A sea of evidence to absorb

by Eloise Carr in The Mercury
Originally published in The Mercury on November 25, 2022

Momentum is building to fundamentally improve the way we care for and use our coastal waters, ahead of the Australia Institute’s Tasmanian Ocean Summit today.

For the first time in 27 years, Tasmania’s main marine law is being reviewed. Internationally recognised experts will gather at the Spring Bay Mill to discuss and generate ideas for action to address the pressures facing marine life.

Pollution, depleted fish stocks, ignored ecosystem flow-on effects, threatened species, paltry habitat protection, poor community returns, and a lack of community involvement in planning and management, all demonstrate that the system we have now isn’t working. It’s not meeting community expectations and it’s not achieving legal objectives either. Climate change is only exacerbating pressures.

The Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) is the latest voice to join the chorus calling for an integrated and coordinated approach to managing the many uses and interests in Tasmania’s coastal waters.

The CRC’s recently released ‘AMBITION’ report looks beyond the current way of managing aquaculture alone, which is without adequate consideration of other uses and how they may wish to access marine space. This piecemeal and siloed approach is the present management strategy used by the Tasmanian government and it is failing our ocean.

Much of the CRC’s report focuses on what the future of aquaculture could look like, but it also recognises that this is just one part of the puzzle and calls for much needed change in managing Tasmania’s waterways. The report calls for a paradigm shift and a new model of marine governance that would take account of all the other uses and consider them in a coordinated and integrated way.

Approximately 57% of the CRC’s income came from the Commonwealth Government last financial year and 63% in 2021. So it is entirely appropriate for the CRC to invest in broader marine governance research, beyond offshore aquaculture and renewable energy.

Contemporary management recognises the ocean is a shared space and tools exists to achieve fair and equitable management of marine areas. These tools, along with clear and agreed objectives are an effective way to manage competition and conflict over access to our coasts and oceans.

The UN’s vision for the Decade of Ocean Science is that by 2030, we have ‘The science we need for the ocean we want’. The UN recognizes the ocean holds the key to an equitable and sustainable planet and wants us to recognise that our own well-being depends on healthy oceans.

In 2020, our then Prime Minister, along with – now – 17 other world leaders, joined together to form the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. Their vision is for a more sustainable ocean economy where effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity go hand-in-hand. Through this, Australia has committed to manage 100 per cent of our waters sustainably, and to develop a Sustainable Ocean Plan by 2025.

Our new PM’s representative to the Ocean Panel will speak at the Summit, which will also provide him with a great entry to understanding the current Tasmanian marine position ahead of engagement on the national Sustainable Ocean Plan next year.

Fortunately for us, Hobart is home to world leading expertise in marine science and management, and consensus is mounting that modern Ocean management needs to refocus, to zoom out and see the bigger picture. We need to move away from managing each activity separately, while discounting others. Fishing, shipping, aquaculture, tourism, recreation, and mineral extraction do not happen in isolation from one another. In the sea, everything is connected. Yet we continue to manage activities separately, without adequate consideration of the flow on effects.

Tasmanians are island dwellers; the ocean and coasts are embedded in our psyche and this connection is ancient. We understand that our economic, community and cultural wellbeing depends on ecosystems remaining healthy. And yet a majority of Tasmanians are concerned that the health of our coastal waters is declining. More than one in two agree the Tasmanian Government is not doing enough to protect the health of our ocean.

We understand more about the ocean than we ever have before. If we let another quarter of a century pass, the opportunities we have now will be gone. We have the best experts available right here already, and more are travelling join us this week, all to focus on the opportunity before us for Tasmania. This is an extraordinary moment to be working on Tasmania’s Ocean.

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