Repair and revitalisation of Australia's tropical estuaries and coastal wetlands: opportunities and constraints for the reinstatement of lost function and productivity
Tropical fisheries are in decline around world as a result of diverse anthropogenic threats. These threats are intimately linked to biodiversity and conservation values because of the heavy dependence of both fisheries and high value marine and coastal wetlands on coastal ecosystem health. Consequently, if the widespread degradation of coastal ecosystems can be halted and remediated, there are substantial benefits to fisheries output, ecosystem resilience, food security, livelihoods, recreation and the protection of ecological assets of national and global significance. The extent, intactness and quality of Australia׳s tropical coastal ecosystems has declined markedly since European settlement, due to the cumulative impact of many small encroachments and local barrier construction on the extent and productivity of coastal wetlands, mangroves and seagrass meadows. Additionally, coastal ecosystem dependent biota has been excluded from large areas of critical habitats. Despite these changes, coastal fisheries show no clear declines that could not be explained by changes in effort. This lack of detectable decline is probably partly attributable to the short history of available fisheries catch data. However, it is also likely that it reflects the offsetting of lost natural productivity by greatly increased anthropogenic nutrient loads; a substantial problem as governments are committed to large scale, long term efforts to reduce discharges of nutrients to coastal waters. This possibility underlines the importance of rejuvenating lost coastal productivity. Evaluation of past remediation efforts show that documented success is rare, due to a complex of factors including ineffective prioritisation, a lack of necessary knowledge and resources, and inefficient monitoring and evaluation. Past experiences from Australia׳s tropics and around the world, together with current ecological understanding, suggests some generally desirable characteristics to enhance the likelihood of successful remediation and repair actions.