Year

2006

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Earth and Environmental Sciences - Faculty of Science

Abstract

Calls to fill key data gaps and refine management and monitoring tools for estuaries are intensifying. This research investigates the extent to which estuarine science contributes toward policy development and implementation of management actions in southeastern (SE) Australia. This study benchmarks the current reliance on scientific information and expertise in formulating and implementing estuary policy. This involved an analysis of the function of estuary condition assessments in estuary management policy formulation and implementation. A lack of science and policy integration is revealed, leading to haphazard decision-making, with little overall consideration for ecological outcomes. Complex jurisdictional arrangements including the recent overlay of a fourth jurisdictional level, that of the regions, yet a lack of clear responsibility for data custodianship were identified as major failings of present arrangements. An absence of an appropriate framework to deal with specific management decisions, such as, the decision whether to artificially open an Intermittently Closed or Open Lake or Lagoon to the sea, reduces the effectiveness of the current system. There is a severe lack of long term, large scale monitoring of estuarine resources, including water quality and biodiversity. In terms of water quality, there is clearly strong community concern for estuarine water quality but the current water quality database is not adequate to ensure that ecosystems are meeting community expectations. Australia has international obligations to conserve biodiversity but the current deficiency in scientific information related to biodiversity means that we are unable to measure whether present management arrangements are adequately conserving estuarine biodiversity. It is a case of we cannot manage what we cannot measure. While there is enough information to start acting based on the existing scientific databases, decisions are generally made on short-term risk assessments of economic and social consequences, while disregarding natural processes and long-term sustainability of estuarine resources. To overcome these problems, recommendations are made toward the integration of scientific information into the estuary management process, including acceptance of the responsibility for long term monitoring by governments and how to improve communication between scientists and managers. The diverse abiotic and biotic characteristics, as well as the high environmental value of these systems, reinforce the need to tailor management decisions to the individual water body concerned.

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