Supported by Waitt Foundation grants, two University of Queensland research projects are aiming to support marine conservation efforts in climate-stricken island nations.
UQ Associate Professor Daniel Dunn, Director of UQ’s Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, said many countries in the developing world face disproportionate and devastating consequences of climate change and are the least equipped to deal with it.
“There is an increasing need for conservation planning support in many island nations as the push to protect 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030 gathers momentum,” Dr Dunn said.
“Many of these island nations are already feeling the devastating impacts of climate change and it’s vital we address this issue robustly and develop approaches in partnership with them.
“For our project, we’re engaging with island nations to conserve oceans by empowering them with tools to collaborate with our researchers, namely through the use of our reporting app, Shiny.
“This app reduces reporting complexity and will empower researchers in these island locations with tools to undertake analyses themselves.”
Together with the Waitt Institute and the University of California, Santa Barbara, the team will also host a week-long workshop with island nation stakeholders to bring everyone together and develop consensus around an efficient and robust approach to addressing climate change.
“To meet the growing demand for ocean conservation efforts and to scale up planning efforts, practitioners need transferable skills,” Dr Dunn said.
“Specifically, the workshop will consider mechanisms for integrating different climate models, scenarios, and metrics into Waitt’s conservation prioritisation planning software.
“The agreed approach will be included in the Shiny app, ultimately changing the way researchers and conservationists in island nations go about collecting and applying important conservation data moving forward.”
Another project is headed by UQ’s Associate Professor Chris Roelfsema and will help assess the impact and recovery of Tonga’s coral reefs, following 2022’s devastating
submarine volcano eruption.
Dr Roelfsema said a collaborative field component would provide detailed field-based assessments of coral, invertebrate, and fish abundance in selected priority areas by using underwater, or benthic, mapping.
“The Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA) and Ministry of Fisheries (MoF) established a need to assess impact and recovery of the reefs in the various priority and risk areas for aquaculture,” he said.
“The aim of our project is to support VEPA and the Tonga Fisheries Department team by creating a series of maps of the bottom of the surrounding ocean from before, directly following, and a year after the tsunami.
“We will help assess the impact and recovery of selected coral reefs, share local knowledge, and provide field training and geographic information system support.
“This project will support our understanding of the nearshore recovery process and could be foundational for natural disaster recovery in similar geographies.”
Executive Director of the Waitt Institute, Dr Kathryn Mengerink, said the projects would play an important role in supporting the Waitt Foundation’s body of work in the global oceanic conservation space.
“The Waitt Foundation and Waitt Institute support work related to ocean conservation that is in harmony with local environmental, social, and economic needs,” Dr Mengerink said.
“The Foundation supports individuals, organisations, and institutions at a variety of scales, from specific place-based projects to broader global programs, that benefit the ocean and the people that depend on it.
“Both of these projects are a perfect fit for these criteria and will have positive impacts on a region in dire need of continued support.”
Dr Mengerink is closely overseeing the project in Tonga and is excited by its potential to evaluate large-scale impacts on nearshore Tongan reefs in a non-invasive way.
“This is critically important after the eruption and tsunami last year, which caused widespread damage that may take decades to fully recover from,” Dr Mengerink said.