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South-west Marine Region

Marine bioregional plan for the South-west Marine Region - Draft for Consultation

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2011

3 REGIONAL PRIORITIES, STRATEGIES AND ACTIONS

Section 176 of the EPBC Act provides for a bioregional plan to identify objectives for the biodiversity and other values of a region and to include priorities to achieve these objectives. The objectives for this plan are set out in Section 1.3. They are:

  1. conserving biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem health
  2. ensuring the recovery and protection of threatened species
  3. improving understanding of the region's biodiversity and ecosystems and the pressures they face.

In the context of these objectives, Part 3:

3.1 Regional priorities

Regional priorities are key areas of focus that have been identified to inform decision-making about marine conservation and planning, as well as industry development and other human activities. The regional priorities provide context for implementing the government's statutory responsibilities, such as recovery planning for threatened species and the development and implementation of threat abatement measures. They also point to where future government initiatives and future investments in marine conservation, including in research and monitoring, would be best directed.

The outcomes of the pressure analyses have guided the identification of the regional priorities. These analyses reflect aspects such as the conservation status of conservation values, the location and extent of pressures and the expected impacts arising from conservation value/pressure interactions. To further aid the identification of the regional priorities for the region, consideration has been given to the following criteria:

Pressures

For the purpose of this plan, pressures are defined broadly as human-driven processes and events that do or can detrimentally affect the region's conservation values. These pressures were assessed during the development of this plan. In the assessment process, pressures were classified as of concern, of potential concern, of less concern and not of concern. The assessment process is described in Section 2.2 of the Overview of marine bioregional plans, and details of the outcomes are included in Schedule 1 to this plan.

There are two main sources of pressures in the South-west Marine Region: those associated directly with anthropogenic (human) activities and those related to climate change.

Anthropogenic pressures on marine ecosystems and biodiversity in the South-west Marine Region are, by global standards, low. This is partly due to the relatively low levels of marine resource use and coastal population pressure across the region (exceptions being in proximity to the large urban centres), and partly due to Australia's generally sound management of the marine environment.

A number of sources of pressures nevertheless exist in the region, which is next to one of the fastest growing economies in Australia. The main drivers and sources of pressure on conservation values in the South-west Marine Region are:

Only a subset of conservation values and pressures assessed as being of concern or of potential concern have been identified as regional priorities. Generally, when a pressure affects multiple values and its effects are of concern for at least some of these values, then the pressure is identified as a regional priority. Similarly, if a conservation value is, or is likely to be, affected detrimentally by multiple pressures, it is considered to be a regional priority if at least one of the pressures has been assessed as of concern. Other key considerations in determining pressure-based regional priorities included issues of scale, legislative responsibility, conservation status, effectiveness of existing management, and level of uncertainty about distribution, abundance and status of conservation values and the pressures acting on them.

South-west Marine Region priorities

This plan identifies 23 regional priorities: 18 conservation values and 5 pressures.

Building on the regional priority assessments, available information and existing administrative guidelines, this plan provides advice to assist decision-makers, marine industries and other users to understand and meet the obligations that exist with respect to these priorities under the EPBC Act (see Schedule 2).

Table 3.1: Conservation values of regional priority for the South-west Marine Region

Conservation valueRegional contextPressure ratingFocus for conservation effort
1Blue whale Endangered Two important feeding aggregation areas for the species occur in the region (Perth Canyon and Eastern Great Australian Bight Upwelling/Kangaroo Island canyons) High degree of uncertainty about population levels, structure and recovery rates Of potential concern
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Ocean acidification
Marine debris
Noise pollution
Oil pollution
Collisions with vessels
Many pressures expected to increase
(Table S1.2 of Schedule 1)
Ongoing: Mitigating the effects of increasing pressures in the region

