Approach - Marine environment 2016


This report identifies the key pressures affecting the marine environment as a result of the social and economic drivers associated with population growth, energy production and consumption, food production, and recreation. Current understanding of the state and recent trends in key components of the marine environment, and the possible impacts on these components are discussed. Management frameworks addressing key pressures on the marine environment and their effectiveness are evaluated, and the resilience of the environment in light of current management frameworks is discussed (see Resilience of the marine environment for the definition of resilience used in this report). Further risks to the marine environment are identified, and an outlook for the marine environment is provided, taking all these factors into account.

This report builds on the 2011 state of the environment (SoE) report. Components of the marine environment identified for assessment were set in SoE 2011, and SoE 2016 is required to provide updates on these assessments.

In SoE 2011, the marine environment chapter covered many coastal topics. In SoE 2016, many of these topics can now be found in the expanded Coasts report; users of SoE 2016 are encouraged to read both reports. Careful and considered coordination between the authors of the marine environment and coasts reports has ensured that the 2 reports provide a comprehensive assessment of both environments, and there is clear reference to cross-cutting issues across the 2 environments.

Although most of the assessments included in SoE 2011 are updated here, the framework under which the assessments are presented has been modified slightly from that presented in 2011. It now distinguishes clearly anthropogenic pressures from pressures that were identified in SoE 2011 as natural processes. For example, assessments associated with dumped wastes and toxins, pesticides and herbicides, which were identified as physical or chemical processes in SoE 2011, are presented as pressures in SoE 2016. Many components identified as physical and chemical processes in SoE 2011 are collectively presented as impacts associated with the pressure of climate change in SoE 2016. This is because many of the changes observed in these components during the SoE reporting period are the direct result of changes occurring as a result of climate change. This avoids repetition of content between sections of the SoE report.

Reporting in 2011 presented commercial and recreational fishing collectively. Because of the considerable differences in the pressures associated with each and the means by which these are managed, it was regarded as more appropriate to present these in separate assessments in SoE 2016. Assessments dividing habitats according to a depth component have been revised and standardised to reflect recognised categorisation of the marine environment by the scientific community, and to avoid repetition of content between assessments.

Assessments in 2011 were the output of general regional workshops, with decisions on grade and trend based on general consensus between workshop attendees, rather than incorporating formal analyses. In 2016, the rigour and reproducibility of assessments have been increased by tasking specific experts to develop assessments using identified data sources and clearly stated methods. Each assessment was guided by a standardised reporting template and then independently reviewed. Around 150 experts were involved in the assessments and reviews, which frequently included new analyses of available data carried out specifically for SoE 2016. Metadata records of sources and methods used in assessments have been made publicly available through the Australian Ocean Data Network, and the metadata records provide direct links to individual assessments. The authors used these assessments, and additional published data and information to develop a national overview of the marine environment for SoE 2016.

Because of the lack of direct analysis of datasets, and the ambiguity associated with approaches to, and justification for, many of the assessments in SoE 2011, direct comparisons between the assessments in 2011 and 2016, and identification of changes in either grades or trends for many assessments were not possible between the 2 reporting periods. As a result, many assessments are identified in their summaries as being either only somewhat comparable or not comparable; only 3 assessments were considered to be comparable. It is hoped that, by providing clear information on the approach to each assessment, and the supporting data and information via metadata records housed on the Australian Ocean Data Network, datasets, methods and analyses can be built on and reproduced in future SoE reports, allowing directly comparable assessments of grade and trend.

The SoE Approach report (Jackson et al. 2016) sets out the structure of the assessment summary tables and the associated categorisation of grades, trends and comparability with SoE 2011; the residual risk table; and the likelihood and impact categories, and associated definitions for each. Assessments provided are therefore the sum of the available data, the analyses conducted, expert knowledge and best judgement on the use of the categories set out for each of the assessment tables by each of the contributors to the marine environment report. The text and the assessment summaries, although based on the results of analyses carried out for SoE 2016 and the latest scientific research, management and policy publications, are presented for a general audience.

Data and information available for assessments vary across the components presented in this report. Those aspects of the marine environment for which data are lacking or limited are identified. Long-term datasets available for determining trends over time are often spatially limited, and datasets from different locations often vary in the variables measured and the time periods across which data are collected. It is difficult to scale grades and trends from a small number of variables measured at a small number of locations to whole habitats, communities or species groups at a national scale. Many assessments therefore incorporate considerable variability and uncertainty. Where assessments span a range of grades (e.g. good to very poor) or trends (e.g. improving to deteriorating)—because of variable data; spatial variability in grade or trend; or variability in grade or trend across species within a habitat, community or species group—the authors indicate a median value in the assessment summaries. For such assessments, the text associated with each assessment summary identifies that the grade or trend varies for that component of the marine environment. A consequence is that many grades or trends may appear to be overly simplistic and more narrative in nature than quantitative. Records for each assessment provided on the Australian Ocean Data Network should be referred to for further detail on each assessment.

The marine environment report of SoE 2011 was based on the marine regions identified under marine bioregional planning conducted in support of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The 2016 report also follows this framework for comparative reasons, recognising that the area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park lies outside the identified marine regions and therefore is not included in discussions of these regions.

Under s. 54 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, a report is compiled every 5 years detailing the Reef’s biodiversity, ecosystem health, heritage values, and commercial and noncommercial use; factors influencing the Reef’s values; existing protection and management; resilience; risks; and the long-term outlook for both the ecosystem and heritage values. In discussing the marine environment associated with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area, rather than repeating the work published in the most recent Great Barrier Reef outlook report (GBRMPA 2014a), SoE 2016 refers extensively to that report. Where relevant, updates on the state of the environment within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park since publication of the outlook report are included in SoE 2016, to ensure that reporting on the marine environment is as spatially comprehensive as possible.

Evans K, Bax NJ, Smith DC (2016). Marine environment: Approach. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b657ea7c296