Theme 2 Tony Smith: Supporting management of marine biodiversity

This theme explored methods and tools for valuing marine biodiversity, identifying threats, and evaluating approaches to conservation management.

Tools and analyses were designed to support the  implementation of marine bioregional plans, monitoring the South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserves (SECMR) Network, and assessment and management of listed species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

End-user engagement

Research in this theme focused on stated needs of the Department of the Environment. Scientists and departmental representatives engaged through workshops, briefing sessions, seminars, and one-on-one meetings to shape individual projects. In some cases, however, changes in the policy environment led to Departmental priorities changing and this complicated the definition of relevant projects. The result was that while some projects appear to have satisfied Departmental needs, others experienced delays and frustration, and this affected the potential uptake of research findings. For example, trying to finalise objectives for the research focussed on integrating social, economic and environmental values was difficult, and progress has been delayed as a result.

Building capacity

Regional scale quantitative analysis of pressures and cumulative impacts on seabed fauna led to the first quantitative evaluation of conservation management strategies and trade-offs for this area. This capacity to evaluate existing and potential alternative biodiversity management options on and off reserves, as well as the relative impact of alternative pressures including marine industries, can be used to support evidence-based decision making in these difficult-to-observe offshore environments.

Landscape approaches to managing high-priority conservation values focussed on the SECMR and shark species of temperate Australia. Extensive data integration led to improved knowledge and understanding of demersal shark distribution and of important areas where several species overlap. Research infrastructure and capabilities developed during this project will support ongoing monitoring and assessment of sawfishes and river sharks in the Northern Territory, and of species such as White Sharks around Australia. New close kin mark-recapture methods provide a quantum leap in the capability to assess threatened species.

Issues associated with the design and implementation of marine biodiversity offsets were explored. These included the performance of offsetting strategies in the presence of cumulative impacts, and community preferences for aspects of offset design.

Largetooth sawfish.

ABOVE: Largetooth sawfish. Image: Peter Kyne.


Specific advice on protected species and biodiversity management has been used by the Department, such as to support non-detriment findings for sawfish in northern Australia. The longer term impact of the close-kin methods applied to river sharks and White Sharks is likely to be large when applied to a range of threatened marine species.

Nevertheless, given the focus and aims of this theme, the overall level of impact has been less than anticipated. Difficulty in specifying needs and objectives, and changing priorities, has led to delays and frustrations. This experience points to the need for early dialogue and continuing communication so that there is shared understanding of how projects will meet the Department’s needs.

Tony Smith

Research partners

Charles Darwin University


Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries

University of Tasmania

University of Western Australia


Tony Smith
(03) 6232 5372