Australia has a range of national marine research and monitoring systems and facilities.

National Marine Science Plan

In 2014, more than 500 marine science stakeholders came together to develop a National Marine Science Plan (Treloar et al. 2016). The plan, launched in 2015, sets out national priorities for ocean science and science capabilities that would meet 10 challenges for Australia’s marine environment if implemented over 2015–25 in an integrated and strategic manner.

The plan was developed and has been progressed under the auspices of the National Marine Science Committee (NMSC), a group of senior representatives from more than 30 marine research institutions, and Australian and state and territory government departments. The NMSC functions as an advisory body, linking marine science with sustainable growth and the development of Australia’s blue economy (see NMSC 2021a) in the absence of a formal framework. The NMSC has recently completed a mid-term review of the National Marine Science Plan (NMSC 2021b).

Case Study Baselines, monitoring and integrated ecosystem assessments

Recommendations in the National Marine Science Plan 2015–25 (Treloar et al. 2016) are crucial for Australia to achieve sustainable use of our marine environment and to reap the full benefits from the blue economy. Two recommendations are particularly relevant to state of the environment reporting, and other national state and trend reporting (e.g. State of the climate, Status of Australian fish stocks):

  • Establish and support a National Marine Baselines and Long-Term Monitoring Program.
  • Develop a dedicated and coordinated science program to support decision-making by policy-makers and marine industry in the face of challenges such as cumulative impacts, multiple pressures, and social and economic considerations.

Implementation of these recommendations will provide more complete data and information to support assessment of cumulative impacts and management effectiveness.

Two working groups were established by the National Marine Science Committee (NMSC) to develop advice on establishing and supporting these national programs (a baselines and monitoring working group and an integrated ecosystem assessment (IEA) working group). Reports from the working groups (Hedge et al. 2021, Smith et al. 2021) have recently been endorsed by the NMSC.

The baselines and monitoring working group concluded that there is considerable support in Australia for a national approach to marine baselines and monitoring. However, this would need clear oversight from industry, and state and national jurisdictions if the vision is to be achieved and for maximum benefit to be drawn from experience with existing programs. Success requires a commitment to ensuring that national marine data are findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable (FAIR), and that data derived from Indigenous knowledge are used and managed appropriately, with national monitoring priorities designed to meet the needs of data users.

Two options for establishing a national approach to marine baselines and monitoring are a ‘step-change’ program, supported with new funding; or an ‘incremental development collaboration’, opportunistically drawing funds from a variety of existing programs.

IEAs are emerging as a key international solution for providing a scientific evidence base to answer complex questions about the management of marine and coastal systems. The IEA working group considered the potential benefits and opportunities for implementing IEAs in Australia. It concluded that IEAs provide a system-wide perspective that not only focuses on the natural ecosystems but encompasses users of the systems, including social, cultural and economic considerations. Although full IEAs have not been undertaken in Australia, similar approaches have been completed or are currently being used in several locations. These examples form case studies that can be used to identify criteria to assist with implementation of IEAs in an Australian context.

The core recommendation of the IEA working group was that 4 Australian IEA pilot studies be undertaken: in the New South Wales marine estate, Spencer Gulf, the Victorian coastline and the northern seascapes. The proposed locations for pilot studies include areas with differing spatial extents and user complexity, including different competing objectives, needs and uses, levels of data, knowledge, and progress. These contrasting examples were selected to enable decision-makers and stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of IEAs in diverse situations. The intent is to benchmark the needs and approaches for other future uses, locations and jurisdictions, including articulation of how the approach will support ongoing assessment of state and trends, cumulative impacts and management effectiveness.

Integrated Marine Observing System

Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) was developed and initiated in 2006 under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). IMOS operates a range of ocean observing infrastructure and maintains long timeseries data on ocean variables that are relevant to environmental management and reporting. IMOS data have supported policy and management decisions in state, national and international processes, including state of the climate reports, marine park zoning and size, potential climate change effects on fisheries, and World Meteorological Organization statements on the State of the global climate and sea level rise.

The science direction of IMOS is driven by several mechanisms, including the National Marine Science Plan, the National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, the Global Ocean Observing System 2030 Strategy, and the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021–2030. To increase the capacity of IMOS data streams to inform the state of Australia’s marine environments, IMOS supported a synthesis of numerous long timeseries datasets. This work culminated in the State and trends of Australia’s oceans report (Richardson et al. 2020b), which was designed to support the 2021 state of the environment report. The report provides a baseline for marine assessments, providing information on the state and trends of 27 ecosystem indicators.

IMOS has just released a 2030 strategy setting out priorities for infrastructure, partnerships, leadership and research over the period 2021–30 (IMOS 2021). A detailed 5-year plan (2022–27) of observing activities is being developed for release in mid-2021.

Marine National Facility

The Marine National Facility (MNF) provides research capability to the Australian research community and international collaborators. It is funded by the Australian Government, and owned and operated by CSIRO. It consists of: 

  • the Research Vessel (RV) Investigator, which began operations in 2014
  • advanced multidisciplinary scientific equipment and instrumentation
  • a repository of marine data collected since 1984
  • operational and technical personnel with the expertise required to manage an ocean-going research platform and support vessel users.

In 2018, the Australian Government through NCRIS expanded support to the MNF to expand the operations of the RV Investigator from its original 180 days at sea to full-year operations. This expanded capacity prompted a review of MNF operations with a view to enhancing delivery to the research and broader communities. The review, released in mid-2019, highlighted that, since the RV Investigator is Australia’s only dedicated blue-water research vessel, it is important to recognise the broader mandate for its operation. A key component of the recommendations from the review was a shift in practice from an almost completely ‘responsive’ mode of deploying the RV Investigator to a more strategic, priority-driven mode (Mapstone 2019)

In response to the review, the MNF released its 2030 strategy (MNF 2020). The strategy is based on 6 pillars, delivered through annual plans:

  • Pillar 1 – deliver maximum and positive impact that benefits Australia by balancing researcher-driven and user-driven research.
  • Pillar 2 – extend access to the MNF to all researchers (academia, government, museums and industry) based on merit criteria.
  • Pillar 3 – increase efficiencies and effectiveness through streamlined operations, ensuring optimal use.
  • Pillar 4 – deliver advanced capabilities and promote innovation in marine technologies.
  • Pillar 5 – train and inspire future generations and build a pipeline of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent, including proactively creating opportunities for Indigenous STEM students.
  • Pillar 6 – connect with Australians and the world through increasing public literacy and awareness of the benefits of marine research.

Reef Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program

The Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan) provides an overarching strategy for managing and protecting the Great Barrier Reef. A key component of the Reef 2050 Plan is the implementation of the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP). RIMReP is a joint partnership involving key Australian Government environmental management and science agencies, the Queensland Government, and Traditional Owner representatives, and is coordinated by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The program’s vision is to develop an online knowledge system that enables resilience-based management of the Great Barrier Reef, and provides managers with a comprehensive understanding of how the Reef 2050 Plan is progressing. RIMReP is dynamic and will grow and improve as access to new information and technologies become available. The Reef Knowledge System is the online portal for RIMReP (GBRMPA 2020), which provides up-to-date information about the health of the Reef.

Indigenous knowledge and research

Traditional Custodians are actively involved in many aspects of the management of sea Country. Indigenous knowledge holders have the wisdom of lived experiences and intergenerational passing down of experiences of continuous resilience to a changing environment. It is important to respect that Indigenous knowledge is founded in the world view of the relationships between people and their Country, and the customs and traditions that enshrine practices. Indigenous knowledge must be recognised as an important part of the knowledge resources needed to manage sea Country (see the Indigenous knowledge and research section in the Coasts chapter).