The ocean surrounding Australia is not demarcated absolutely, as the boundaries blur with those of the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans. Yet this ocean environment not only controls the continental climate, but provides food and other natural resources, creates employment opportunities, and provides recreational pleasure. The coastal area of Australia is unique in many aspects.
Ocean monitoring has increased over the past twenty years as the government, the scientific community, and businesses alike have recognized the need to better understand the natural and human-caused phenomena occurring in Australian waters. Goals include not only environmental protection, but sustainable fisheries, ocean engineering, understanding of climate, and defense.
By enlisting the volunteer aid of commercial vessels a highly efficient network of data collection has been in place since 1983. These ships monitor ocean temperature, salinity, and current velocities down to 800 meters of depth in various shipping channels surrounding the continent. This has resulted in collection of significant information concerning how oceans affect the climate.
Any discussion of ocean observation must include depth as well as shoreline areas and open waters. In 2001 the Minister for the Environment and Heritage established a study of eleven unique marine areas in Australian waters, to assess their conservation values. The Norfolk Seamount region on the east, and the Tasmanian Seamounts to the south are now recognized as containing important benthic and pelagic communities which not only contain unique species, and serve as areas of biological productivity, but also harbor unique archaic fauna and flora, and provide nursery grounds for important species.
CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, is the national science agency of Australia. As such, they continually seek to explore and monitor the coastal areas to preserve the environment and provide knowledge for such goals as sustainable fisheries and other resource-based needs. Of particular note is the development of species particularly suited for Australian fisheries aquaculture, notably the Atlantic salmon, Pacific oysters , black tiger prawns, and abalone. One of their current goals is to develop an alternative food source to the wild-harvested fishmeal used in aquaculture.
In 2007, the guidelines for the ecological sustainability of fisheries were revised. These included a new streamlined reporting process to better obtain data concerning species of primary interest and by-catch. One goal is to obtain more robust information about effects of fishing on the marine environment. All fisheries must submit to an environmental impact assessment, and undergo analysis of whether management practices lead to an assurance of ecological sustainability.
Coastal regions are of significant interest. These areas where land and water meet are often subject to great stresses of human use. Urban pollution damages the water, and storms from the water threaten the cities and their people. CSIRO continues to gather data to better manage and balance the needs of human populations and environmental resources.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s greatest coastal resources, yet it is continually pressured by aquaculture needs, pollution, wetland degradation, and coastal urbanization. Better understanding of the reef catchment system is needed through more research. Key intervention points are being identified to provide the most benefit for the least cost.
It is estimated that $40 billion of the Australian economy is directly linked to oceanic resources. Thus good understanding and management of the ocean and its coasts is imperative.
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