijarra Prescribed Bodies Corporate, and staff from the Kimberley Land Council attended a workshop from 29 March to 1 April 2021 in Derby, Western Australia. This workshop was to hand over tools and data to Traditional Owners in the Kimberley from the Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub's Fitzroy River research projects.
The hub’s Multi-objective Planning in Northern Australia and Knowledge brokering for Indigenous Land Management projects worked together to deliver useful research products to Traditional Owner groups through the workshop. The multi-objective planning in northern Australia project is led by researchers from James Cook University and the showing and sharing knowledge project is led by researchers from CSIRO.
During the workshop, James Cook University researchers provided to Traditional Owners a computer with Geographic Information System capacity and a sophisticated set of spatial data, while CSIRO provided an interactive desktop projector. Together, these tools and data allow Traditional Owners to discuss and interact with maps of threatened species habitats, water sources, historical fire scars, roads, bores and a wealth of other data for planning and evaluating development opportunities.
Traditional Owner participants found the workshop, data and tools very useful. According to Robert Watson, director and chair of Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation, the workshop ‘provided a vision for the future in several ways … [and] highlight[ed] ongoing skills transfer needed to fully utilise the tools’.
Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub
A waterwise verge garden in suburban Perth.
Photo: Dr Natasha Pauli, University of Western Australia.
Friendships and biodiversity bloom in verge gardens
As our cities continue to grow, we need to take advantage of even the smallest urban green spaces. Gardens on street verges are gaining popularity and researchers from the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub have uncovered the benefits and challenges of these garden makeovers.
Researchers from the University of Western Australia interviewed residents engaged in verge gardening and mapped and surveyed their verges for plants and pollinators, such as bees and birds.
The findings, published in a new report, found households gained a variety of benefits from verge gardening, including personal satisfaction, shade and cooling, privacy, connection to nature and even social interaction. The social benefits were a welcome finding. Gardeners get to know their neighbours while out on the verge, with residents sometimes offering plants, moral support or even food to support the gardeners.
Researchers also uncovered a range of encouraging biodiversity benefits. Insect surveys found evidence of native bees, flower-visiting wasps and hoverflies visiting flowering native plants in street verge gardens.
More local councils are now supporting the blossoming trend. A companion report highlighted almost all of the 31 councils in Perth now permit native verge gardens, with interest from residents expected to increase.
Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub
Energy network decision-makers attend the Hobart Energy Networks Australia climate change information workshop. Photo: Mandy Hopkins, Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub.
Climate change science toolkit to inform network risk assessments for the energy sector
Climate change science and information can be complex and hard to navigate for decision-makers looking to understand their climate risks. To address this, the Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub developed a climate change information workshop toolkit. This was to provide decision-makers with a better understanding of the climate system, an appreciation of climate change science and the confidence to find and use climate change information to inform decisions.
The hub’s training and workshop materials were recently used by Energy Networks Australia to deliver climate change information workshops to the energy network sector across all states and territories. Hub and CSIRO researchers and staff took part in the workshops to help the attending energy decision-makers use climate change information in the development of network risk assessments, maintenance planning and investment cases for new infrastructure. Dr Jill Caney, General Manager at Energy Networks Australia, thought the contribution of hub staff to the climate change information workshops was invaluable. Dr Carney noted that the workshop ‘… has given networks the insights they need to develop approaches to delivering the essential service customers need in the face of the changing climate’.
Threatened Species Recovery Hub
Smooth scrub turpentine (Rhodamnia maideniana), found in New South Wales and Queensland, has rapidly declined since the arrival of the plant disease myrtle rust.
Photo: Glenn Leiper.
Action plan for imperilled plants launched
There are more than 1,300 plants listed as nationally threatened species. To help prevent species extinctions, the Threatened Species Recovery Hub identified the 50 species at greatest risk of extinction and the steps needed to halt and reverse their declines.
The findings are presented in a new Action plan for imperilled plants. More than 120 botanists and land managers from Australian universities, government agencies, botanic gardens, herbaria, conservation and community groups, and environmental consultants contributed to the plan. Without action the species in the plan are in real trouble. Five of the species had less than 5 plants left in the wild at the end of 2020. Thirty of the species had less than 50 mature individuals left, and all are suffering ongoing decline.
The good news is that saving these species is very possible. Most of the actions in the plan are relatively easy to implement but will require long-term resourcing and commitment. The plan can be used by anyone involved in threatened flora management, including Australian, state, territory and local government groups; First Nations, environment and community conservation groups; and anyone with one of these plants on their land. Watch this video to learn more about the action plan.
Marine Biodiversity Hub
Humpback whales head south along the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, Western Australia.
Photo: Vinay Udyawer, Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Towards quality maps of shipping noise around Australia
Cumulative exposure to underwater noise can represent a risk to many large marine animals. The need for Australia to have quality shipping noise measurements that meet international standards was identified at a 2017 workshop, convened by the Marine Biodiversity Hub.
Since this workshop, hub researchers have worked to catalogue ship noise signatures for Australian waters. They combined archival recordings from Integrated Marine Observing System acoustic observatories with recordings from an acoustic vertical array installed for 2 months off Fremantle, Western Australia. Sophisticated sound propagation models were used to determine the high-quality ship noise signatures for use in a spatial model of ship noise (source spectrum) around Australia. The results of this study will contribute to the assessment and management of underwater noise by the Australian Government, including evaluating the potential impacts on marine animals.
The hub's technical report, Underwater noise signatures of ships in Australian waters, will be of value to other researchers working on shipping noise characterisation. It presents the field recordings and methodology developed for computing ship source spectra and levels.
Tropical Water Quality Hub
Dr Stephen Lewis (James Cook University), collecting sediment samples from the Burdekin River on the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon.
Photo: Jeff Maurice, High Pixel Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Townsville.
The detriment of sediment – tracing nitrogen on the Great Barrier Reef
Nitrogen, dissolved in water as a nutrient, poses a considerable risk to Great Barrier Reef ecosystems. Tropical Water Quality Hub research shows a considerable amount of dissolved inorganic nitrogen travels to the reef lagoon in the form of flood plume sediment. Research led by James Cook University found up to 30% of dissolved inorganic nitrogen from the Burdekin catchment was delivered by sediments carried downstream. It also found that these sediments have the potential to continue to produce nitrogen once deposited on the marine floor, or once resuspended in subsequent flooding events.
This research now supports prioritising gully-site repair to address both sedimentation and dissolved inorganic nitrogen loss across the Burdekin catchment. Outcomes of this research will also contribute to the next Scientific Consensus Statement for the Great Barrier Reef and improve all future modelling, monitoring and reporting methods for this region. A video documenting these project outcomes can be found on the hub's website.
Stay in touch and find out more about the interesting work happening across the Australian Government’s agriculture, water and environment portfolios: