Greens spokesperson for Healthy Oceans, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, provides the following comments on the release of the Senate inquiry report (link here) into the “Current and future impacts of climate change on marine fisheries and biodiversity.” Senator Whish-Wilson instigated the Inquiry after a recent marine heatwave devastated fisheries and biodiversity off the coast of Tasmania.
Senator Whish-Wilson said, “The warming oceans right around Australia are taking a hidden toll on our marine life and livelihoods. Whether it’s the repeated bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, the belatedly-discovered death of a 1000km of mangrove forests, the loss of Tasmania’s giant kelp forests or new diseases decimating our fisheries, the oceans have become the canary in the coalmine for the planet and climate change.
“We all know about the climate change impacts on droughts, heatwaves and bushfires but under the surface of the water, the changes have been more extreme.
“I challenge anyone who can, to visit the barrier reef, put on your snorkel and stick your head under the water, and there is no way you won’t be alarmed at the desolation in front of your eyes. And if you were lucky enough to go diving on the East Coast of Tasmania only last decade you would have swum among kelp forests 30 metres in height, where now there are none.
“This report is a landmark compilation and analysis of the impacts of climate change on our marine life and fisheries. It pulls together evidence from communities, agencies and scientists from right around the country and distils it to provide recommendations for actions the Federal government can take to deal with the warming waters.
“We need to reconstruct our marine policy framework to adjust to this rapidly-changing world. This report calls for a review of all environment and natural resource legislation to account for climate change, to look to incorporate a greenhouse trigger in the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and to take steps towards the establishment of independent National Ocean Commissioner.
“We also need to regularly review the network of existing marine reserves in light of the impacts of climate change, look to increase the no-take zones to build further climate resilience, and explicitly include climate targets within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2050 plan.
“Australia must urgently put in place long-term funding arrangements for a marine monitoring network. We cannot rely on short-term funding cycles for the Integrated Marine Observing System or have a high quality research vessel like the RV Investigator unfunded for large parts of the year. The Greens are alone in calling for an immediate injection of funding to employ more climate scientists to fill the identified shortfall in the workforce. And we are calling on the Government to undo their restrictions on CRC funding that have put the future of Hobart’s Antarctic, Climate and Ecosystems CRC,” he concluded.
Additional comments for Tasmanian press:
“The Eastern Australian current used to bring warmer sub-tropical waters down the coast of the mainland past Sydney and to the south coast of NSW, but now these warmer waters reach down to eastern Tasmania each summer.
“The issue is that Tasmanian fisheries and marine life have evolved to thrive in colder water fed by sub-Antarctic currents, and these warmer waters are devastating our marine life and fisheries.
“The Tasmanian giant kelp forests have all but disappeared in recent years and every fisheries sector from oysters to abalone and rock lobster to salmon have been smashed by recent marine heatwaves.
“Tasmania is a global hotspot for warming oceans and is showing signs of rapid, frightening change, quite unlike other parts of the world. We need to employ a coordinated approach across science and industry to work out what this change means for our state and put in place plans that build resilience for industry and the environment to better deal with it.
“These warming waters mean that industries like near-shore salmon farming are likely to be short-term prospects as temperatures rise above the tolerance levels for these cold water species. The abalone sector likewise, is struggling to keep harvesting levels at past rates as the warmer temperatures push the abalone out of range.
“Without embedding climate change into planning decisions and quotas for all Tasmanian aquatic industries we are likely to make decisions with lasting negative consequences,” he concluded.