Giving coastal communities the tools to deal with climate change

October 21, 2014

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A new online planning tool will help coastal communities determine where their strengths and vulnerabilities lie in terms of climate change and give them the knowledge to prepare for the future.

The tool on the Coastal Climate Blueprint website, is the result of four year’s work by the University of Tasmania, Murdoch University and CSIRO and is funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Federal Government.

Marine economics expert, Murdoch’s Professor Malcolm Tull said the main climate pressures affecting the marine environment in Western Australia are changes in ocean temperatures, the seasonality and location of storms and increasing ocean acidity.

Professor Tull said understanding the effects of changes on fisheries and the marine environment was the first step in helping communities, households, businesses and governments to prepare for the flow-on economic effects of marine climate pressures.

To develop the blueprint analysis tool the project team researched three areas in Australia; St Helen’s in Tasmania, Bowen in North Queensland and Geraldton in Western Australia.

“Geraldton has seen an increase in ocean temperatures and declining strength of the Leeuwin Current which has led to increased stress and caused higher mortality of ‘cool water’ marine species,” Professor Tull said.

“This has led to a decline in rock lobster larvae and while predictions are always uncertain, is expected to cause a decline in breeding stock in the future.

“These changes have already had an impact on employment in fishing and support industries and have led to the decline of the vibrant seasonal communities on the Abrolhos Islands.”

Professor Tull said that communities such as Geraldton can use the blueprint tool to develop strategies to deal with the changes to marine environments brought on by climate change.

“Ocean temperature changes in Geraldton have increased the potential to farm warm water species,” he said.

“The introduction of popular warm water species may also have a positive impact on recreational and charter fishing in the area.”

Project leader, Dr Stewart Frusher said that although coastal communities were aware of locally observed climate-related phenomena, there appeared to be a lack of awareness of flow-on consequences and economic effects of marine climate pressures on sectors such as commercial and recreational fishing, marine tourism and aquaculture.

“Our surveys indicate a perception that pressures on the marine environment are coming from sources other than climate change such as fishing pressure. This means there is a certain level of inertia to overcome with respect to convincing communities to undertake marine climate change adaptation planning.

“We see this as a way forward for coastal communities to manage their climate future,” he said.

The Coastal Climate Blueprint website and planning tool will be particularly useful to community organisations such as Coastcare, fishing associations and tourism authorities.

Dr Sarah Metcalf, also from Murdoch University, worked alongside Professor Malcolm Tull on the Western Australian component of the project.

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