FRDC- DCCEE: estuarine and nearshore ecosystems – assessing alternative adaptive management strategies for the management of estuarine and coastal ecosystems

Project Number:



James Cook University (JCU)

Principal Investigator:

Marcus Sheaves

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:





Global issues require partnerships and concerted action. A partnership is in place across key agencies (DCC&EE, FRDC, NCCARF, DAFF and State/Territory) to assess adaptation strategies for marine biodiversity and fisheries, but there is no national program to set directions for adaptation strategies for highly vulnerable Estuarine and Nearshore Environments (E&NEs). This gap is highlighted with neither NCCARF-ARNs for Marine or Freshwater addressing issues for E&NEs, as recognised in the Key Elements of the Scoping Brief. E&NEs are critical transition zones between terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, providing key ecosystem functions (e.g. nutrient exchange and cycling) and associated services (e.g. nursery ground provision). Impacts of sea-level rise, altered hydrology and increasing temperatures will be compounded through interactions with human structures and management interventions. Consequently, there is a strong need to assess the relative importance of Climate Change impacts versus those associated with other pressures, and to identify priorities and strategies for adaptation that support clear and consistent goal setting by policy and management agencies. DCC&EE-FRDC have identified the need to build on the large body of ecological and Climate Change impact work, and focus on developing a suite of strategies to support the adaptive management of biodiversity and fisheries/aquaculture values in E&NEs. This proposal also addresses: a) NARP Priority Research Questions 3.1 by determining the components of coastal ecosystems most in need of adaptation management based on ecological information about their status, value and vulnerability, and, 3.4 by defining ecologically sound management options to enable adaptation of practices to enhance system resilience and adjustment time, and by modelling outcomes of different options based on implications for ecosystem functions. b) NCCAP for Fisheries and Aquaculture strategy (NCCAP 2010) for “Improving understanding and awareness of Climate Change impacts on fisheries” and “facilitating ongoing assessment and monitoring of Climate Change impacts at suitable scales”.


1. Synthesize and integrate all current knowledge, data, tools and processes for the development of a national assessment of impacts and adaptation strategies for management of estuarine and coastal marine ecosystem under Climate Change that takes account of bioregional differences and differences among estuary types.

2. Evaluate the key adaptation strategies recognising that there needs to be a process to harmonise adaptation strategies for the public benefit.

3. Develop tools and guidelines, at a National level, for developing adaptation strategies for the estuarine environment that take bioregional and typological differences among estuaries.

Final Report - 2011-040-DLD - Project Title: Climate Change Adaptation Strategies to Support Australia’s Estuarine and Coastal Marine Ecosystems

Final Report
Date Published:April 2014
Principal Investigator: Marcus Sheaves
Keywords: Climate Change; Adaptation Strategy; Resilience; Estuary; Wetland; Nursery Ground; Productivity
The project was developed in response to the threats to the fisheries values, biodiversity and ecosystem functions posed by Climate Change on Australia’s estuarine and coastal marine ecosystems that are already heavily impacted by changes in land and water use. It was undertaken in the recognition that large-scale strategy thinking was necessary for a country with a great diversity of estuary and coastal marine ecosystems, plant and animal assemblages, climates, and region-specific threats and matters of contention. The project involved extensive review of Climate Change Adaptation strategies from across the world and evaluated their usefulness under Australian conditions through reviewing case studies, through interviews with workers from all levels of science and management from across Australia, and by reviewing modelling tools and using advanced qualitative modelling.
We found that successful adaptation strategies needed to be developed in a broad context, focussing on whole-of-systems, long-term outcomes. In seeking approaches to achieve these goals, we determined that traditional Climate Change adaptation frameworks were too rigid for use across Australia’s diverse estuary and coastal marine systems. In fact, no single approach is suitable given the range of plant and animal assemblages, climates, and region-specific threats and matters of contention. As a result the project developed a set of general principles to help direct adaptation strategies regardless of the particular situation – to help guide, but not constrain, the development of informed adaptation policies, plans and actions. In addition, to assist those tasked with adaptation strategy delivery, the project produced a review of available tools and frameworks, together with recommendations for the situations in which they are likely to be useful, and a checklist of components that need to be considered when developing effective adaptation strategies.​