At a glance
Resilience can be considered to be the capacity of a system to keep functioning even when disturbed. Current understanding of the resilience of Australia’s marine environment is limited because of the vast spatial extent of Australia’s marine ecosystems, their complexity, the many and varied sources of pressures exerted on them, and the limited capacity to monitor them across relevant timescales. Recent research has shown that reduction of pressures in marine reserves can increase the resilience of reserve species to remaining pressures, such as freshwater incursions associated with flooding or establishment of range-shifting species. The contribution of individual reserves or reserve networks to the resilience of the larger marine ecosystem, however, remains to be determined.
Two useful tools for building resilience in socio-ecological systems are structured scenarios and active adaptive management. In marine ecosystems, structured scenario frameworks are being used to investigate the impacts of commercial industries and climate change, and to test management strategies that might be implemented in response. Adaptive management frameworks, which monitor and assess biological and economic conditions, and adjust management strategies as required, are being implemented for commercial fisheries across Australian Government, and state and territory jurisdictions. Australia now provides regional and international leadership on adaptive fisheries management frameworks.
For most sectors, however, existing management plans for the marine environment are reactive rather than proactive, and are not coordinated across sectors. As a result, many plans fail to address the cumulative nature of multiple impacts and do not support the development of resilience within marine ecosystems. Adaptive governance and adaptive management may be needed to address the cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional contributions to cumulative impacts. The expanding National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas provides an opportunity to determine how removal of local pressures contributes to long-term resilience within, and external to, the protected area or network. This will require sustained ecological monitoring for at least the next decade.