Marine climate impacts and adaptation

Climate change poses a threat to fisheries and marine biodiversity. CSIRO's Marine Climate Impacts and Adaptation research stream is studying how climate change will affect Australia’s oceans, and developing adaptation options to respond to these challenges.
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The Challenge

Securing the future or our valuable oceans

Climate change represents a threat to the economic and ecological sustainability of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism, as well as to the critical ecosystem services that underpin the beachside lifestyle enjoyed by millions of Australians.

Our oceans generate significant economic wealth – about A$52 billion per year or eight per cent of gross domestic product – through activities such as fisheries, tourism and recreation, shipping and offshore gas and petroleum extraction.

Fisheries and aquaculture are important industries in Australia, both economically (gross value over A$2.5 billion) and socially. Marine-based tourism is also vital to many coastal townships.

Marine life and ecosystems provide invaluable ecosystem services such as recycling nutrients, regulating greenhouse gases, and buffering the coastline against waves and storms. 

Fisheries and aquaculture are important industries in Australia, both economically and socially.

Climate change impacts on marine life

The ocean is a major heat sink. Observations since 1961 show that about 80 per cent of the heat added to the climate system has been absorbed by the ocean, which has undergone a temperature increase to a depth of at least 3000 m.

The best available estimate of expected sea surface temperature change by 2030 is an increase of 0.6-0.9 ºC in the southern Tasman Sea and off the north-west shelf of Western Australia, and 0.3-0.6 ºC elsewhere.

Notable impacts of climate change on marine life have already been observed throughout the world – principally due to the existence of long-term data series that enable researchers to monitor changes over many decades.

As well as affecting the earth’s climate, carbon dioxide emissions can also cause ocean acidification.

For example, recent warming of tropical waters has led to repeated mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere, a phenomenon not observed globally before 1979.

Research by Australian scientists indicates there will inevitably be flow-on implications for human societies and economies, particularly those in coastal regions of Australia highly dependent on the marine environment and its resources.

Our Response

Gathering data to secure our ocean's future

A number of key questions that need to be addressed by future modelling, monitoring and research programs are:

  • How will the distribution and abundance of marine species and communities alter with climate change?
  • Which species are candidate indicators for climate change impacts?
  • Within large marine regions (for example, the Great Australian Bight or the Great Barrier Reef) where are sensitive areas or hotspots of change?
  • How will ocean productivity alter with climate change?
  • How would reduction in non-climate related stressors increase ecosystem resilience to climate change?
  • What information is required to develop appropriate adaptation options for marine ecosystems?
  • What tools can be developed to assist policy-makers and environmental managers make adaptation decisions?

Data about the effects of climate change on Australia's ocean territory is sparse, mainly due to a lack of historical long-term data collection. Importantly, little modelling has been conducted to predict future changes in Australian marine ecosystems.

This remains a critical gap in formulating a strategic national assessment of climate change impacts so that appropriate policies and management strategies can be developed.

The Results

Responding to the challenge of climate change

CSIRO works to deliver the best available science to underpin integrated, adaptive approaches to marine management.

By bringing together scientists from a range of disciplines across CSIRO, we develop marine adaptation options to assist policy-makers, resource managers, communities and individuals to respond to the impacts of climate change on our oceans.

Completed projects and reports

1. Second Marine Climate Change Report Card for Australia

We have developed the second-ever Marine Climate Change Report Card 2012 for Australia, to fulfil the growing demand for up-to-date knowledge and information on how climate change is impacting and may impact our marine environment.

2. Climate impacts on Australian fisheries and aquaculture

A review of the known climate impacts on fished and cultured species from a range of fisheries and aquaculture operations around Australia.

3. Climate impacts on Australian Marine Life

A review of the physical ocean changes, and the impacts on a range of marine taxa. The report Impacts of climate change on Australian marine life is divided into three sections;

4. Scoping Study into Adaptation of the Tasmanian Salmonid Aquaculture Industry

Scientists working in CSIRO are contributing to one element of this project, to identify and review key climate change information needs as they relate to the Tasmanian salmonid aquaculture industry.

5. National Coastal Vulnerability Assessment Case Study: Tasmanian East Coast Rock Lobster Fishery

Project leaders: Greta Pecl and Stewart Fusher (TAFI), (CSIRO contact: Dr Alistair Hobday)

Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute (TAFI) is leading a large project team from the University of Tasmania and CSIRO in a ‘first-pass’ assessment of climate change impacts on east coast rock lobster productivity and interactions with fisheries management and flow-on effects to local communities.

This project is one of six case studies nationwide that form part of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency funded National Coastal Vulnerability Assessment. This case study will focus on southern rock lobster on the east coast of Tasmania and the potential impact of climate change on productivity, and consequences for the commercial and recreational harvests.

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