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National Environmental Science Program
September 2022 update
September is National Biodiversity Month, an opportunity to connect with and care for nature in all its diversity. A key focus of the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) is providing the evidence base to inform design and delivery of policies, regulatory processes and on-ground management approaches to protect Australia’s unique biodiversity.
Across all 4 NESP hubs, research is underway to better understand and address the increasingly complex challenges threatening our terrestrial, marine and aquatic habitats and species:
- NESP researchers are seeking to better understand and combat threats to biodiversity, such as ocean acidification, bycatch, and feral cats and foxes.
- Species conservation research spans the Spotted Handfish, the use of safe-haven networks, Queensland lizards, and an Indigenous Desert Alliance-led project to support priority desert species.
- Projects are also seeking to support improvement of habitat condition from urban environments, to kelp forests and Ramsar wetlands.
Much of this research contributes to NESP’s threatened and migratory species and threatened ecological communities cross-cutting initiative. Through this initiative, NESP hubs will combine scientific and First Nations knowledges – often collaborating across 2 or more hubs – to support the valuing, conserving, recovering or restoring, and wise use of Australia’s biodiversity and ecosystems. This work will support evidence-based implementation of the Threatened species strategy 2021-2031.
While September shines a light on biodiversity, August showcased the talent and achievements of Australia’s scientists, thanks to the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes:
- Congratulations to the NESP Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub Leader, UNSW SMaRT Centre Professor Veena Sahajwalla, for winning the Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science. The award recognises Veena’s efforts working and sharing with the wider community the important role science plays in our daily lives.
- Well done also to the NESP team from the phase-1 Tropical Water Quality Hub who were finalists in the Applied Environmental Research category. The team applied an integrated pest management approach – traditionally used in agriculture – to control the voracious Crown-of-thorns Starfish that feast on Great Barrier Reef coral.
Read on to discover more about research being done through the hubs.
Climate Systems Hub
Cairns students draw a sustainable future
Climate Systems Hub Leader Dr Simon Marsland and Indigenous Facilitator Rowena Bullio spent this year’s National Science Week working with Traditional Owners and scientists at Illuminate-FNQ, an event aimed at igniting the future with ancient wisdom.
Speaking to audiences young and old, the hub took the opportunity to ask students from across Cairns what they wanted their futures to look like.
The results were images of native creatures, healthy reefs and renewable energy – an optimistic blend of the natural environment, science and innovation.
“I really want to see our reefs not bleached,” said one student.
Speaking to students, both Ms Bullio and Dr Marsland spoke about the importance of science, and the work of the NESP hubs in bringing together scientists and Traditional Owners.
“We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change,” said Ms Bullio. “This work has the ability to empower communities across Australia, create jobs and help us adapt to climate change.”
Whatever the future holds, the hub will continue to deliver science for a better Australia. Hopefully, this future will meet the expectations of the kids of Cairns.
Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub
Benefits of connecting with nature
Throughout history and around the world, the benefits of being in and around nature for our physical and mental health and wellbeing have long been recognised.
Whether we actively engage in the outdoors, or quietly admire the view from a window, connecting with nature improves our quality of life. Today, evidence continues to emerge that demonstrates many ways that nature can support good health and restore the human body and mind.
Over the next 6 months, the Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub will examine the value of connecting with nature in different forms, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander connections to Country. The hub’s research – led by Dr Emily Flies (University of Tasmania) and Malcolm Eadie (Monash University) – will inform the development of effective nature-based solutions in policy and practice across Australia.
For instance, studies have found that any vegetated area – including private gardens, manicured parklands and urban forests – can provide health benefits. People who feel most ‘connected with nature’ tend to be happier and healthier, and act in ways that are good for the environment.
Understanding the diverse human-nature connections across Australia will help us support those connections in ways that benefit both human wellbeing and the environment. Find out more in the hub’s new factsheet.
Resilient Landscapes Hub
Seven new projects underway
The Resilient Landscapes Hub has launched its second annual research plan.
The hub has been conducting collaborative research-design sessions with research users at the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water to develop an initial suite of on-ground projects that target priority areas, topics and species. These projects build on the initial scoping projects from the first year of the hub to ensure projects integrate research-user involvement throughout each project’s lifespan.
These projects focus on managing threats, using novel approaches to regional planning, and finding innovative ways to protect threatened and migratory species and threatened ecological communities.
The hub’s 2022 research plan is focusing on high-priority projects that meet the needs of the department and other stakeholders with aligned priorities. The 7 projects in this research plan are:
- Assessing risks to the environment from water-resource development in northern Australia, using north Queensland as a case study
- Best-practice management for feral cats and red foxes
- Using integrated data analysis to assess regional transferability
- National overview of monitoring frameworks and tools for Ramsar sites
- Addressing Kakadu’s strategic research needs
- Protecting threatened species in safe havens
- Supporting the management of priority desert threatened species.
Read more about these new projects and other news from the hub in the latest hub newsletter.
Marine and Coastal Hub
Citizen scientists help reveal the movement of marine life as oceans warm
As climate change affects our oceans, many marine plants and animals are moving locations to keep pace with their preferred temperatures.
Australian species are shifting further south, which has impacts on ecosystem structure and function, fisheries and conservation. Specific management is often required as species leave existing locations or enter new areas.
Citizen science programs – such as the Range Extension Database and Mapping project (Redmap) – can be used to help monitor these climate-driven species range extensions. When something unusual for a given location is spotted, fishers and divers upload a photo with location and size information. Redmap photos are verified by a network of almost 100 marine scientists around Australia.
Working through the Marine and Coastal Hub, University of Tasmania and James Cook University researchers examined tens of thousands of photographs taken by Australian fishers and divers and submitted to Redmap and other citizen science programs over the last decade. Analysis revealed climate change is already disrupting our marine ecosystems – sometimes in ways previously unknown to marine scientists.
Citizen science has benefits beyond helping us understand changes in natural systems. Projects such as Redmap open a community conversation about climate change effects on Australia’s marine environment. The hub’s research suggests using the public’s own knowledge and photos is an effective way to engage the community, and involve people in helping document and understand how climate change is affecting the ocean.
Keep up to date
Stay in touch and find out more about the interesting work happening across the Australian Government’s climate, water and environment portfolios: