4 What are we doing about it?

The South Australian Government has established policies and programs to protect and improve the environmental health of the coastal and marine environment.

4.1 South Australia’s Strategic Plan and Natural Resources Management Plan

South Australia’s Strategic Plan (Government of South Australia 2011a) has a target to ‘maintain the health and diversity of South Australia’s unique marine environments’ (Target 71). The plan includes the following measures for meeting the target:

  • effectiveness of management of South Australia’s marine park network (from a 2011 baseline)
  • results from the monitoring, evaluation and reporting program for the marine parks network.

The South Australian Natural Resources Management Plan 2012–2017 (Government of South Australia 2011b) has a target to improve the condition of coastal and marine ecosystems (Target 10), including the following measures:

  • trends in the extent and condition of coastal ecosystems (including foreshore, rocky reefs, seagrass, saltmarsh and mangroves)
  • trends in the condition of habitats and species in marine parks and sanctuary zones.

Apart from programs for the ongoing management of the coastal and marine environment, the following initiatives are in place to achieve the identified targets.

4.2 Marine protected areas

The South Australian Government holds a number of marine areas under different forms of protection.

4.2.1 Marine parks network

The South Australian Government established the Representative System of Marine Protected Areas, commonly known as marine parks, in 2009. This network comprises 19 multiple-use marine parks that are distributed across South Australia’s bioregions. The network includes representative areas of each of the eight marine bioregions that overlap with the state’s marine jurisdiction. The marine parks network covers a total area of 26 912 square kilometres—approximately 44% of South Australia’s waters—and includes the Great Australian Bight Marine Park (Figure 1).

The aim of the network of marine parks is to conserve and protect South Australia’s marine biological diversity and habitats, and to assist in:

  • maintaining ecological processes in the marine environment
  • adapting to the impacts of climate change in the marine environment
  • protecting and conserving features of natural or cultural heritage importance
  • allowing ecologically sustainable development and use of marine environments
  • providing opportunities for public appreciation, education, understanding and enjoyment of marine environments.

The Centre for Policy Development in Sydney estimated the ecosystem services value of the marine park highly protected zones, which cover almost 6% of state waters, to be worth approximately $20 million per year (Hoisington 2012).

4.2.2 Great Australian Bight Marine Park

The Great Australian Bight Marine Park Whale Sanctuary was proclaimed under the Fisheries Act 1982 in June 1995. In September 1996, the Great Australian Bight Marine National Park was proclaimed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972. These two areas comprise the Great Australian Bight Marine Park.

The Great Australian Bight region, in general, and the area adjacent to the Nullarbor Cliffs, in particular, have biological and physical resources and values that are of international and national significance under the EPBC Act and the National Parks and Wildlife Act. They include:

  • breeding and calving areas for the endangered southern right whale (particularly at the Head of Bight), which are the most important breeding and calving areas for this species in Australia, and one of two major calving sites in the world
  • important populations and breeding colonies of the rare Australian sea lion (particularly along the Nullarbor Cliffs), which, because of their isolation and probably negligible rates of sealing, represent a source of genetic diversity for the species
  • seasonal habitat for other species of rare and endangered marine mammals, including sperm whales, killer whales and rorquals (blue whales, minke whales and humpbacks)
  • important marine biodiversity, particularly among invertebrate fauna (such as sea squirts and sea slugs); because of the presence of a tropical current, the area also contains elements of warm tropical marine fauna and flora
  • limestone-dominated coastal areas of high geomorphological interest, including the spectacular Nullarbor Cliffs and the extensive transgressive dunes of the Merdayerrah Sandpatch.

Although there is no habitat monitoring in the state waters of the park, the number of southern right whales has been increasing, and 2011 saw the highest number of female–calf pairs—67—recorded at the Head of Bight in 20 years of annual monitoring (Figure 9).

Graph of the number of female and calf pairs of southern right whales recorded at the head of the Great Australian Bight between 2002 and 2011 showing an increasing trend.

Source: Data collected by Eubalaena Pty Ltd and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Figure 9 Numbers of calving southern right whales at the head of the Great Australian Bight

4.2.3 Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary

The Port Adelaide River and Barker Inlet is possibly the most intensively used marine waterway in South Australia. It contains:

  • metropolitan Adelaide’s power plants
  • a large wastewater treatment plant
  • light and heavy industries
  • the state’s major port, with thousands of vessel movements annually
  • new developments, both industrial and residential
  • European and Aboriginal cultural and historical values
  • important recreational activities, including fishing, birdwatching and dolphin watching.

The area is also home to about 30 resident Indo–Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), with at least an additional 300 dolphins as occasional visitors to the park. The mangroves, seagrass, saltmarsh, tidal flats, tidal creeks and estuarine rivers in the region all provide habitat and food for the dolphins.

Intensive use over 150 years has severely affected the environment, which has seen an increase in chemical and thermal pollution, introduced marine pests, litter and excess nutrients in the water.

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary, which was proclaimed in 2005, is designed to protect the dolphins by protecting the environment where they live. The dolphin sanctuary manages existing and future activities to support the viability of the regional environment. The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Act 2005 sets out to:

  • protect the dolphins from physical harm
  • maintain, protect and restore key habitat features
  • improve water quality
  • ensure that the interests of the community are taken into account in management of the area
  • promote public awareness of the importance of a healthy environment to the economic, social and cultural prosperities of the area
  • promote the principles of ecologically sustainable development in management of the area.

4.3 Coastal and estuaries action plans

The Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board has completed coastal and estuary action plans for its region (AMLR NRM Board 2007, 2009). These plans contain detailed maps, and plant and animal lists. They outline key conservation priorities along the coast, make recommendations for action and identify key stakeholders. They also describe the management and rehabilitation tasks required to protect estuaries, and identify actions for stakeholders towards achieving the objectives of the plans.

Key goals of the plans are to understand and facilitate the conservation, protection and maintenance of natural resources, and to establish conservation priorities for the coast.

The completed plans are:

  • Metropolitan Adelaide and Northern Coastal Action Plan
  • Southern Fleurieu Coastal Action Plan
  • Thompson Beach Coastal Action Plan
  • Parham Coastal Action Plan
  • Light Beach Coastal Action Plan
  • Onkaparinga Estuary Rehabilitation Action Plan
  • three Fleurieu Estuary Action Plans for the Hindmarsh, Inman and Bungala rivers.

Various other initiatives by NRM boards in South Australia aim to protect and improve coastal and marine ecosystems. The Kangaroo Island NRM Board, for example, has trialled the use of sand-filled hessian sacks to recruit seagrass seedlings and evaluate revegetation. The results showed recruitment (up to three species at some sites), but many of the bags disintegrated before the seedlings had a chance to take hold. The board is currently trialling direct transplantation of two Posidonia species in Western Cove, coupled with measuring epiphyte loads on artificial seagrass as an indicator of nutrients within the bay. The results of both studies will inform future management actions to improve seagrass condition in Western Cove.

4.4 Aquaculture and fisheries management

Management of aquaculture and fishing in South Australia is governed by the Aquaculture Act 2001 and the Fisheries Management Act 2007 and associated Regulations. Both Acts rely on a system of licensing; the objective is to protect, manage, use and develop the state’s aquatic resources in a sustainable manner.

Options to reduce nutrient loads from aquaculture activities include locating the activities in deeper water and increasing the use of integrated multitrophic aquaculture, to reduce impacts on nearshore environments. The Aquatic Sciences division of the SARDI is developing models to predict the fate and transport of pollutants from aquaculture and other sources within Spencer Gulf, to aid the management of many different sources of pollution in the gulf.

South Australian commercial fisheries are assessed by the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities against the Guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of fisheries (DEWR 2007) under the EPBC Act. All South Australian fisheries have current exemptions from the export controls under the Act, recognising that South Australian fisheries are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Two fish stocks in South Australia—southern garfish and mulloway—require a recovery strategy that aims to rebuild stocks by implementing a range of management measures. Five recovery strategies have been implemented for South Australia’s fish stocks in response to sustainability concerns, using a range of management measures aimed at rebuilding stocks. These fisheries are mud cockles in the Port River area, the Northern and Southern Zone Rock Lobster fisheries, the Gulf St Vincent Prawn Fishery, and pipi in the Lakes (Lakes Alexandra and Albert) and Coorong Fishery.

In March 2013, in response to a decline in giant cuttlefish populations at the Point Lowly aggregation site, the South Australian Government approved a temporary closure of all fishing for cuttlefish in northern Spencer Gulf as a precautionary measure while investigating the decline.

SARDI prepares annual fishery assessment reports and stock status reports on the sustainability of key commercial species in South Australia. Management plans for commercial fisheries set performance indicators, against which the performance of the fishery can be assessed. A review of performance against these indicators can suggest whether management changes are required.

Recreational fishing in South Australia continues to be an important leisure activity. The most recent survey into recreational fishing in South Australia was undertaken in 2007–08 and estimated that 236 000 people undertook recreational fishing activities in that year. Recreational fishing brings important social and economic benefits to the state. Projects under way for the management of recreational fishing in South Australia include a recreational fishing strategic plan; a recreational fishing management plan; a review into bag, boat and size limits; and a survey investigating the social aspects of recreational fishing in South Australia.

Future priorities for the fisheries sector are:

  • addressing resource access and allocation issues
  • maintaining and improving sustainable management of commercial and recreational fisheries
  • integrating socio-economic considerations into fisheries management decision-making
  • promoting co-management in fisheries management
  • developing and implementing management plans for commercial fisheries pursuant to the requirements under the Fisheries Management Act 2007
  • developing and implementing a strategic plan and management plan for recreational fishing.

4.5 Reducing pollution

Plans and programs are under way to address water pollution and debris.

4.5.1 Adelaide Coastal Water Quality Improvement Plan

The Adelaide Coastal Water Quality Improvement Plan (ACWQIP; EPA 2013) sets targets to reduce discharges from industry, wastewater treatment plants and stormwater to improve coastal water quality and, over time, allow the return of seagrass and improved reef condition.

The community-agreed vision in the ACWQIP is ‘Healthy aquatic ecosystems where environmental, social and economic values are considered in equal and high regard in a balanced management approach that aims to see the return of the blue-line of seagrass closer to shore by 2050’.

Healthy seagrass ecosystems are important to Gulf St Vincent and the Adelaide region. They provide habitat for species that are fished by commercial and recreational fishers, carbon storage values that are many times greater than equivalent terrestrial-based areas of native vegetation, and protective and stabilising services for beaches and shorelines.

Issues of poor water quality, loss of seagrass, declining reef health and sediment instability were first noticed by the Adelaide community, environmental managers and searchers as early as 60 years ago. The Adelaide Coastal Waters Study (ACWS) was a scientific program undertaken through CSIRO from 2001 to 2007 on how to respond to extensive loss of seagrass, poor water quality and sediment instability along Adelaide’s coastline. Inputs of nutrients and sediments from industrial, wastewater and stormwater discharges were found by the ACWS to be the main cause of poor water quality and seagrass loss. The ACWQIP has been based on these findings.

Community and stakeholder input has been a key part of developing the community-agreed vision, environmental values and water-quality objectives in the ACWQIP, to guide desired water quality improvement for Adelaide’s catchments and coastal waters. The community-agreed environmental values identified for Adelaide’s coastal waters include aquatic ecosystems, cultural and spiritual, aquatic food consumption, industrial, raw drinking water (via desalination), primary and secondary recreation, and visual appreciation.

The ACWQIP identifies eight strategies for implementation that have been developed in a partnership approach with other agencies, local government and communities. The document is linked to key government policy including the 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide, Water for Good, and the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges (AMLR) Natural Resource Management Regional Plan.

The EPA drives reduction of nutrients and sediments from point-source discharges through licensing conditions. Management of stormwater discharges involves many more players, including the AMLR NRM Board, local governments, a range of state agencies and local communities. The ACWQIP promotes application of water-sensitive urban design from catchment to coast, to improve water quality from stormwater (EPA 2013).

4.5.2 Marine debris

In June 2009, the Australian Government developed the Threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life (DSEWPaC 2009b) under the EPBC Act. The threat abatement plan aims to provide a coordinated national approach to mitigating and preventing the impacts of harmful marine debris on vertebrate marine life, including implementing measures of the plan at local levels.

