Recent developments


There have been some recent developments in the approach and tools for coastal management, including emerging analytical methods for decision-making, and conservation at multiple levels of biodiversity.

Emerging analytical methods for decision-making

Technologies are emerging that provide new ways of collecting and analysing environmental data at large scales. The most significant of these during the past 5 years have been in the fields of metagenomics, remote sensing and crowdsourced data.

Rapidly reducing prices for molecular sequencing have allowed researchers to collect large amounts of genetic data relatively cheaply. This is core to studying microbial processes, but there are also successful examples of using molecular tools to survey macroorganisms (Dafforn et al. 2015). Molecular biomonitoring tools have the potential to provide the rapid, sensitive and reliable biodiversity sampling that is currently missing from regular ecosystem monitoring in coastal waterways. One of the main challenges now is to speed up the processing, analysis and interpretation of the vast quantities of data produced, and new techniques in bioinformatics are being developed to achieve this.

Remote sensing has been in place since the beginning of the satellite era in 1979, but techniques and products are emerging to extract more ecological information from sensed data. One major project is the Data Cube being produced by Geoscience Australia and CSIRO. The Data Cube is a 3D presentation of Landsat data collected since 1984 across the whole of Australia, and georectified for use. Infrastructure is now being established to allow researchers to interrogate these data easily and efficiently, for analysis such as the National Water Quality and Fractional Cover analyses in this report. SoE 2016 is the first to use the Data Cube to provide such national assessments of water quality and coastal vegetation change.

Citizen science is another means of collecting large quantities of data. It does so by accepting data from nonspecialists or those with only basic training. The advantage of this is the sheer quantity of data gathered, despite some loss in data quality. An example of this is Redmap, which is a compilation of fish occurrence records around Australia, submitted by interested citizens.

Conservation at multiple levels of biodiversity

Biodiversity is important for the maintenance of ecological processes and, consequently, the ecological services and goods that are valued by humans (Mace et al. 2012). Historically, biodiversity conservation has been species-centric, because this is the level at which biodiversity is most easily quantified and interpreted. Recently, appreciation has increased of the importance of conserving both higher (communities, ecosystems) and lower (genes, microbes) levels of biodiversity for healthy ecosystem function, and moves to incorporate ‘functional’ diversity (i.e. diversity of traits) into conservation frameworks (Cadotte et al. 2011). With these levels of diversity, conservation should aim to maintain diversity both within and between areas.

Identification of priority targets and locations for management is critical to best distribute the limited funds allocated to conservation. Australia recently ranked 38th on a list of countries that were underfunding biodiversity conservation (Waldron et al. 2013). One strategy for the use of limited funds is to use charismatic fauna as ‘umbrella’ species for conservation of communities and ecosystems, whereby efforts to protect a single species cover multiple groups and levels of biodiversity.

Maintaining adequately diverse representation within and between components (genes, species, communities, ecosystems) of diversity should be a priority, along with preservation of disproportionately important components (e.g. ‘foundation’ species occupying a central role in specific communities). Microbes are often neglected in conservation frameworks but perform important ecosystem functions, and microbial diversity is important to preserve ecological redundancy and maintain function (see Microbial processes and nutrient recycling).

Clark GF, Johnston EL (2016). Coasts: Recent developments. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b659bdc758b