Coastal habitat restoration is scaling up rapidly in Australia and covers a range of habitats including seagrass, kelp, coastal wetlands, mangroves, saltmarsh, Melaleucas, shellfish reefs and coral reefs. While the outcomes of restoration projects generally are monitored, the approaches can be piecemeal, uncoordinated, poorly funded, and lacking open science protocols.
Previous NESP-funded projects highlighted the ecology and service provision of threatened ecosystems and established targets for repair based on reference conditions. They also established an extensive database of marine and coastal restoration projects and supported the development of management effectiveness systems.
This project built on this work by combining a global literature review with the knowledge of Australian researchers undertaking monitoring of restoration projects across multiple habitats. It also explored the integration of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, and eDNA in monitoring programs to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Approach and findings
The project surveyed the experiences of Australian researchers across multiple coastal habitats and conducted a global literature review to provide a synthesis of monitoring approaches. This included new monitoring technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence and eDNA.
The survey revealed that most Australian restoration projects aim to restore lost habitat and improve biodiversity. The variables that are monitored reflect the overarching goals of the projects, and most commonly provide measures of ecosystem or habitat function. Monitoring of physical and social-economic variables is less common. Monitoring programs tend to rely on fieldwork-intensive techniques, and many projects are implementing new, advanced technologies such as drones and real time kinematics. Citizen scientists were often involved in monitoring programs. Monitoring data are often not publicly accessible.
The global literature review also found a predominance of measured variables relating to ecosystem/habitat function. While advanced technologies are becoming more common for saltmarsh or seagrass-based restoration programs, they are rare for other ecosystem types. Monitoring data have become more accessible in recent years, perhaps due to the drive for data availability in scientific publishing.
The project findings were considered at a workshop involving key practitioners and scientists involved in nationally recognised restoration projects. The initial intention of the workshop was to draft a guidelines document for monitoring to provide to restoration practitioners working across projects, scales and habitats. Workshop participants acknowledged, however, that a single set of monitoring variables will be difficult to apply across projects, and that the overarching objective of individual projects will dictate variables to be measured. Given this, they agreed on a small set of universal variables to facilitate broad comparisons and benchmarking across restoration projects. Measurement of additional goal-based variables and habitat-specific variables should also be considered.
It was highlighted that new technologies show promise for increased efficiency of data collection, and that the use of this technology should be facilitated. The group also advocated for public availability of raw data, and the use of standardised definitions and units to facilitate comparison.
A revised guidelines document for coordinated and open-science monitoring was produced at the conclusion of the workshop. These guidelines are designed to be used by working groups and practitioners to further refine and standardise monitoring methodologies.
Key practitioners and researchers involved in restoration projects have a new set of agreed universal variables for monitoring the outcomes of restoration projects, and guidelines for coordinated and open-science monitoring to help streamline the development of future restoration projects.
They also have an agreed, shared understanding of the need for public availability of raw data, and the use of standardised definitions and units to facilitate national comparison.
New South Wales Department of Primary Industries
Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water
Technical report – Project 1.7
Towards a consolidated and open-science framework for restoration monitoring
McDougall C, Cole V, Connolly RM (2022) Towards a consolidated and open-science framework for restoration monitoring. Report to the National Environmental Science Program. Griffith University.