A new report backed by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has highlighted the dangers for our delicate estuaries and coasts of the climate change-driven bushfire crisis.
Gathering global research and data on impacts already being felt in these pressured environments, as well as the rivers and lakes that connect to them, the report has found the consequences for coastal environments, commercially important and endangered species could be profound.
AMCS fisheries spokesperson Adrian Meder said the devastation caused by the fires on land was stark, but the full fall out for our oceans would be hidden and could take months to materialise.
“Our marine life will be the forgotten victims of these fires,” he said.
Authored by independent marine conservation expert Chris Smyth, the report is the first to focus on the impacts of the bushfires on coastal and marine environments.
It makes a number of recommendations for urgent action, including calling for state and federal governments to work together to develop comprehensive and integrated monitoring programs for coastal and marine environments to build an understanding of bushfire impacts and how they can be avoided or minimised.
Governments also need to support existing restoration programs and develop new ones to help rehabilitate the environment, aid commercial and recreational fisheries, and bring economic and social benefits to hard hit coastal communities, the report said.
The report also calls for action to tackle the root causes of intensifying bushfires – climate change – including urgently cutting carbon emissions and transferring to renewable energy sources.
Meder added: “The extensive heavy rainfall following the bushfires has resulted in rivers turning black as they are choked with debris, ash and sediment. We’ve already seen fish kills downstream from bushfire impacted areas and oyster farms in New South Wales have closed due to contamination fears.
“It’s clear our coasts and estuaries need dedicated help following these fires – they must not be forgotten. Governments need to plug the gaping research hole highlighted by our report to instigate monitoring and restoration programs.
“As highlighted by everyone from fire chiefs to scientists, farmers to quiet Australians, our governments need to face the facts on climate change and take real action to achieve net zero emissions and transition meaningfully to renewables. Otherwise we will keep seeing fires on this scale sweeping through Australian communities with knock on effects for our oceans.”
The report’s main findings included:
* Nutrients, ash, debris, sediments and metal released by bushfires can destroy habitats and form into sediment slugs following heavy rains which slowly work their way to our oceans, harming aquatic life along the way;
* Metals and other contaminants released by bushfires in sediment, smoke and ash can change the physiology and behaviours of marine animals and work their way into the food chain;
* Harmful algal blooms caused by nutrient enrichment can kill fish and contaminate oyster farms, forcing their closure;
* Debris, sediment and ash washed into seagrass meadows, mangrove forests and reefs could further burden these already pressured environments;
* Bushfire impacts on estuaries and coasts could take months to materialise;
* Bushfire impacts on estuaries and coastal waters will have knock-on impacts for commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture, tourism and Indigenous culture;
* There is little scientific information to build understanding of the impacts of bushfires on our oceans and their species and inform swift action to address the impacts due to gaps in research and monitoring, and the unprecedented scale of the bushfire disaster.
The report, titled The impacts of bushfires on coastal and marine environments is available to read here.