NRM regional boards have facilitated marine debris surveys. Combined with nongovernment organisations (e.g. Tangaroa Blue, Teachwild), their actions have achieved some of the objectives of the national threat abatement plan. On Eyre Peninsula, a regional community-based marine debris monitoring program, involving schools and Green Corps teams, has been running since 2008 (Government of South Australia 2011c). Volunteers survey one-kilometre transects at 20 selected sites up to four times per year.

In the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, annual surveys have been conducted at three locations. Marine species in this region that are most at risk from entanglement in marine debris are southern right whales and Australian sea lions. At each site, NRM staff, rangers and school children surveyed one-kilometre transects. This included three surveys at Twin Rocks (March 2010, 2011 and 2012), two at Merdayerrah Sandpatch (December 2010 and November 2011) and one at Mexican Hat (November 2010).

Plastics, which can be ingested or facilitate entanglement, were the most common type of beach rubbish at each site. Information on temporal trends will become available as the data from the most recent surveys at Twin Rocks and Merdayerrah Sandpatch are combined and assessed. Recommendations from the 2011 report include ongoing beach surveys coinciding with the whale migration season, determining the origin of the debris (particularly marine ropes) and standardising survey methods across NRM regions.

The Kangaroo Island NRM Board has been working on biennial beach rubbish (including marine debris) data collections since 2005. In 2007, the first full survey was conducted in conjunction with Clean Up Australia Day. This provided baseline information on the amount, type and distribution of beach rubbish around the island. In March 2009 and 2011, two further surveys were conducted. The results from the surveys indicated less terrestrial-based debris in 2011 (170 kilograms) than in 2009 (192 kilograms). Marine debris mainly consisted of marine rope and hard plastic fragments. These are considered a threat through entanglement or ingestion to the seal and penguin colonies.

A large project involving predominantly community volunteers and AMLR NRM Board staff surveyed 38 sites in the Gulf St Vincent bioregion for marine debris between August and October 2010. Of the 985 kilograms and 12 603 items, 10 major litter groups were identified that could potentially affect wildlife through ingestion or entanglement. These comprised a range of soft and hard plastics associated with numerous user groups and sources, such as packaging, containers, and debris associated with fishing, boating and aquaculture, from both terrestrial and marine-based sources. The most commonly encountered debris type (by number) across the bioregion was hard polymer plastic fragments. In the eastern part of the bioregion, debris was dominated by plastic food packaging (wrappers), presumably associated with the proximity to metropolitan Adelaide.

The South East Cooperative Coastal Conservation Initiative was devised by the South East Local Government Association and DEWNR. One of its projects set out to clear up marine debris along 100 kilometres of coastline from the Victorian border. Approximately 80 kilometres have been cleared in the region, with the participation of school classes, groups of friends and community volunteers. The current focus of the project is to remove debris from the coastline but not to quantify its type and origin. There is no formal quantitative assessment in the region for classifying harmful sources of marine debris.

The Eyre Peninsula NRM Board launched its Regional Marine Debris Monitoring Program in 2008. This project consists of a region-wide community-based monitoring program, supported by board coast and marine officers, to encourage local communities to take an active role in their coastal environments. Since 2008, volunteers at 20 sites across Eyre Peninsula have collected more than 2.5 tonnes of debris, from sites as far west as Fowlers Bay near the Great Australian Bight to Whyalla on the shores of Spencer Gulf.

4.6 Education, capacity building and citizen science

NRM boards provide members of the public who volunteer for the Coastal Ambassadors Program with knowledge and practical skills required to care for, monitor and protect coastal, estuarine and marine environments. The boards also hold workshops to assist the community with sourcing, planting and caring for native local coastal plants.

Reefwatch is a community environmental monitoring project run by the Conservation Council of South Australia and overseen by a community steering committee. It includes reef and intertidal monitoring, as well as programs with schools. The Feral or in Peril Program has been designed to enable recreational divers, anglers and boaters to help keep track of marine organisms that are of special concern. It has been designed to identify introduced marine pests that are a potential threat to the marine ecosystem, as well as local species that might be in danger of disappearing.

A citizen science program, with the aim of engaging the community to monitor the effectiveness of the marine parks network, is being developed as a partnership between DEWNR and the Conservation Council of South Australia.

Partnerships between DEWNR, the Marine Discovery Centre, the South Australian Maritime Museum and the South Australian Museum have allowed the delivery of several education programs to school groups..

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