June 8th is World Ocean’s Day; this year’s theme is “Innovation for a sustainable ocean”.
The world’s oceans are essential for life on Earth, providing food, medicine, and important ecosystem services, as well as being a large source of the world’s biodiversity. These crucial ecosystems are threatened by anthropogenic influences so we must work together to ensure they remain healthy functioning ecosystems and that we use them in a sustainable way.
At OceanWatch Australia we are working to ensure Australia’s marine environment is healthy, productive, valued and used in a responsible way by developing new programs and techniques to better manage and improve our marine environment. Read about our initiatives below:
Reef Enhancement: This initiative seeks to control populations of the long-spined sea urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii) which have fed voraciously on marine vegetation. The urchin barrens that form as a result of this pose a threat to native biodiversity and undermine profitable harvesting of C.rodgersii as a commercial species. The project includes the development of and training in the Environmental Code of Practice for the Abalone, and Sea Urchin and Turban Shell (SUTS) fisheries.
Divers from the Abalone and SUTS fisheries will work to reduce the density of urchins by culling four urchin barrens (8 ha) in NSW until mid-2021. This can aid in enhancing seaweed habitats, thereby improving biodiversity, and can also improve remaining urchin roe quality as well as increasing the abundance of quality abalone. This project is supported by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
Tide to Tip: “Tide to Tip” launched in 2020 is a series of nation-wide clean-up events led by the Australian oyster industry. Oyster farmers regularly pick up marine debris they find floating in their estuaries, however this event allows large-scale collaboration among oyster growers and other concerned groups. Allowing them to remove large amounts of waste from our nation’s estuaries by targeting marine debris hotspots.
The inaugural 2020 event involved 243-oyster farmers across 19 estuaries, who collectively, removed 12 tonnes of waste from our waterways. The event saw collaboration between many groups within industry, government and community, including professional fishers, recreational anglers, indigenous organisations, local schools and other coastal community stakeholders.
Master Fisherman Training: The OceanWatch Master Fisherman program is a unique industry driven program, that involves formal training and assessment for professional fishermen. The program, supported by funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare program and NSW Government, Department of Primary Industries is designed to:
- Improve and recognised the knowledge, skills, experience and professionalism of participating fishermen for better community and environmental outcomes
- Promote the sustainability of fresh, local seafood
- Provide information to consumers to help them value locally produced seafood
The Master Fisherman Program incorporates many aspects of responsible fishing including but not limited to quality assurance, by-catch reduction, animal welfare, marine pest management, environmental protection and workplace health & safety.
The program was initiated in NSW in 2013, and is now being adopted in SA and Victoria.
Oyster Reef Restoration: Shellfish reefs once formed the backbone of many temperate & subtropical estuaries, and whilst small populations continue to exist in most bays and estuaries, these are only a small fraction compared to the numbers seen pre-European settlement. In New South Wales, researchers estimate that over 99% of natural shellfish reefs have been lost due to pollution, sedimentation, disease and habitat loss or degradation from coastal development.
To restore these crucial habitats we worked alongside engineers and ecologists, to design “living shorelines”. The “living shoreline” concept all starts by taking old oyster shell and bagging in coir (coconut fibre) mesh bags. These are then strategically pegged on eroded shorelines, providing a home for a multitude of other marine animals, and a surface on which free-swimming oyster larvae can settle. Over time, the oysters grow together to form a reef, and the coconut fibre breaks down. The project uses 100% natural, biodegradable materials ensuring that these living structures help to support, rather than degrade the surrounding ecosystem.
Bycatch Reduction: OceanWatch are working closely with industry associations and Australian professional fishermen to develop best practice training materials to minimise bycatch and potential interactions between commercial fisher operations and threatened, endangered and protected species (TEP). Materials are contextualised to provide relevance specifically at a state based fishery level, assisting improved fisher awareness and adoption of best practice. Modules comprise information that describes current bycatch and TEP species mitigation devices, best practice handling and release techniques and behaviours, and reporting requirements of potential interactions with species of concern.
Source Reduction Plans: OceanWatch has partnered with the Tangaroa Blue Foundation to develop a source reduction plan for professional light sticks and bait bags on the Great Barrier Reef. The project will run over a 2-year period as part of the Reef Clean Project funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust.