Management approaches

Assessment Policy and management to support Indigenous leadership of adaptive management of Country
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is improving.

Traditional Owners in the yarning circle mostly disagreed or strongly disagreed that policy and management support Indigenous leadership. The discussions noted that Traditional Owners need to be empowered and resourced effectively by seeking advancement through policy change or empowering Elder leadership to voice directions. There were acknowledged complexities with the implementation and delivery of policy practices. The tensions occur at the implementation phase. Indigenous people need a voice in changing policy to ensure that the goalposts do not change or become invisible.

Assessment [parent] Management of the marine environment and resources to support inclusiveness, equity and human wellbeing
2021 Assessment graphic showing that management is partially effective, meaning that management measures have limited impact on maintaining or improving the state of the environment. The situation is improving.

Traditional Owners in the yarning circle had mixed responses about management of the marine environment and resources supporting inclusiveness, equity and human wellbeing, with ‘disagree’ / ‘strongly disagree’ receiving similar numbers of responses to ‘agree’ and ‘neutral’. The discussion raised the important point that, even if Traditional Owners have strong influence on decision-making, there is no strong influence to appropriately manage their own resources. This has flow-on consequences for equity in resources and livelihoods, and wellbeing benefits from the resources.

Integrated management

As highlighted in previous state of the environment reports, a key gap in the management of the marine environment has been national coordination of management systems across sectors and jurisdictions. Poor coordination can waste resources and leave gaps in management of pressures, which can result in a gradual decline despite appropriate management in the individual sector or jurisdiction (Winther et al. 2020a).

In Australia, there is demand for a coherent and integrated governance system for ocean and coastal management that brings in all 3 levels of government (Future Earth Australia 2021). The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park provides a model for how good coordination across state and national jurisdictions can support integrated management approaches – encapsulated in the Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement. This delivers joint planning, permitting and compliance across jurisdictions (e.g. the Australian and Queensland governments’ joint delivery of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan and the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan).

A 10-year national strategy, developed by Future Earth Australia and released in June 2021, puts forward several recommendations to ensure that our marine and coastal environments remain healthy and resilient (Future Earth Australia 2021). The Sustainable Oceans and Coasts National Strategy 2021–2030 aligns with the mid-term report from the National Marine Science Committee (NMSC 2021b), the priority actions identified by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel 2020) and more broadly the societal outcomes of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (IOC 2020) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Development of the strategy was informed by researchers, governments, nongovernment organisations, industry and Indigenous people. However, there are challenges with the implementation of any strategy, given the rules and controls associated with governance and management.

Management and data agreements with Traditional Custodians

Indigenous communities are looking for more agreements around management and data generation so that commitment to relationship building is less ad hoc and more sustained over the longer term (see the Indigenous knowledge governance section in the Indigenous chapter). Agreement making needs committed investment in a co-designed strategy, and resourcing that allows Traditional Owners to be actively, genuinely and continuously involved.

Over the past decade, there has been slow and emerging growth in Traditional Owners entering into signed agreements with governments and organisations. The scope of agreements varies across Australia. Agreements are more frequent for management of cultural use of traditional species; much rarer are co-governance arrangements that support the inclusion of Traditional Owners in broader management plans involving the mixing of diverse values in a multi-use area involving commercial, industry and environmental sectors. In multi-use areas, Indigenous management intersects with the management and regulation carried out by governance agencies. The outcome of this intersection often falls short of management expectations because of the inherent practicalities involved with shared governance responsibility and achieving co-benefits (Dale et al. 2018, Lee 2019b). Traditional Owners are placed in the challenging position of needing to assert their voice and perspectives across many domain areas while having poor resourcing and opportunities to participate. This means that Indigenous voices and views are unable to effectively influence governance and management.

Indigenous control of Indigenous data is advancing through the CARE (Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility and Ethics) principles of Indigenous data sovereignty (Carroll et al. 2020). For example, in the Great Barrier Reef, there are efforts to establish a negotiated Indigenous data-sharing agreement for Reef Traditional Owners (see case study: Traditional Owner–led integrated monitoring and reporting using the Strong Peoples – Strong Country framework).

There are many Indigenous ranger groups across the country, funded by the Australian Government and state and territory governments, which actively manage sea Country (see Figure 23, in the Indigenous ranger programs section in the Indigenous chapter).

Case Study Traditional Owner–led integrated monitoring and reporting using the Strong Peoples – Strong Country framework

Liz Wren, Great Barrier Reef Foundation

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is a biocultural landscape, requiring all values to be recognised, respected, and managed accordingly. Traditional Owners, as primary rights holders of the Reef, are the only ones who can determine heritage values, and assess their significance and condition.

Traditional Owners have actively managed their Sea Country for thousands of years. However, they have previously had limited input into the design and application of formal monitoring programs and have encountered management regimes based on indicators of little significance to them.

Novel ways to monitor and report based on Traditional Owner lore, tradition and custom have now emerged, recognising adaptive management approaches that are designed to embrace values, ethics, codes of conduct, justice, equity and fairness. Strong People – Strong Country (SPSC) is an Indigenous heritage monitoring and reporting framework, designed by Traditional Owners to integrate their world view into contemporary management of protected areas (Figure 29).

The SPSC framework has created opportunities for Traditional Owners to address priorities important to them. Through pilot projects, interested Reef Traditional Owner communities will implement the SPSC framework to test its robustness in situ, and ensure that training, capacity building and other enabling conditions are identified and put in place to support appropriate data collection, agreement making, and sharing of long-term monitoring and reporting about their heritage values. Directly funded positions such as community research assistants, and on-ground data and technical experts; technology ownership; and management and training for collection, input, reporting and sharing of data are all enabling conditions to ensure success for the communities undertaking the pilot project.

