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Taking the pressure off Australia’s stressed ecosystems

The Australian Academy of Science has launched an initiative that it hopes will diminish the stress in Australia’s ecosystems, and has announced a national working group to implement its recommendations.

The initiative, outlined in Stressed ecosystems: better decisions for Australia’s future, is the work of about 60 early and mid-career scientists and social scientists from around Australia. They met for a Theo Murphy High Flyers Think Tank in Brisbane last year.

In an effort to arrest the degradation and destruction of ecosystems, they recommended that:

  • more data be collected on Australia’s ecosystems and made freely available
  • the community be involved in collecting data
  • methods be developed to determine the consequences of ecosystem decisions, with these made accessible to all stakeholders
  • all stakeholders be involved in ecosystem planning and decision making.

Think tank co-convenor Professor Mark Burgman said every state, territory and federal government had nominated a representative to join an implementation committee to work with scientists.

‘This approach brings communities, governments and other stakeholders together with scientists who can develop models to predict potential outcomes of particular actions,’ Mark said.

The think tank participants examined four ecosystems:

  • Queensland’s Bowen and Surat Basins, where agriculture and the need for continued supplies of drinkable water compete with coal mining and gas extraction
  • the iconic Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia, because there is not enough understanding of how the system functions in the face of oil and gas mining and huge numbers of tourists
  • Melbourne’s peri-urban grasslands, where temperate grasslands, one of Victoria’s most endangered ecosystems, compete with urban expansion, and
  • the Murray-Darling Basin, where there is a need to improve understanding and modelling of the allocation of water to maintain healthy communities and ecosystems.

‘Using these specific ecosystems as modelling examples we have developed a way to ensure that each competing interest or voice is heard and integrated into a model for managing the ecosystem in a sustainable way,’ Mark said.

Published in TERN e-Newsletter February 2012

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