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Priorities for identification and sustainable management of high conservation value aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia. Final Report for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities and the National Water Commisi

(2011). Priorities for identification and sustainable management of high conservation value aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia. Final Report for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities and the National Water Commisi. Darwin, NT: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) Commonwealth Environmental Research Facility, Charles Darwin University.

Document type: Research Report
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Title of Report Priorities for identification and sustainable management of high conservation value aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia. Final Report for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities and the National Water Commision
Editor Kennard, Mark J.
Publication Date 2011
ISBN 978‐1‐921576‐30‐0   (check CDU catalogue open catalogue search in new window)
Publisher Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) Commonwealth Environmental Research Facility, Charles Darwin University
Place of Publication Darwin, NT
Total Pages 181
Field of Research 300800 Environmental Sciences
Abstract Executive summary

Northern Australia boasts a range of significant aquatic ecosystems and ecosystem types, including estuaries, rivers, lakes and wetlands. These ecosystems not only provide clean water, food and recreation but have important intrinsic ecological and cultural values. These ecosystems also support high biodiversity, including many unique species of aquatic plants and animals.

To increase knowledge about these aquatic ecosystems, the Australian Government commissioned the Northern Australia Aquatic Ecological Assets Project as part of the Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment (NAWFA). The objective of the NAWFA is to provide an enduring knowledge base to inform the protection and development of northern Australia’s water resources, so that any development proceeds in an ecologically, culturally and economically sustainable manner. This project, one of a number under the NAWFA, was tasked to identify key aquatic ecological assets (i.e. highly valued components of the environment) in northern Australia.

The Northern Australia Aquatic Ecological Assets Project was undertaken by the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) Commonwealth Environmental Research Facility in collaboration with the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) and the National Water Commission (NWC).

The project consisted of three phases:

1. Contributions to the Northern Australia Land and Water Science Review 2009

The project contributed to the Northern Australia Land and Water Science Review 2009 by determining the
impact of development alternatives on northern Australia aquatic ecosystems and aquatic biodiversity. The
outcomes of this assessment are available in Pusey & Kennard (2009) and synthesised here (Chapter 2).

2. Broad‐scale assessment and prioritisation of aquatic ecological assets across northern Australia

This component of the project aimed to identify key aquatic ecological assets in northern Australia and trial
the draft Framework developed by the Aquatic Ecosystem Task Group (AETG) to identify High Conservation
Value Aquatic Ecosystems (HCVAEs1). This involved:

1. Identifying, mapping and evaluating aquatic ecosystem characteristics in northern Australia
   based on the draft Australian National Aquatic Ecosystem (ANAE) classification scheme (Auricht,
   2010)
2. developing a method to apply and assess the draft HCVAE Framework that is based on the best
    available science and knowledge
3. defining key knowledge gaps and making recommendations for further work to refine the draft
    HCVAE Framework
4. utilising a mixture of GIS analysis, systematic conservation planning methods, coupled with
   expert system approaches to further rank and validate the ecological value of assets, and to
   provide a comparison of these results against those derived from the HCVAE Framework.

Chapter 3 synthesises the outcomes of the broad‐scale assessment and prioritisation of aquatic  ecological assets across northern Australia (reported in full in Kennard 2010). This includes an evaluation of  the HCVAE Framework and an application of alternative approaches to identifying high conservation value aquatic ecosystems. Geodatabases containing aquatic ecosystem mapping, classifications and  all HCVAE attributes, together with metadata and attribute tables are held by the Australian Government (DSEWPaC) and are synthesised in Appendices 8.1 – 8.2.

3. Fine‐scale assessment and prioritisation of regional aquatic ecosystem assets

In collaboration with the State and Territory jurisdictions and DSEWPaC, the project team held a series of regional expert panel workshops. The purpose of these workshops was to identify Natural Heritage Values of wetlands in northern Australia and undertake fine scale assessments for key focal regions (or specific catchments) identified by jurisdictions as high priority or planned development areas. The fine scale assessment had a number of key aims including to identify high priority aquatic ecological assets and understand ecological thresholds in relation to flow regimes and maintenance of aquatic ecosystem assets.

In undertaking the fine scale assessments, the following approach was applied:

- For the Gulf of Carpentaria Drainage Division, work cooperatively with the Queensland
  Government Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) to utilise
  AquaBAMM and Queensland Wetland Mapping to identify and assess HCV assets and
  ecological thresholds in focal Gulf catchments.
- For the NT Arafura Sea portion of the Timor Sea Drainage Division, work cooperatively with NT
  Government Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport (NRETAS) to
  identify and assess HCV assets in the Daly River catchment and possibly other high conservation
  value areas (i.e. contributing to ongoing work with the “Sites of Conservation Significance”
  project).
- For the Kimberley portion of the Timor Sea Drainage Division, work cooperatively National
  Heritage Assessment section of DSEWPaC (e.g. using the Australian Natural Heritage
  Assessment Tool – ANHAT) as well as the Western Australian Government Department of
  Environment and Conservation (e.g. through the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy).

A summary of the outcomes of these fine scale assessments and workshops is presented in Chapter 4 and full reports are presented in Appendices 8.3 – 8.6 and Rollason & Howell (2010).

In Chapter 5 we canvas some key challenges for sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia. In particular, we evaluate the concept of ecological thresholds and how useful it is for informing environmental management to sustain ecosystem values. Managers of high conservation value areas must achieve a balance between taking conservation action, evaluating the effectiveness of actions taken, and monitoring the general status of biodiversity conservation targets and the threats they face. We review approaches to estimating socioeconomic costs of different management actions and how these can be prioritised in a systematic and hierarchical framework (the concept of multiple management zones). Monitoring is a key component of adaptive management and can inform the decisions of managemen agencies. Unfortunately however, monitoring practices have generally been poorly connected with decision‐making and this has led to an inability to assess the effectiveness or efficiency of the conservation management actions. We therefore present several frameworks to guide if, why, when and how monitoring should be implemented and how the outcomes of the monitoring will feed into adaptive management of aquatic ecological assets in northern Australia. Finally, in Chapter 6 we identify and synthesise key knowledge gaps and next steps.

1 At their meeting in October 2010, the AETG agreed to change the name of the “High Conservation Value Aquatic
Ecosystem” Framework to the “High Ecological Value Aquatic Ecosystem” (HEVAE) Framework.




 
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