Revitalising estuaries and wetlands for carbon sequestration, biodiversity, fisheries and the community
Colin Creighton AM
Business as usual has caused the problem we seek to address. Australian estuaries and wetlands have been under-valued and much of their ecological function has been lost due to a multitude of small, past decisions coupled with a lack of understanding of their importance and community benefits. Connectivity loss is an issue across Australia - eg road bridges, causeways, tidal barrages, culverts, ponded pastures, bund walls. As an example, GBRMPA has mapped in excess of 1500 barriers to fish passage just in the Burdekin catchment. These various barriers have been constructed in times past when knowledge was lacking. We now as a community appreciate the many values of coastal ecosystems and generally the community supports their repair as a means of addressing the legacy of past decisions. At the same time, a note of caution is necessary. in many cases there has been irrevocable loss. The art form in this Australia-wide Plan will be to identify the "easy wins" - where other public or private assets are not substantially at risk, the benefits well outweigh the costs and the overwhelming community asttitude supports repair works.
1. Use case studies in NSW and Qld that build on previous activities and that demonstrate the multiple benefits and opportunities for further investment in connectivity & wetland repair
2. Develop an Australia-wide business plan suitable for 5 year investment that focuses on the remedial works, activities, planning, institutional arrangements and legislation to retain and repair ecological function in estuarine and wetland ecosystems
3. Present within 12 months the business case to a wide range of government, industry and community stakeholders so that understanding and support is fostered for the proposed investment initiative
4. Capitalise on a whole host of prior research and wetland mapping activities so that the Australia-wide business case is well foundered and demonstrates the return on investment from repair activities
This project puts forward the proposal that stakeholders and government should concentrate on repair of the more developed coastal catchments around Australia where major investment and Australian Government leadership is required to re‐establish estuary productivity.
It seeks to deliver multiple benefits to the Australian community – to increase fisheries productivity, improve coastal water quality, enhance catchment hydrology, repair coastal biodiversity, finetune flood control, re‐establish carbon sequestration and reinforce foreshore buffering against extreme events.
The business case sets out the rationale and the priority opportunities for investment, to repair and restore, under a 'no regrets' policy, estuary and inshore wetland and floodplain areas. It seeks to maximise community benefits from these important parts of our landscape while minimising costs and impacts upon adjacent land users of the coastal zone.
It builds upon the Australian love of coastal landscapes and the resources they provide and the Australian community’s and political commitment to implement major natural resources initiatives such as the Natural Heritage Trust, Caring for our Country and the Biodiversity Fund. Like Reef Rescue and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, the business case proposes a major focus, in this case on estuaries and their wetland ecosystems.
Most importantly, through ongoing fisheries productivity, the proposed once‐off five‐year Australian Government investment will return economic benefits year in and year out that will far outweigh the $350M costs of repairing these key estuary assets. Our estimates suggest a break‐even for investment is well less than five years and from then on benefits exceed costs forever.
Further repair and management investment will be required following the proposed once‐off five‐year agenda‐setting Australian Government investment. This business plan recognises this ongoing investment need. Similar to already successful schemes in USA and UK and building on schemes already underway in NSW and Victoria, this plan proposes various instruments and systems to ensure overall benefits can be incentivised into the future. This includes empowering industry groups, private landholders, Local Governments and communities to continue the repair of coastal assets and their management.
Keywords: climate change, estuaries, business case, coastal catchments, coastal zones, fisheries productivity