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EARTH SCIENCE | BIOSPHERE | ECOSYSTEMS | ANTHROPOGENIC/HUMAN INFLUENCED ECOSYSTEMS

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  • Seven case study locations (Keep, Daly, Roper, McArthur, Flinders, and Gilbert River estuaries, and Darwin Harbour) were used to test the utility of the Australian Landsat data archive in the Digital Earth Australia analysis platform for characterising and monitoring the condition and change in coastal habitats. A suite of analyses was undertaken including: assessing the extent of different coastal habitats, detecting coastal change including change in mangrove communities, and the distribution of intertidal areas. The work was successful in: (a) generating baseline information for the case study areas; and, (b) developing valuable monitoring tools for future use.

  • Relevant spatial datasets for mapping pressures were identified and collated. Pressures were categorised as resource extraction and use, pollution, habitat modification, climate, and ‘other’. Pressures included Commonwealth trawl fisheries effort, aquaculture infrastructure, location of oil and gas infrastructure, historical shipping and pollution data, location of historical seismic operations, cyclone intensity, spoil dumping, sewage outfalls, location of ports, and tourism operations. Two main pressure maps were derived i) an additive pressure hotspots map, which gives higher weight to areas with multiple pressures of high risk; and, ii) a multiplicative hotspot pressure map, which gives lower weighting to areas with multiple low risk pressures. Areas of high risk were identified, and thus possibly high benefit for management versus low risk or low associated benefit for mitigation. The information generated needs to be considered alongside robust species distribution data and interaction matrices for effective decision-making.

  • Data on the type, provenance, quantity (density), and rate of accumulation of beach-washed plastic debris were recorded on Henderson Island, a remote, uninhabited island in the South Pacific during 29 May – 15 August 2015. Henderson Island is rarely visited by humans, thus debris on the islands' beaches may act as a proxy for the adjacent South Pacific Ocean. The island was found to contain the highest density of debris anywhere in the world, up to 671.6 items/m2 (mean ± SD: 239.4 ± 347.3 items/m2 on the surface of the beaches. Approximately 68% of debris (up to 4,496.9 pieces/m2) was buried <10 cm in the beach sediment. Up to 26.8 new items/m are thought to accumulate daily.

  • Of the ~80 EPBC-listed Threatened and Migratory marine species known to occur in the North Marine Bioregion, 16 were identified as priority species through consultation with research end-users and experts. The priority group consisted of three sawfishes, two river sharks, Dugong, two inshore dolphins, six shorebirds and two turtles. Dwarf and then Green Sawfish had the most data gaps, indicating that these were the most poorly-known of the selected priority species in the North Marine Bioregion, and as such are a priority for research. These were followed (in order of data gaps) by the other river sharks and sawfishes, inshore dolphins, Hawksbill Turtle, Dugong, Olive Ridley Turtle, and shorebirds. Research assessing the relevance and impact of pressures was identified as a gap for all species. New data identified during the project can fill data gaps for all 16 species, and the analysis of these datasets can improve the accuracy of distribution maps, but new data collection is still required for all sharks and sawfishes, Hawksbill Turtle, and inshore dolphins to improve data coverage for distribution modelling and mapping. The gap analysis identified numerous new datasets, both published and unpublished, that are currently not incorporated into SPRAT profiles and distributions (see Table 5). This provided an opportunity to begin compiling and analysing this information to fill current data gaps, as well as identify targeted research needs for the future.

  • Latex balloons act like plastic in the ocean: they can travel far from their point of origin on atmospheric and water currents and float at the sea surface where they can be eaten by wildlife that mistake it for food. This study quantified the degradation behaviours of latex balloons in saltwater, freshwater, and industrial compost windrows over 16 weeks. The degradation of latex balloons was quantified with bi-weekly measurements of 1) changes in mass; 2) ultimate tensile strength; and 3) changes in surficial composition of balloons via attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR). This study tested whether degradation differed between two balloon colours (blue and white) and whether degradation differed between balloons whose packaging labels included the word "biodegradable" and balloons whose packaging did not contain the word "biodegradable", and were thus labeled as "traditional" balloons. Thus, these data consist of 1) mass measurements; 2) load-extension data used to determine ultimate tensile strength; and 3) ATR-FTIR spectra of latex balloons across the variables balloon type (biodegradable; traditional), colour (blue; white), and week sampled (0-16 weeks). Also included are measurements of balloons that did not undergo treatments and are either straight out of the package ("new") or balloons that were inflated but did not undergo any treatments ("inflated").