The past 5 years have been characterised by extreme weather events, many with strong impacts on the coast. In 2011, a marine heatwave in Western Australia decimated kelp forests, causing profound changes in ecosystem structure that have yet to be reversed. Tropical cyclone Yasi caused extensive damage to Queensland’s coast, affecting seagrasses and, consequently, dugongs, and flooding caused an estimated $440 million damage to Brisbane. In 2016, higher than usual sea temperatures caused mass coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, and approximately 10 per cent of Australia’s mangroves were lost to heat in the north. At no time in recent history have the effects of climate change on Australia’s coast been as apparent as they were from 2011 to 2016.
In addition to ongoing pressure from metal and nutrient pollution, coastal waterways are facing increasing threats from new classes of pollutants. These include microplastics and nanoparticles used in consumer products such as clothing and cosmetics. Such emerging contaminants remain largely unregulated, and their effects are poorly understood. In 2015, the Australian and state governments announced an industry partnership for the voluntary removal of microbeads from personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products sold in Australia by July 2018.
Advances in coastal management include the threat and risk assessment framework for the New South Wales marine estate, and development of CoastAdapt by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. The National Marine Science Plan was delivered in 2015, outlining the consolidated views of the scientific community on the future of marine and coastal research in Australia.