Sinclair Knight Merz for
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 8 April 2009
This report presents the results of the Ecological Assets of Northern Australia: Scoping, Synthesis and Prioritisation Study. In preparing the report, SKM has undertaken a desktop review of existing ecological research initiatives and water planning processes across northern Australia; a listing of the key ecological assets types in northern Australia; and a gap analysis to identify poorly understood ecological asset types. This information was reviewed at the Darwin Workshop of specialist stakeholders. The Workshop included an assessment of the identified important ecological assets using the draft High Conservation Value Aquatic Ecosystem (HCVAE) criteria; recommendations of missing important ecological assets; and a discussion on the way forward for the assessment of assets under the Ecological Program of the Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment (NAWFA).
The Ecological Assets of Northern Australia: Scoping, Synthesis and Prioritisation Study represents new work commissioned under the NAWFA. The purpose of this work is to define the asset types in northern Australia with due consideration of system wide issues such as interconnectivity within and between aquatic asset types, catchments and regions and categorise the key assets across the north against the draft HCVAE classification descriptors.
The boundary of this study was defined by three drainage divisions, the Timor Sea, the Gulf of Carpentaria, and the North-East Coast. In terms of the scale of this study, it was decided that the focus would be on the 13 reporting regions identified in the Northern Australian Sustainable Yields (NASY) project. These regions are as follows:
- Fitzroy River
- Ord-Bonaparte Gulf
- Daly River
- Van Diemen Gulf
- Arafura Sea
- Roper River
- Southwest Gulf
- Southeast Gulf
- Mitchell River
- Western Cape
- Great Barrier Reef
The primary input into this report came from the NAWFA Ecological Working Group (EWG) which comprises the following organisations:
- Australian Government – Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
- National Water Commission
- Queensland Government
- Northern Territory Government
- Western Australian Government
- Tropical Rivers & Coastal Knowledge project
- Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
- Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist.
Section 1 of this report presents the results of a desktop review of existing research initiatives in the aquatic ecological assets field. Descriptive information was obtained from the EWG and other Commonwealth, State and Territory government departments and agencies, and research institutions. The review identified 15 existing research initiatives together with 53 research projects considered relevant by the EWG.
Section 2 of this report presents a scoping exercise to define the key ecological asset types across northern Australia, classified according to their HCVAE classification. The classification categories that were applied were agreed by the Aquatic Ecosystems Tasks Group (a derivative of the Natural Resources Policies & Programs Committee) in October 2008. These descriptors are at the highest level of analysis of aquatic ecosystems and are:
The initial desktop study identified between 2 and 26 key ecological assets within each NASY region. The definition of 'key' was based on being listed through one of the six mechanisms below:
- Wetlands of international importance (Ramsar wetlands)
- Nationally important wetlands
- A nationally listed threatened aquatic ecological community
- Places on the Commonwealth heritage list
- Wild Rivers nomination under legislation
- Riparian environments of significant conservation value.
At the Darwin Workshop additional key assets were provisionally identified across ten of the thirteen regions and have been incorporated into this report. All the assets are listed and briefly described. Within the list is a comment on the interconnectivity between these aquatic ecological assets. Provisional Workshop classifications of ecological assets against the HCVAE criteria are included in the appendices.
Section 3 of this report describes potential ways forward and recommended next actions. This section includes an identification of generic knowledge needs related to identifying and understanding key ecological assets, and options for addressing the next phases of the NAWFA Ecological Program.