24 June 2024

A happy collection of marine and coastal restoration enthusiasts at the end of the day (ARCN Symposium 28 May 2024).

More than 100 delegates from all Australian states and territories attended the third Australasian Coastal Restoration Network (ACRN) Symposium held at The University of Sydney in May.

They came from 43 organisations, and included policymakers, managers, funders, researchers, supporters and practitioners of coastal and marine restoration. They shared their experiences and perspectives of restoration successes and barriers, as Australia seeks to expand marine and coastal restoration in line with global efforts to restore at least 30% of degraded coastal and marine areas by 2030.

“The ACRN brings together experts in marine and coastal restoration from diverse backgrounds, geographies and ecosystems to enable knowledge sharing, networking, and communication,” ACRN co-leader Megan Saunders of CSIRO said. “The annual symposium provides a positive, inspiring, and egalitarian forum for this magic to happen.”

Two days of presentations included 51 talks and an invited session on national restoration initiatives. This was presented by Dr Saunders and representatives from the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) who gave updates on the Nature Repair Market due to become operational by 2025.

These presentations provided context for a nature repair workshop convened by CSIRO that sought perspectives on the development of an marine and coastal ecological knowledge system for the Nature Repair Market.

Restoration snapshot

The broader range of seminar presentations provided a snapshot of research and restoration projects happening across Australia.

Major initiatives include the OzFish Shellfish Revolution and The Nature Conservancy’s Reef Builder. Both programs demonstrate the value of forging strong and diverse partnerships with communities, governments, researchers, industry and First Nations peoples, and the documentation of environmental, social and economic outcomes to stimulate future investment.

Research presentations ranged from the underlying ecology and best practices of restoration to ways of monitoring success and building momentum. These examples demonstrate the diversity of inquiry:

  • how microbes in the sediments affect seagrasses;
  • microhabitat complexity and fish predation on oyster recruits;
  • documenting fish productivity in restored shellfish reefs;
  • developing a monitoring framework for social and economic ecosystem services;
  • seawall design techniques to optimise habitat creation;
  • how communities can develop local action plans for the protection of mangroves;
  • aligning restoration goals with the blue carbon method;
  • balancing conservation and agricultural sustainability; and
  • shaping a restoration space that properly considers First Nations people.

There were several presentations from PhD students eager to share their data and findings.

“The involvement of PhD students and early career researchers has been an important part of the network and symposium,” ACRN co-leader Nathan Waltham of James Cook University (JCU) said. “The students and early career researchers are our future leaders in coastal and marine research, policy and management.”

Marine and Coastal Hub co-leaders Damien Burrows and Alan Jordan, and ACRN Symposium co-leaders and hub project leaders Megan Saunders of CSIRO and Nathan Waltham of James Cook University.Marine and Coastal Hub co-leaders Damien Burrows and Alan Jordan, and ACRN Symposium co-leaders and hub project leaders Megan Saunders of CSIRO and Nathan Waltham of James Cook University.
Attendees in the conference lecture halls at the 2024 ACRN symposium held at the University of Sydney.Attendees in the conference lecture halls at the 2024 ACRN symposium held at the University of Sydney.
Natham Waltham leads a group discussion during the nature repair workshop.Natham Waltham leads a group discussion during the nature repair workshop.
Valerie Hagger of The University of Queensland leads a workshop discussion on restoration approaches for tidal wetlands, which include saltmarshes and mangroves.Valerie Hagger of The University of Queensland leads a workshop discussion on restoration approaches for tidal wetlands, which include saltmarshes and mangroves.
Conference organisers and scientific committee members: Mariana Mayer-Pinto (University of New South Wales), Victoria Cole (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries), Katie Motson (JCU) and Nathan Waltham (JCU).Conference organisers and scientific committee members: Mariana Mayer-Pinto (University of New South Wales), Victoria Cole (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries), Katie Motson (JCU) and Nathan Waltham (JCU).
Marine and Coastal Hub co-leaders Damien Burrows and Alan Jordan, and ACRN Symposium co-leaders and hub project leaders Megan Saunders of CSIRO and Nathan Waltham of James Cook University.
Attendees in the conference lecture halls at the 2024 ACRN symposium held at the University of Sydney.
Natham Waltham leads a group discussion during the nature repair workshop.
Valerie Hagger of The University of Queensland leads a workshop discussion on restoration approaches for tidal wetlands, which include saltmarshes and mangroves.
Conference organisers and scientific committee members: Mariana Mayer-Pinto (University of New South Wales), Victoria Cole (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries), Katie Motson (JCU) and Nathan Waltham (JCU).