Medium term: Increasing the understanding of this species, its population structure and dynamics, its ecology in the region and its recovery status
2Southern right whale Endangered Uses sites in the region for calving It is thought that the species is recovering due to observed recolonisation of historic calving sites; however, uncertainty about population levels, population structure and recovery rates remains high Of potential concern
Changes in oceanography
Ocean acidification
Marine debris
Noise pollution
Physical habitat modification
Bycatch
Oil pollution
Collisions with vessels
Collision/entanglement with infrastructure
Many pressures expected to increase (Table S1.2 of Schedule 1)
Ongoing: Mitigating the effects of pressures and, in particular, preventing habitat degradation and disturbance at established calving sites and historic calving sites that might be recolonised by the recovering species

Medium term: Improving compliance and coordination of reporting of collisions with vessels
3Humpback whale Vulnerable Migrates through the region and rests in known locations in the regionOf potential concern
Changes in oceanography
Ocean acidification
Marine debris
Noise pollution
Bycatch
Oil pollution
Some pressures, such as interaction with fishing gear and associated bycatch mortality, are expected to increase as the species recovers (Table S1.2 of Schedule 1)
Ongoing: Mitigating the effects of increasing pressures Short term: Supporting robust monitoring and reporting of interactions with relevant fisheries Medium to long term: Proactively addressing the increase in likelihood of bycatch mortality and improving compliance with reporting requirements for collisions with vessels
4Australian sea lion Vulnerable Distribution is almost exclusively confined to the region Species has biological characteristics that are unique among pinnipeds and marine mammals There is documented lack of recovery and population decline for some breeding colonies Of concern
Changes in sea temperature
Marine debris
Bycatch
Of potential concern
Sea level rise
Changes in oceanography
Ocean acidification
Noise pollution
Human presence at sensitive sites
Extraction of living resources
Oil pollution
Collision/entanglement with infrastructure (Tables S1.3 and S1.4 of Schedule 1)
Immediate: Ensuring that mitigation measures and appropriate monitoring are in place to address the key pressures (in particular, fisheries-related pressures) and to assess their effectiveness in reducing mortality Ongoing: Mitigating the effects of non-fisheries pressures Medium to long term: Implementing an integrated research and monitoring strategy to assess and monitor population and recovery rates and increase the ability to support the species' recovery through better knowledge of ecology, genetics and population dynamics
5Australian lesser noddy Vulnerable Species has a restricted distributional range and is dependent on one type of habitat (mangrove forests) for nesting, and the Australian breeding population at the Houtman Abrolhos Islands is of global significanceOf concern
Sea level rise
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Of potential concern
Ocean acidification
Chemical pollution/contaminants
Light pollution
Physical habitat modification
Nuisance species
Extraction of living resources
Oil pollution (Tables S1.5 and S1.6 of Schedule 1)
Short term: Assessing the vulnerability of habitat to sea level rise and other pressures, and understanding the ability of the species to adapt to climate change Medium to long term: Identifying and protecting important habitats outside the species' immediate area of occupancy, and understanding effects on the species of changes in fisheries management
6Flesh-footed shearwater, short-tailed shearwater, roseate tern, common (brown) noddy, bridled tern Migratory Region is significant to their conservation at a species or Australian population level because a significant proportion of their Australian population nests adjacent to the regionOf concern (for some species)
Sea level rise
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
For some of these species, changes in distribution and/or prey availability have been recorded from the region and have been attributed to climate change
Of potential concern (for some species)
Ocean acidification
Chemical pollution/contaminants
Marine debris
Light pollution
Nuisance species
Extraction of living resources
Bycatch
Oil pollution
Disease
(Tables S1.5 and S1.6 of Schedule 1)
Ongoing: Mitigating the effects of non climate-related pressures Medium term: Gaining a better understanding of the implications of the predicted climate-related changes for these species and their ability to adapt to climate change Long term: Assessing the availability and status of frontier habitats for populations expected to shift in their distribution, and any impact on temperate species potentially displaced by subtropical or tropical species
7Little penguin Marine The region covers about half the species range in Australian waters. The population breeding in the Perth region is the largest in Western Australia (around 700 pairs) and geographically isolated from the south coast populations Highly dependent on small pelagic fish as a food source Of concern
Sea level rise
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Of potential concern
Ocean acidification
Chemical pollution/contaminants
Marine debris
Physical habitat modification
Extraction of living resources
Oil pollution
Collisions with vessels
Disease
(Tables S1.5 and S1.6 of Schedule 1)
Ongoing: Mitigating the effects of non climate-related pressures Medium term: Gaining a better understanding of the implications of the predicted climate-related changes for this species and its ability to adapt to climate change
8Sooty tern, little shearwater Marine The region provides biologically important feeding areas for important nesting populations of sooty tern (72% of the Australian population) and little shearwater (58% of the Australian population) With the exception of colonies at Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands, little shearwater occur only in the South-west Marine Region, and this population is considered a subspecies (tunneyi) Of concern
Sea level rise
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Of potential concern
Ocean acidification
Light pollution (little shearwater)
Extraction of living resources (sooty tern)
Oil pollution
(Tables S1.5 and S1.6 of Schedule 1)
Ongoing: Mitigating the effects of non climate-related pressures Medium term: Gaining a better understanding of the implications of the predicted climate-related changes for these species and their ability to adapt to climate change
9White shark Vulnerable Region includes important foraging areas and areas in which white shark appears to occur with high frequency There is a high level of uncertainty about the species' population numbers, structure and recovery Of concern
Bycatch
Of potential concern
Changes in sea temperature
Change in oceanography
Ocean acidification
Marine debris
Collision/entanglement with infrastructure
Any wholesale shift in the productivity and trophic regimes of the region's ecosystem in response to climate change has the potential to significantly affect large top predators, such as sharks
(Tables S1.10 and S1.11 of Schedule 1)
Short term: Further reducing bycatch mortality in fisheries across the region Longer term: Reducing uncertainty about its population, recovery, ecology and habitat requirements, including, in the medium term, further investigating the location and significance of biologically important areas in the south-west
10School shark Conservation dependent There is uncertainty about the location and extent of biologically important areas for this species in the south-westOf concern
Bycatch
Of potential concern
Sea level rise
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Ocean acidification
Marine debris
Physical habitat modification
As for other shark species, any wholesale shift in the productivity and trophic regimes of the region's ecosystem in response to climate change has the potential to significantly affect large top predators
(Tables S1.10 and S1.11 of Schedule 1)
Immediate: Reducing the level of bycatch mortality in the region Medium term: Identifying, mapping and protecting habitat critical to the recovery of the species, including inshore habitat used for breeding and as nursery areas
11Commonwealth marine environment surrounding the Houtman Abrolhos Islands Key ecological feature Supports high and unique biodiversity Provides important habitat for a range of species, including threatened species Of concern
Sea level rise
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
In particular, climate-related effects on species distribution and reproductive success and the region's productivity and trophic processes are of concern

Of potential concern
Ocean acidification
Chemical pollution/contaminants
Nutrient pollution
Physical habitat modification
Extraction of living resources
Bycatch
Oil pollution
Pressures are either not well understood or expected to increase (Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)
Short term: Including examples of its ecosystems and biodiversity in the south-west Commonwealth marine reserve network Medium term: Developing feasible indicators to monitor the nature and extent of ecological change in the area Long term: Gaining a better understanding of the processes driving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
12Perth Canyon and adjacent shelf break, and other west coast canyons Key ecological feature Supports the largest known feeding aggregation of endangered blue whales Unique geomorphology gives rise to ecologically important events of localised productivity Of concern
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Climate-related effects on species distribution and reproductive success and on the region's productivity and trophic processes are of concern
Of potential concern
Ocean acidification
Chemical pollution/contaminants
Noise pollution
Extraction of living resources
Bycatch
Oil pollution
Collisions with vessels Pressures are either not well understood or expected to increase The Perth Canyon is located offshore from the largest urban centre in Western Australia, and a number of human activities take place in this area, with multiple pressures potentially resulting in cumulative effects on its biodiversity (Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)
Short term: Including examples of its ecosystems and biodiversity in the south-west Commonwealth marine reserve network Medium term: Developing feasible indicators to monitor the nature and extent of ecological change, and understanding better the potential for cumulative impacts on this feature's values arising from multiple pressures Long term: Gaining a better understanding of the processes driving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
13Commonwealth marine environment within and adjacent to the west coast inshore lagoons Key ecological feature Regionally important for enhanced benthic productivity and for aggregations of marine life Includes ecosystems important for benthic productivity, including macroalgae and seagrass communities, and breeding and nursery aggregations for many temperate and tropical marine species The inshore lagoons are important areas for the recruitment of the commercially and recreationally important western rock lobster, dhufish, pink snapper, breaksea cod, baldchin and blue gropers, abalone and many other reef species Extensive schools of migratory fish visit the area annually, including herring, garfish, tailor and Australian salmon Of concern
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Of potential concern
Sea level rise
Ocean acidification
Chemical pollution/contaminants
Nutrient pollution
Changes in turbidity
Physical habitat modification
Extraction of living resources
Bycatch
Oil pollution
Invasive species
(Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)
Short term: Including examples of its ecosystems and biodiversity in the south-west Commonwealth marine reserve network Medium term: Developing feasible indicators to monitor the nature and extent of ecological change and understanding better the potential for cumulative impacts on this feature's values arising from multiple pressures Long term: Gaining a better understanding of the processes driving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
14Commonwealth marine environment within and adjacent to Geographe Bay Key ecological feature Includes extensive seagrass beds, extending into relatively deep waters (up to 40–50 m in depth) Provides important habitat for a range of species, including nursery habitat for a number of commercially and economically valuable fish species Of concern Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Climate-related effects on species distribution and reproductive success and on the region's productivity and trophic processes are of concern, with flow-on effects for the surrounding marine ecosystem
Of potential concern
Sea level rise
Ocean acidification
Chemical pollution/contaminants
Nutrient pollution
Changes in turbidity
Noise pollution
Physical habitat modification
Extraction of living resources
Oil pollution
Invasive specie
s Pressures are expected to increase
In particular, pressures that might affect seagrass communities are of potential concern
One of the few areas in the south-west where agricultural run-off has the potential to affect the marine environment because of the intensity of land use and the presence of watercourses that discharge into the bay
(Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)
Medium term: Developing feasible indicators to monitor the nature and extent of ecological change, including developing robust and efficient monitoring of the extent of seagrass beds in this area Longer term: Gaining a better understanding of the processes driving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of this feature
15Commonwealth marine environment surrounding the Recherche Archipelago Key ecological feature Supports a high level of biodiversity, including high numbers of endemic species Provides important habitat for a range of species, including threatened species Of concern
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
In particular, climate-related effects on species distribution and reproductive success and on the region's productivity and trophic processes are of concern
Of potential concern
Sea level rise
Ocean acidification
Chemical pollution/contaminants
Nutrient pollution
Extraction of living resources
Bycatch
Oil pollution
Invasive species
Pressures are either not well understood or expected to increase
(Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)
Short term: Including examples of its ecosystems and biodiversity in the south-west Commonwealth marine reserve network Medium to long term: Developing feasible indicators to monitor the nature and extent of ecological change, and gaining a better understanding of the processes driving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
16Kangaroo Island Pool, canyons and adjacent shelf break, and Eyre Peninsula upwellings Key ecological feature Supports regionally important processes of biological productivity and is inhabited by benthic communities that are species rich by national and global standards Provides important habitat for a range of species, including threatened species Of concern
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Climate-related effects on species distribution and reproductive success and on the region's productivity and trophic processes are of concern
Of potential concern
Ocean acidification
Noise pollution
Extraction of living resources
Bycatch
Oil pollution
Pressures are either not well understood or expected to increase
(Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)
Short term: Including examples of its ecosystems and biodiversity in the south-west Commonwealth marine reserve network Medium term: Developing feasible indicators to monitor the nature and extent of ecological change Long term: Gaining a better understanding of the processes driving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
17Western rock lobster Key ecological feature In its adult stage, western rock lobster is a top benthic predator, likely to play an important role in community structure The species has experienced significant decline in larval settlement in recent years Its ecological role in unexploited conditions is not fully understood, as there are no areas in the region where the species is not fished Of concern
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Of potential concern
Sea level rise
Ocean acidification
Changes in turbidity
Physical habitat modification
Extraction of living resources
Oil pollution
(Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)
Immediate: Supporting efforts to understand the causes of the recent population decline Short term: Including examples of western rock lobster habitat and associated ecological communities in the south-west Commonwealth marine reserve network Medium to long term: Gaining a better understanding of the species' ecological role, particularly in the deeper waters of the Commonwealth marine environment
18Small pelagic fish
Key ecological feature
Thought to play an important role in the region's ecosystems. While small pelagic fish are currently underexploited in the region, the volume harvested has increased in recent years and these species are inherently vulnerable to overfishing because they occur in aggregations. In the past, small pelagic fish have experienced severe declines in the region in response to introduced pathogens.Of concern
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Of potential concern
Ocean acidification
Disease
(Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)
Of concern
Changes in sea temperature
Changes in oceanography
Of potential concern
Ocean acidification
Disease
(Tables S1.12 and S1.13 of Schedule 1)

Table 3.2: Environmental pressures of regional priority for the South-west Marine Region

Environmental pressureRegional contextPressure ratingFocus for conservation effort
19Climate changeLoss of climatic habitat caused by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is listed as a key threatening process under the EPBC Act Potential for significant and large-scale changes to marine ecosystems Potential detrimental effects on a number of protected species through the loss and modification (e.g. increased turbidity) of coastal and inshore habitats by sea level rise Changes in sea temperature likely to affect the distributional range of species, resulting in changes to species composition of ecosystems Changes in the oceanography of the region may affect ecosystem productivity, larval dispersal, species distribution and breeding patterns Predicted that, if concentration of atmospheric CO2 continues to increase at the current rate, the ocean will become corrosive to the shells of many marine organisms by 2100. The response of marine organisms to increased ocean acidity is poorly understood (Schedule 1) Of concern
13 species
10 KEFs
Of potential concern
All other conservation values
Short term: Improving estimates of sea level rise at the regional level, and predictions of the effects of sea level rise on the region's species Short to medium term: Reducing uncertainty about the direction and intensity of changes in sea temperature and oceanography and the effects on marine ecosystems Short to medium term: Assessing the potential effects of ocean acidification on the region's biodiversity, and identifying species and processes with high vulnerability
20Marine debrisInjury and fatality to vertebrate marine life caused by ingestion of, or entanglement in, harmful marine debris is a listed key threatening process under the EPBC Act Evidence from the region indicates that mortality through entanglement in marine debris is often associated with discarded or lost fishing gear. This is the case particularly for Australia sea lion The effects of other sources of marine debris are not well understood (Schedule 1) Of concern
1 species
Of potential concern
13 species
Short term: Address the effects of marine debris in the region by reducing loss and disposal of fishing gear at sea Long term: Improving understanding of the sources and impacts of marine debris on the region's marine life and ecosystems, including through monitoring of marine debris loads at selected locations
21Noise pollutionThree key ecological features have been identified, as they are located in areas of high prospectivity for oil and gas resources and the use of seismic surveys is expected to increase. One of these features, the Perth Canyon, is also located in a Royal Australian Navy training area, where active sonar is used, and in front of the ports of Fremantle and Kwinana, where shipping traffic is expected to increase (Schedule 1) Of potential concern
9 species
5 KEFs
Ongoing: Mitigating the effects of noise pollution Short to medium term: Improving understanding of the effects of increased noise on the species of the region, and in particular on protected species
22Extraction of living resourcesFuture increase in fishing pressure on small pelagic fishes is assessed as being of potential concern. The effect of this pressure on the functioning of species and ecosystems reliant on overfished species has been assessed as of concern or of potential concern due to its interactions with a number of protected species, including in relation to prey depletion. Recreational fishing in the region is believed to have increased substantially and contributed to overfishing of important demersal finfish off the west coast (Schedule 1) Of concern
1 species
Of potential concern
8 species
9 KEFs
Of concern
1 species
Of potential concern
8 species
9 KEFs
23BycatchData on bycatch mortality is poor for many species. Some species are subject to bycatch mortality from multiple fisheries. The Threat Abatement Plan for the Incidental Catch (or Bycatch) of Seabirds during Oceanic Longline Fishing Operations (2006) appears to be effective in mitigating impacts on seabirds. The effectiveness of bycatch mitigation measures for other species is less clear. Further details are in Schedule 1Of concern
3 species
Of potential concern
13 species
8 KEFs
Immediate: Further reducing bycatch mortality for Australian sea lion and white and school sharks Short term: Gaining a comprehensive and integrated understanding of bycatch mortality–including of protected and non-protected species–across the region arising from multiple fisheries. In the longer term, this information should be used to target bycatch monitoring programs

