Progress report – NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub (July 2015 to June 2021)

File type: PDF

Jordan A, Hedge P and Gracie S (2021), NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub Interim Report (2020). Report to the National Environmental Science Program, Marine Biodiversity Hub. University of Tasmania.


Letter from the Hub Leader (Dr Alan Jordan)

Despite the challenges faced during the first half of 2020 associated with COVID-19 restrictions, Hub researchers have adapted to the current circumstances and maintained a busy schedule to deliver on project milestones and maintain a steady stream of outputs and end-user engagement. The Hub Executive have continued to focus on implementing Research Plan Version 6 (2020) (including synthesis projects), managing program level risks, and completing the interim progress report. The re-designed Marine Biodiversity Hub website was made live in May in order to make research outputs, stories and links to data and imagery more accessible to research-users and stakeholders ( It includes landing pages for Australian Marine Parks and World Heritage Areas, threatened and migratory marine species, restoring coastal habitat, Indigenous engagement and science for sustainable use.

One of the Hub’s key products, the Shark Action Plan (to be published in October 2020), aims to provide a comprehensive and consistent review of the extinction risk of all Australian cartilaginous fishes (Class Chondrichthyes: sharks, rays, and chimaeras); provide a benchmark from which changes in population and risk can be measured; and to help guide management for their conservation. The Shark Action Plan also serves to raise the profile of their diversity and conservation needs.

The Hub has continued to progress its focus on marine restoration, recognising it as an important option for climate mitigation and adaptation. An ‘Australian Coastal Habitat Restoration’ webinar was held with Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) end-users in June led by Dr Ian McLeod from JCU and Dr Piers Dunstan from CSIRO. Presentations were provided on the following topics: UN Decade of Ecological Restoration 2021-30, progress with restoring giant kelp in waters off South-east Tasmania and seagrass in Shark Bay, advances with rebuilding shellfish reefs, costs and benefits of agricultural land conversion to coastal wetlands, return on investment for blue restoration projects, and the role of restoration for matters of national environmental significance. The presentations (these are available on the Hub’s website) and the question and answer session that followed generated a shared understanding among the 40 attendees about advances, challenges and opportunities with coastal and marine habitat restoration in Australia and oversees.

Extending the Hub’s earlier work to develop national field standards, Version 2 of the Field Manuals for Marine Sampling to Monitor Australian Waters was released in July 2020. The manuals aim to ensure that data collected by marine sampling platforms at different times and places across Australia are directly comparable. The manuals are accessible through the website at: Major changes to the entire field manual package for Version 2 include amalgamation of the original Version 1 multibeam manual with the Australian Multibeam Guidelines from AusSeabed and the inclusion of a new manual for data collection with remotely operated underwater vehicles.

There are 26 active Hub research projects, with 35% of 2020 milestones completed. Around 25% of the 2020 milestones have been flagged as amber because they have not been delivered on the date specified in the research plan. One milestone has been flagged as red (A10 – spotted handfish) signifying it will not be delivered, noting other arrangements have been made to redirect funds (see attachment A for further details). Delayed milestones are spread across 16 projects (A8, A11, A13, A14, A15, C1, C4, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, E1, E2, E3, and E7). Milestone delays for most of these projects are minor in nature and not anticipated to have a material impact on research-users.

Delays or risks of not delivering milestones for remaining projects have been examined closely to ensure milestones/deliverables are effectively reviewed/refined/approved due to the effects of COVID-19 (projects A10 – spotted handfish, A12 – field work and molecular sequencing in labs, A15 – review of conservation status of tropical inshore dolphins, D3 – SW Corner survey and Arafura survey, and D6 – social-economic benchmarks for AMPs), or because of extended delays with milestone delivery (C1 – state/territory fisheries data summaries, and E2 – underwater noise map). These delays have been discussed with the relevant research end-users and extensions for the following two projects have already been approved by DAWE; project A13 to complete Southern Right Whale population estimates, and project D3 to complete Australian Marine Park surveys. Requests for extensions for the remaining four projects are included in Attachment A, they are; project A11 to complete the Shark Action Plan, project A15 to review the conservation status of tropical inshore dolphins, project C1 to deliver output for state and territory fisheries data, and project D6 to complete boat ramps surveys.

Additional project oversight has been commenced for projects D3 and E2, including ongoing formal meetings with project leaders and DAWE representatives where relevant. The Research Leadership Team have moved from monthly to fortnightly meetings for the rest of the Hub in order to manage the increase in oversight required for all projects during the final year.

In relation to Hub finances, the Hub remains on track to ensure all NESP funds are spent or committed by 30 June 2021 and is monitoring the budget regularly to identify potential savings for reallocation. This includes some savings in administration and research facilitation budgets due to travel savings in 2020. Savings are expected to be within the Hub category limits of 10% of budget or $50,000. The commitment to support an Indigenous Workshop at the Australian Marine Science Association 2020 conference has been carried-over to the 2021 conference which is scheduled to be held in Sydney in June.

All partners have been informed that project funds held at partner organisations must be spent by 31 Dec 2020, with the only exception being for projects where DAWE have approved an extension to the project end date beyond December 2020. The following points have also been communicated with partners:
• All partners will be required to report grant funds spent, cash and in-kind contributed by project for 2020 activity as usual, due on 21st February 2021.
• For those projects with approved extensions to 2021, there’ll be an additional acquittal required covering 2021 activity due 22 April 2021.
• In addition, the Hub will require whole of life acquittals for each project covering grant funding received, cash and in-kind contributed.

In relation to end of Hub reporting and communications, it is anticipated that a Hub glossy final report on projects, outcomes and outputs will be produced by June 2021, and aims to be shorter than previous Marine Biodiversity Hub final reports, reflecting the publication of the Hub Impact Report in September 2020. The Hub is regularly reviewing and updating its approach to knowledge brokering and communication, and will continue to develop opportunities for producing non-technical communication material, Hub showcase webinars, media stories and end-user engagement.

Type of publication Progress report
Year of publication 2021