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Monitoring change

Coasts are dynamic at all time scales. Management, which includes the active protection of ecosystems, requires information on change in the environment as a high priority. Monitoring of change is commonly carried out to establish a trend, or to establish the 'normal' range of seasonal, annual or interannual change. Management needs are to establish baselines, to show trends, to show the effects of management actions, and to establish targets and triggers for action. Gilmour (1999) cited Holling's (1978) book on adaptive environmental management, in which a number of significant points were made with regard to this situation:

• The available data and theories will always be inadequate and yet we are making management decisions ah the time

• Conditions change rapidly and in a way, that is unpredictable

• The resulting uncertain environment requires an incremental and experimental approach to problem solving

• This involves a program of continuous monitoring and re-adjustment of our management strategies.

State of the environment reporting

State of the environment (SoE) reporting is an important way in which government decision-makers learn about the pressures on the environment, about the condition of the environment, and the responses to change in the environment. It is a significant part of accountability in environmental management, since it provides the public with information about the environment and human impacts on that environment. When reporting is carried on at a local or regional scale and incorporated into an efficient information system, it can be integrated with environmental management systems.

All three tiers of government are committed to state of the environment reporting, and most governments have placed their commitment in legislation.

Table 4.6 Commonwealth and state government commitments to SoE reporting

Jurisdiction

Timing of reports

Reports to date

Commonwealth

Every 4 to 5 years

1996, 2001

New South Wales

Every 2 years

1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001

Queensland

Every 4 years

1999

South Australia

Every 5 years

1988, 1993, 1998

Tasmania

Every 5 years

1997, 2002

ACT

Every year

1997 (onwards)

Western Australia

Irregular

1991, 1997

Local government undertakes state of the environment reporting throughout N SW and the ACT; in NSW this is a requirement under the Local Government Act 1993 (see EPA 1993). Some local governments in other states have reported for their council areas, sometimes as part of the adoption of Local Agenda 21.

National state of the environment reporting forms part of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, endorsed by CO AG in 1992. Australian membership of the OECD includes a commitment to carry out reporting, and the Commonwealth government has carried out reports in 1996 and 2001. Both reports (SEAC 1996, ASEC 2001) were major documents, broadly based on numerous scientific workshops, papers and consultant reports, and extensively reviewed. The reporting was within seven themes: human settlements, biodiversity, atmosphere, land resources, inland waters, estuaries and the sea, and natural and cultural heritage. With regard to the coast, the 1996 report was significantly supported by the 1995 State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia (Zann 1995). The chapters on each of the seven themes are organised around the OECD's pressure-state-response model (figure 4.12). That is, the chapter begins with an account of the pressures that human activity has placed on the part of the environment of the theme, continues with an account of

Figure 4.12 The OECD's pressure-state-response model for state of the environment

The OECD's pressure-state-response model for state of the environment

reporting

Table 4.7 Selected key indicators for estuaries and the sea proposed by the Commonwealth indicators for national state of the environment reporting

Issue or element

Indicator

Condition (C), pressure (P) or response (R)

Class 1:

(species protected by name under

Cited species/taxa

Commonwealth or State legislation)

Protected species

(number of) marine species rare, threatened or endangered

R

Cited species/ taxa

Protected species populations

C

Cited species/ taxa

Seabird populations (species which are the subject of international agreements)

C

Class 2: Habitat extent

(areal extent of major habitat types)

Habitat extent

algal bed areas (km2 of macro-algal beds; rapid change in response to disturbance)

C

Habitat extent

dune vegetation (area and main assemblages; relates to dune stability)

C

Habitat extent

intertidal sand/mudflat area

C

Habitat extent

saltmarsh area

C

Class 3: Habitat quality

Habitat quality

coral reef species

C

Habitat quality

dune species

c

Habitat quality

mangrove species

c

Pests (exotic)

pest numbers

P

Pests (native)

species outbreaks

P

Class 4: Renewable products

Aquaculture

aquaculture production

c

Seafood

fish stocks

c

Class 5: Non-renewable products

Mining

ocean exploration

P

Mining

ocean mining

P

Class 6: Water/sediment quality

Sediment quality

sediment quality (contaminants)

P

Water quality

turbidity

P

Class 7: Integrated management

Integrated management

coast care community groups

R

Integrated management

coastal discharges

P

Integrated management

coastal tourism

P

Integrated management

ship visits

P

Class 8: Ecosystem level processes

Ecosystem process

sea level

c

Ecosystem process

sea surface temperature variability

c

Source: Ward et al. 1998

the condition or state of the theme, and concludes with a review of the responses being made to change within the theme.

Indicators are defined as physical, chemical, biological, or socioeconomic measures that can be used to assess natural resources and environmental quality. Within the use of the above model, there are separate indicators for pressures, state, and responses. Governments in Australia are working towards a common reporting format and the use of compatible indicator sets in order to facilitate comparisons, to provide information on bioregions across political boundaries, and to allow better national reporting.

The Commonwealth has undertaken considerable work within the scientific community to establish indicators for national SoE reporting, and has produced key sets within the seven themes of the 1996 report. The indicators (see Table 4.7) were chosen on scientific and technical grounds rather than on current monitoring practice, if any. The sets provide the basis for discussion on use within agencies and industry and community groups, rather than a statement on present practice or aspiration. The work on indicators provides a good example of the potential for a positive and unique role for the Commonwealth within cooperative federalism.

Within government this information is valuable in policy and priority setting, which is the major purpose of national and state SoE reporting. State of the environment reports form a valuable resource for all coastal managers, since they can be used to carry out a variety of tasks, notably:

• to show where human activities are exerting great pressure on the environment

• to identify situations where the condition or state of the environment is of concern

• to review management systems and policies as an adequate response to the changes identified as happening within the environment.

However, SoE reporting should be distinguished from monitoring as part of an ongoing local or regional coastal management process. Government statutory SoE reporting (see figure 4.12) focuses on change within the environment as a whole, across the realms of land air and water, whereas monitoring within a management system focuses on issues of concern to stakeholders, and on targets, triggers, and the effects of management. National, state, or local government SoE reporting may be valuable data sources for a management scheme, but within a management process, specific aims or objectives may warrant monitoring of indicators which may not be chosen within the more general approach of government reporting. A third approach, community monitoring, usually has the purpose of influencing management, either in general direction or with regard to specific management actions.

 
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