Monitoring and communicating marine ecosystem health in the Torres Strait
Project Leader: Dr James Butler, CSIRO
Currently there is no formal marine ecosystem health (MEH) monitoring or reporting system in the Torres Strait. This MTSRF-funded project addresses the need to involve Torres Strait Islander communities in the dissemination and collection of ecosystem management and research information, and to establish an integrated system of MEH reporting which is of relevance to agencies and communities. Expert workshops in 2007 and 2008 had previously developed a list of 21 potential indicators of MEH in the Torres Strait. This year, we reviewed the data available for each indicator, finding that only four had established biological thresholds of concern (tropical rock lobster, tiger and endeavour prawns and sandfish), and there was high data confidence and scientific and management knowledge for only 27% of marine fishery species. We derived a standardised method of classifying the condition of indicators as ‘healthy’, ‘unhealthy’ and ‘vulnerable’ based on trends where known thresholds of concern did not exist. Data utility was complicated by the inconsistent temporal and spatial nature of its availability. Examples of regional-scale report card formats were developed, using heat maps for trends and spider diagrams for current status. A prototype MEH Index was also developed, which showed that for 9 indicators with available data MEH was ‘moderate’ in 2009. The usefulness of single-species fact sheets in communicating MEH with local communities was trialled through consultations on Warraber and Darnley Islands. Communities responded that their favoured media for receiving information was fact sheets and DVDs or videos. Communities also expressed their desire to be involved in MEH monitoring and reporting, but only if the schemes were of direct benefit to them, for example through fisheries co-management schemes. Communities also listed indicators of MEH which would be relevant to their livelihoods, most of which were also identified in the original list of 21. Researchers proposed a nested framework for linked community and regional monitoring and reporting of MEH, integrating regional scientific knowledge with local and traditional knowledge, to be coordinated by the Torres Strait Regional Authority.
Currently there is no formal marine ecosystem health monitoring or reporting system in the Torres Strait. While some commercial fisheries are assessed and monitored in detail, much of this information is transmitted to regional management agencies. However, there is increasing awareness of the need to involve Torres Strait Islander communities in the dissemination and collection of ecosystem management and research information, and to establish an integrated system of marine ecosystem health reporting whcih is of relevance to agencies and communities. This report presents the findings of MTSRF Project 1.3.5 'Reporting Ecosystem Health in the Torres Strait', which was established in 2006 to (a) identify potential marine ecosystem health indicators for Torres Strait that are relevant to regional and community-level stakeholders, and to calculate available data for those indicators; and (b) to develop potential monitoring and reporting frameworks and media for marine ecosystem health.