Most of Australia’s urban population is located on the narrow eastern and southern seaboards making the associated coastal waters among the nation's most exploited and often stressed environments.
More than 80% of Australians are located within 50 km of the coast and more than half the nation lives within the coastal fringe from Brisbane to Melbourne. The socio-economic issues of relevance to the NSW-IMOS Node are:
Future climate change will have wide ranging effects on the coastal and marine environment of NSW. The East Australian Current (EAC) is predicted to both strengthen and warm significantly which will have many diverse effects from changing weather patterns to shifts in marine species distribution. Species range shifting as a response to these and other climate change effects will have impacts for biodiversity, invasive species and fisheries.
Storm Events and Erosion
In recent years severe storm events generated by East Coast Lows (ECLs), have caused fatalities, severe flooding and erosion and caused hazards for shipping. A recent example is the five ECL events in June 2007, which caused nearly $1000M in damage and were the cause of 10 deaths. Predicted changes in wave climate such as an increase in wave height, change in the angle of incidence or increased frequency of high magnitude waves will affect the energy at the beach zone and alter sediment transport. Given that the NSW coast has many substantial shoreline erosion hotspots more monitoring data is essential to give insight into the role of offshore processes in nearshore beach form, sand volumes and configuration.
Marine Park planning
The NSW Marine Parks Authority (MPA) aims to establish and manage a system of multiple-use marine parks designed to conserve marine biodiversity, maintain ecological processes and provide for ecologically-sustainable use, public appreciation and education of the marine environment. An important factor requiring consideration during marine park zoning is the extent of connectivity among populations of key species. There are still considerable gaps in our understanding of how the key habitats along the NSW coast are connected by larval dispersal, whether existing marine park sanctuary zones act as larval sources, sinks or neither, and how these locations vary seasonally and inter -annually. However, it is clear that the EAC is a major driver of the spatial and temporal patterns of connectivity. Knowledge of how economic and ecologically important benthic habitats are influenced by the EAC and climate will aid in determining marine park success in achieving biodiversity conservation.
Nearly 20% of the Australian population fish at least once a year (17% in NSW), and recreational fishers harvest up to 27,000 t of finfish with an annual value of around $2 billion (Henry and Lyle 2003). Most of the marine technology industry is related to recreational fishing, which faces significant problems of declining catch rates. Target species that are especially relevant to recreational fishing, tourism and IMOS are bream, flathead, mulloway, prawns, Australian salmon, grey nurse shark, bullshark and white shark. Although commercial fishing occurs off the NSW coast, it is not large in the EMP (East Marine Planning region), valued in 2002-2006 at around $320 m and 1.4% of the national value. The combination of phytoplankton cycles and blooms with upwelling, EAC strengthening and sea-surface warming or an increase in ECL’s, have yet to be investigated against fish occurrences and stocks. Natural algal food sources for in-situ aquaculture farming also require observation against increasing sea-surface temperatures and associated shifts in plankton stocks, cycles and dispersion.
In February-March 2009, 3 separate shark attacks occurred in Sydney waters and the first for nearly 50 years, despite observations of sharks in earlier summers. The presence of sharks in the harbour surprised the public and resulted in a decline in beach attendance. This period was distinguished by strong, wind induced upwelling which reduced local water temperatures at the warmest time of the year from 25ºC to as low as 15ºC. The actual bio-physical relationships and a risk model for management remain a challenge for the NSW-IMOS Node.
Marine tourism is the largest marine industry in NSW. The value of the marine industry (i.e. all recreational and light commercial vessels) in NSW is valued at over $2 billion pa and employs over 11,000 – both figures are almost equivalent to all other states combined (http://www.bia.org.au/data.html). Over a third of the national marine industry employment (36%) is in NSW – and mostly in marine tourism.