The framework and enabling conditions mean that Traditional Owners have control of their information and data to support local priorities and reflect adaptive management needs. As well, through agreement, Traditional Owner information and data may contribute to the wider management of the Great Barrier Reef through integration of Indigenous heritage values that describe Traditional Owner values, priorities and their current condition and trend in ways that challenge – yet positively influence and enhance – approaches to adaptive management of protected areas.

Figure 29 Strong Peoples – Strong Country framework for monitoring Indigenous heritage in the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program

© Mallie Designs, licensed for use by RIMReP Partners

Marine ecosystem restoration and engineering

The review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (see Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999) highlights that broad restoration of Australian ecosystems will be required to address past loss, build resilience and reverse the current trajectory of environmental decline (Samuel 2020) (see the Biodiversity chapter). Restoration of Australia’s critically important marine and coastal ecosystems has been the subject of increasing research attention and investment in recent years (see case study: Marine restoration in a changing climate).

In addition to restoration, the concept of ‘ecological engineering’ has been gaining increasing attention. This refers to the use of human-made infrastructure and technology to enhance restoration efforts (e.g. shading and cloud brightening for coral reefs). Ecological engineering can also refer to approaches that aim to maximise the provision of ecosystem services from Australia’s increasingly busy seascapes by manipulating existing ecosystems or designing novel ecosystems (e.g. Blue Economy CRC 2021). Blue carbon (the sequestration of carbon in seagrass, mangrove and saltmarsh) is receiving increasing attention as a co-benefit of marine ecological restoration.

Case Study Marine restoration in a changing climate

Until recently, marine conservation and management have primarily focused on reducing the drivers that cause loss of biodiversity and habitat. Although actions such as managing overfishing and reducing pollution have led to some improvements, marine ecosystems continue to decline. Habitat restoration is increasingly seen as a viable tool to slow and even reverse these declines. However, since ongoing climate change is a driver of habitat loss in many instances, restoration can be a complex and multifaceted challenge, often requiring novel ‘engineering’ solutions, especially when coupled with a need to sustain the provision of ecosystem services and support Australia’s rapidly growing blue economy (see case study: The blue economy).

Ecosystem restoration and engineering for Australian giant kelp forests and coral reefs

Two of Australia’s most iconic and valuable habitat-forming marine ecosystems – coral reefs and giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forests – are among the ecosystems already demonstrating clear impacts from climate change (see Coral reefs, and Rocky reefs and kelp beds). Even if greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly reduced, there are still decades of warming ‘locked in’ as a result of inertia in the climate system and lags in the influence of today’s emissions on future climate. Restoration efforts therefore need to consider ongoing climate change impacts to be effective.

The National Environmental Science Program’s Marine Biodiversity Hub and the University of Tasmania have identified from remnant forest patches more thermally tolerant giant kelp that may be used as the foundation of restoration efforts. Work assessing the species’ adaptive capacity and genetics, and the influence of grazers and competitors, will also provide a better understanding of the viability of restoration efforts and ‘future-proof’ these efforts (Wood et al. 2019).

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program is developing new methods to help coral reefs, and specifically the Great Barrier Reef, survive climate change. These methods have been split into 3 categories: those that ‘protect’ the reefs and help retain existing biodiversity and corals, those that ‘assist’ the reefs’ adaptation to increasing temperatures, and those that can be used to ‘restore’ degraded high-value sites. Three main approaches are being investigated to increase rate at which corals can adapt to temperature increases:

  • managed or selective breeding using cross-breeding between distinct populations of the same species (i.e. assisted gene flow) or between species (i.e. hybridisation), or the crossing of heat-tolerant individuals of the same species
  • conditioning, whereby organisms are exposed to a sublethal stressor that may elicit an increased tolerance to subsequent stress exposure
  • microbiome manipulation or microbiome engineering, which is the manipulation of individual microbes, microbial communities or their hosts.

Engineering interventions

Even with strong global climate mitigation, oceans will continue to warm for decades and possibly longer, and interventions that seek to engineer the local environment to reduce climate-related stressors may be viable in some circumstances. Approaches that increase shading on portions of the Great Barrier Reef are being investigated, including reflecting incoming solar radiation from the ocean surface using either reflective surface films or a temporary sea fog, with the aim of reducing coral mortality at critical periods of stress (Baird et al. 2019). At larger scales, cloud brightening, where microscopic seawater droplets are sprayed into the marine boundary layer of the atmosphere to form cloud condensation nuclei, may increase cloud reflectivity during marine heatwaves and reduce sea surface temperatures over regional-scale areas (Harrison 2018, Harrison et al. 2019a). Ecological modelling shows that large-scale cooling, facilitated through approaches such as cloud brightening, has the potential to maintain coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef when combined with aggressive global emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement (Anthony et al. 2019).

A call to action

The period 2021–30 has been identified by the United Nations as a Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, with the goal of massively ‘upscaling’ restoration efforts to enhance food security and water supplies, promote habitat resilience and biodiversity protection, and combat the climate emergency. This international call to action highlights the need for continued investment in developing and implementing interventions that can buy time for ecosystems impacted by climate change while greenhouse gas emissions are urgently reduced. Decisive action on restoration interventions is critical, and hesitation in considering nonconventional approaches could mean that the pace of change outstrips our capacity to successfully intervene. Charting the course toward the ‘oceans we need’ in 2030 is already the subject of growing research attention (e.g. see the Future Seas website).