Geoscience for ocean management: An overview and Australian perspective

Category Other
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Harris, Peter
Holding Date 07 October 2008

Management of the world’s ocean environment is a complex process that intersects with several industry groups including fishing, shipping, oil and gas and seabed mining. Ocean managers are tasked, generally, with implementing government polices that aim to limit the impact of human activities on the environment; their jobs may involve one or more industry sectors and their responsibilities may involve a range of legislation enacted to meet different conservation goals. The geosciences play an important role in ocean management by providing a broad-scale context for understanding marine ecosystems and the spatial distribution of benthic communities.
Geological processes span the full range of depths, from the coast to the abyss, and are in many cases also ecological drivers that underpin an ecosystem’s occurrence and spatial/temporal nature. In Australia’s coastal zone, the geomorphic classification of estuaries is the foundation of a management framework that is being utilised by state and local authorities to make management decisions. Management of Australia’s continental shelf and ocean environments is guided by a national bioregionalisation that is fundamentally based upon seabed geomorphology. Furthermore, in designing a national representative system of marine protected areas, guiding principles used by the Australian Government include direct reference to seabed sediment type and benthic habitats that are defined based on a combination of biological and physical parameters.
Research currently underway by many nations seeks to improve our capability to understand and better predict the occurrence of benthic communities based on the use of quantitative measures of the physical attributes that characterise seafloor as surrogates for different habitat types. These include acoustic measures of seafloor roughness and hardness, bathymetry, sediment texture and geochemistry, near-bed current regime and physical processes that cause ecological disturbances. Recent applications of the surrogacy technique have included characterising the global ocean to support the design of high seas marine protected areas. This is a new and emerging field of research that promises exciting future discoveries and an improved capability to better manage the earth’s fragile ocean environment.