A new life for old infrastructure

Coastal development is expanding rapidly across the state and it is estimated there are now more than 7,400 man-made marine structures, ranging from oil and gas infrastructure to shipwrecks and artificial reefs, in Western Australia.

In coming years, there will be increasing proposals to build new infrastructure in WA’s marine environment and regulatory approval will need to consider the impacts on stakeholders with a vested interest in the future of these structures.

Recreational fishers are an example of a sector that have become increasingly aware of the value of the marine life that has grown on, around and near these structures and are keen to capitalise on the ecosystem benefits to improve fishing experiences.

Recognising the need to better understand these impacts, research, funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and Chevron, assessed the values and benefits associated with these structures, examining stakeholder attitudes towards their installation or removal.

The published report, Enhancing the Understanding of the Value Provided to Fisheries by Man-made Aquatic Structures, is the result of a collaboration of researchers and subject experts across the WAMSI partnership.

Taking into account the hopes, aspirations, and concerns of all stakeholder groups, it suggests future installation of marine man-made structures will need to meet the social and environmental values and expectations of the community.

Lead researcher Professor Euan Harvey from Curtin University, said the work would inform future policy decisions, not only for the decommissioning of built structures in marine environments, but also for the design and installation of new projects.

“Whether it be in the form of new ports, offshore renewable energy, subsea cables and aquaculture facilities, WA is paving the way in delivering future marine infrastructure projects,” Professor Harvey said.

“This report will provide a vital point of reference for regulators, proponents and other stakeholders when considering the social and economic impacts of installation and removal.

“By considering the socioeconomic values of all potential stakeholders during the planning process, it will become increasingly more possible to maximise the social and economic benefits to potential users.”

“The marine structures of the future could be designed with decommissioning and removal in mind.”

WAMSI acknowledges the following authors for their input:

Euan Harvey, Fran Ackermann, Georgie Hill (Curtin), Julian Clifton, Michael Burton, Carmen Elrick-Barr, Johanna Zimmerhackel, Julian Partridge, Paul McLeod (UWA), Stephen Newman, Mark Pagano (DPIRD), Jenny Shaw (WAMSI) and Dianne McLean (AIMS)

Modelling reveals greatest threat to Kimberley

Climate change, not economic development, is the biggest threat to the Kimberley region, putting resident species such as reef fish at risk according to long-term environmental modelling.

A team of researchers from CSIRO carried out complex modelling across a network of Kimberley marine parks to explore the future impacts of climate change and human development at a regional scale.

Using a range of economic development and climate change scenarios they applied socio-economic and environmental modelling to create a projection of the Kimberley marine system up to the year 2050.

Based on the projected future models, CSIRO lead Dr Fabio Boschetti anticipated climate change would have the most significant long-term impact on the region.

“While one-off investments in large infrastructure can affect a region for decades to come, environmental sustainability appears to be more heavily affected by slow-dynamics climate change processes,” Dr Boschetti said.

The results uncovered a need for tougher management strategies, particularly expansion of sanctuary zones and Marine Protected Areas, to protect resident marine species.

“These models project a future where both strategic and reactive planning is necessary and prediction becomes as urgent as standard adaptive management,” Dr Boschetti said.

“It builds the groundwork to ensure basic bookkeeping of ecological processes are in place and that expectation of future regional developments are realistic and consistent.”

The research, carried out under the Kimberley Marine Research Program, provides meaningful scientific information to support environmental decision making at a regional scale across several decades.

Setting a new industry gold standard

Proponents of future infrastructure projects involving large-scale dredging will be encouraged to comply with new scientific guidelines in order to carry out their activities.

The Environmental Protection Authority’s Technical Guidance for the Environmental Impact Assessment of Marine Dredging Proposals has been revised and updated to include key scientific findings from WAMSI’s Dredging Science Node (DSN).

The revised technical guidance will improve the ability for industry to predict and manage the impacts of large-scale dredging on projects in Western Australia.

Dredging is a critical component of WA’s infrastructure and essential to the export of commodities, however until recently, there had been considerable uncertainty about the scale and intensity of potential impacts on the state’s marine environment.

This uncertainty has often meant lengthy delays in the approval and regulatory processes, amounting to significant costs for the proponents and the state, as well as costly monitoring and management regimes.

The guidance describes a framework that recognises this uncertainty and provides for the clear and consistent presentation of predicted dredging effects on benthic habitats caused by removal, light reduction or burial at the sites of dredging and disposal.

Science Lead Dr Ross Jones from AIMS, said the research outputs from the DSN represented a monumental change in the available information for dredging across the state and would greatly improve consideration of environmental impacts.

“The DSN significantly increased understanding of dredging pressures on marine benthic communities and the key findings, relating to tolerance thresholds of benthic organisms to dredging pressures and critical life cycle windows where organisms are likely to be more sensitive to those pressures, have been incorporated,” Dr Jones said.

Environmental Protection Authority Chairman Professor Matthew Tonts, said the DSN was an example of a demand-driven, science-regulator-industry collaborative approach to research that has been directly applied to improve the social, environmental and financial outcomes of major marine dredging activities.

“The revised Technical Guidance will be a valuable tool in the assessment and management of dredging programs in WA,” Professor Tonts said.

The Technical Guidance is complemented by the Guidelines on dredge plume modelling for environmental impact assessment, published by WAMSI.

It’s expected that the delivery of outcomes from the DSN, could be repeated in other important and emerging issues in marine science in WA, such as the fate of hydrocarbons in oil spills, aquaculture and sustainable fisheries management.