Addressing barriers to restoration

As well as highlighting approaches and successes, the symposium had a focus on how to overcome the barriers that hinder the scaling up of restoration efforts.

While many projects are happening in Australia, they are limited in scale and coordination. The incentives and evidence base for nature repair are fragmented, and this uncertainty is a barrier to implementation.

Justine-Bell James of The University of Queensland School of Law gave a presentation highlighting legal and governance barriers that hindered the effectiveness of restoration projects by increasing their cost and timeframe. She presented international examples in which governance barriers had been overcome.

Marine and coastal restoration is a major research focus for the Marine and Coastal Hub. Hub projects aim to help clarify the risks and opportunities and make nature repair attractive to investors. This work builds on a long history of investment by The National Environmental Science Program which has sponsored the ACRN since 2017.

The hub project ‘De-risking nature repair activities in Australian coastal and marine ecosystems’ is bringing together leading research agencies and research users in a united approach to support and guide the scaling up of nature repair in Australia by:

  • updating databases of marine and coastal nature repair activities in Australia;
  • compiling an evidence base to lessen the risk of nature repair projects for investors, managers and practitioners; and 
  • drafting a national framework to guide and coordinate future investment.
Assembling for the symposium's Sydney Harbour field trip on Tribal Warrior.Assembling for the symposium's Sydney Harbour field trip on Tribal Warrior.
Yes, it's Sydney!Yes, it's Sydney!
A living seawall featuring 3D printed panels that will be planted with native brown kelp. Image: Alex GoadA living seawall featuring 3D printed panels that will be planted with native brown kelp. Image: Alex Goad
Two adult White's seahorses living in 'seahorse hotels' four months after deployment. Image: David HarastiTwo adult White's seahorses living in ‘seahorse hotels' four months after deployment. Image: David Harasti
Restored rocky shore habitat.Restored rocky shore habitat.
More success below the surface . . . marine life thrives on a living seawall. Image: Sian LiddyMore success below the surface . . . marine life thrives on a living seawall. Image: Sian Liddy
Assembling for the symposium's Sydney Harbour field trip on Tribal Warrior.
Yes, it's Sydney!
A living seawall featuring 3D printed panels that will be planted with native brown kelp. Image: Alex Goad
Two adult White's seahorses living in 'seahorse hotels' four months after deployment. Image: David Harasti
Restored rocky shore habitat.
More success below the surface . . . marine life thrives on a living seawall. Image: Sian Liddy

Touring fish pods and seahorse hotels

On day three of the symposium, some 50 delegates boarded the Tribal Warrier for a Sydney Harbour cruise to view and hear about the challenges and successes experienced at local restoration sites and heard from researchers at Project Restore, The University of Technology Sydney, and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS).

The field trip of cultural and restoration sites was sponsored by the New South Wales Marine Estate Management Strategy. It included an introduction to Sea Country, and visits to the Kirribilli Volvo and Balmain living seawalls sites, Chowder Bay Seahorse Project site (SIMS), a potential restoration site in Watsons Bay (Project Restore), Quarantine seascapes including intertidal mosaics and the Opera House fish pods.

Project Restore seeks to restore Sydney Harbour seascapes by restoring Posidonia australis seagrass meadows, regenerating kelp forests, and enhancing habitat value by installing living seawalls and fish pods at multiple sites, including under the Sydney Opera House.

A beneficiary of this work is the Endangered White’s seahorse (Hippocampus whitei). Conservation actions implemented to recover declining populations include a conservation-stocking program, the installation of artificial habitats known as ‘seahorse hotels’, and restoration of natural habitats such as soft corals and seagrass. The University of Technology Sydney PhD candidate Mitchell Brennan outlined these and proposed future conservation efforts during the symposium.

The ACRN Symposium was organised by Megan Saunders of CSIRO, Nathan Waltham of James Cook University, Katie Motson of James Cook University, Pauline Ross of The University of Sydney, Victoria Cole of New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, and a scientific committee comprised of representatives from University of New South Wales, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney Institute of Marine Science.

Further reading

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