KEF = key ecological feature

3.2 Strategies and actions

The plan includes seven strategies to address the regional priorities:

Strategy A: Increase collaboration with relevant research organisations to inform and influence research priorities and to increase the uptake of research findings to inform management and administrative decision-making

Strategy B: Establish and manage a south-west Commonwealth marine reserve network as part of a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas

Strategy C: Provide relevant, accessible and evidence-based information to support decision-making with respect to development proposals that come under the jurisdiction of the EPBC Act

Strategy D: Increase collaboration with fisheries management agencies and the fishing industry to improve understanding of fisheries impacts and address the cumulative effects of fisheries on the region's key ecological features and protected species

Strategy E: Develop partnerships with relevant marine industries to increase understanding of the impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on the region's key ecological features and protected species

Strategy F: Develop targeted collaborative programs to coordinate species recovery and environmental protection efforts across Australian Government and state agencies with responsibilities for the marine environment

Strategy G: Improve monitoring, evaluation and reporting on ecosystem health in the marine environment

Within each strategy, actions have been designed to address one or more of the regional priorities. A few actions are not linked directly to regional priorities but have been included as enabling actions—that is, they provide the necessary foundation and/or mechanisms for addressing the regional priorities in a coordinated, effective and efficient way.

Actions under the strategies are classified in terms of their implementation timeframe:

Strategy A: Increase collaboration with relevant research organisations to inform and influence research priorities and to increase the uptake of research findings to inform management and administrative decision making

Strategy B: Establish and manage a south-west Commonwealth marine reserve network as part of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas

Strategy C: Provide relevant, accessible and evidence-based information to support decision-making with respect to development proposals that come under the jurisdiction of the EPBC Act

Strategy D: Increase collaboration with fisheries management agencies and the fishing industry to improve the understanding of fisheries impacts and address the cumulative effects of fisheries on the region's key ecological features and protected species

Strategy E: Develop partnerships with relevant marine industries to increase understanding of the impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on the region's key ecological features and protected species

Strategy F: Develop targeted collaborative programs to coordinate species recovery and environmental protection efforts across Commonwealth and state agencies with responsibilities for the marine environment

Strategy G: Improve monitoring, evaluation and reporting on ecosystem health in the marine environment