The South Coast region includes approximately 1,000 km of spectacular and diverse coastline alternating between sandy beaches, granite headlands, limestone cliffs, vegetated coastal dunes, numerous inlets and more than 500 offshore islands.
The Recherché Archipelago, a group of 105 islands stretching 230 km (143 miles) from east to west and 50 km (31 miles) off-shore contains many of these features, making it an extremely important marine and terrestrial environment. The western group of islands are close to Esperance and the eastern group at Israelite Bay.
About 70 per cent of the terrestrial coastal environment is contained in the conservation estate with the majority of the remainder being unmanaged crown land or land managed by Local Government for recreational purposes.
The marine component of the region extends from the coastline out to the three nautical mile State limit, including waters to three nautical miles off the coast of offshore islands. This comprises a substantial area of State NRM responsibility of around 1 million ha and more than 1,000 km of marine/coastal interface (the coastal zone).
In places, State marine waters extend to approximately 70 km off the mainland around Esperance and include a range of major benthic habitats within the continental shelf.
South Coast marine waters are directly influenced by large scale ocean currents such as the Leeuwin Current, localised hydrological variations and inputs such as river mouths, global and local climatic conditions as well as the Southern Ocean’s currents and swell regimes.
More than 800,000 people visit the region’s coastal national parks and conservation reserves annually, contributing to the economic stability of the region through overnight stays and retail trade in residential centres.
People also visit reserves managed by Local Government Authorities where stewardship and facilities are sometimes limited.
Coastal and Marine biodiversity
THE coastal and marine environments contain much of the region’s most environmentally intact ecosystems, a high proportion of reserved land and a high degree of species endemism.
The almost continuous strip of intact coastal native vegetation along the South Coast is the major east-west link in the region’s macro corridor network. The coastal corridor is a high priority linkage, significant in spatial scale and its connections between protected areas of high conservation value.
The coastal corridor is broken at Albany, Esperance, Denmark, Bremer Bay and Hopetoun and is under threat from Phytopthora dieback and degradation through recreational use and land development.
The coastal terrestrial reserves, in particular Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve and the Cape Arid and Fitzgerald River national parks, represent significant habitat refuges for threatened indigenous fauna, such as Gilbert’s potoroo, the dibbler, the western ground parrot and the western whipbird.
The coastal wetland systems of Lake Warden in Esperance and nearby Lake Gore are registered as Ramsar sites (the secretariat for the Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971) due to their high significance as a major refuge for migrant and resident water birds of the region during the dry season.
Offshore islands provide important habitat, breeding and resting sites for many seabird species including albatross, petrels, shearwaters, penguins and the endangered Cape Barren goose - the Australian sea lion and New Zealand fur seal are also prevalent in these areas.
A comprehensive broad-scale scientific research project, Securing WA’s Marine Futures (2006 – 2008) mapped and surveyed 510 km2 of benthic habitat across Broke Inlet, Mt Gardner, Point Anne and Middle Island.
Quantitative biodiversity assessments of primary producers, invertebrates and fish were undertaken through towed video, drop cameras, Baited Remote Underwater Videos (BRUVs) and benthic trawls.
The quantity and quality of baseline information gathered through this project set a benchmark of resource condition and has allowed effective and strategic monitoring of marine community assemblages.
The project demonstrated the temperate marine environment of the South Coast has high biodiversity and endemism, particularly amongst invertebrates such as sponges - 78 of the 156 species recorded were new discoveries.
Coastal and marine resource use
THE oligotrophic waters of the region are not highly productive in comparison with other areas of the country and similar marine environments of the world. A small commercial fishing sector fleet within the South Coast marine bioregion consists of:
South Coast Purse Seine Fishery
Demersal Gillnet and Longline Fisheries
Australian Salmon Fisheries
Australian Herring Fishery
South Coast Crustacean Fisheries
South Coast Trawl Fishery
South Coast Estuarine Fisheries Octopus Fishery and a South Coast Scalefish Fishery.
The small Statewide Marine Aquarium Fish Fishery and Specimen Shell Fishery also exist in the region.
Commercial fishers of the South Coast are proactive in managing protected species interactions and pursue development of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and industry self-regulation. The South Coast Licensed Fishermen’s Association is the umbrella organisation.
OceanWatch Australia, SeaNet and the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council support a smarter fishing industry to continually improve practices. An EMS for the South Coast Estuarine Fishery (SCEF) was developed in 2007.
Codes of conduct/practice have been developed for the SCEF and Australian Salmon Fisheries. The South Coast Purse Seine Fishery has invested in projects to reduce by-catch of shearwaters and adapted fishing practices to suit.
Coastal and marine aquaculture is a small industrial sector for the region, the main species being land-based abalone, mussels and oysters. The industry is guided by land-based marine aquaculture development guidelines and an aquaculture plan for the Recherché Archipelago.
The region’s marine tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing, with approximately 25 fishing tour licences and four eco-tour licences issued for the South Coast marine bioregion. Seven commercial operations licences have also been issued for the Walpole and Nornalup Inlets Marine Park.
A review of recreational fishing in the region commenced in 2002/03 and resulted in the production of a draft five year strategy for management of recreational fishing in the region (Department of Fisheries, 2004). Over a 12 month survey of recreational estuarine fishing in the bioregion during 2002/03, the total estimates for the estuaries and inlets surveyed were 254,171 fisher hours, resulting in a catch of 212,575 kept fish and 201,710 released fish (Department of Fisheries, 2007).
A Sea Change for Aquatic Sustainability – Framework for a New Act of Parliament to replace the Fish Resources Management Act 1994, was released for public comment in June 2010, in response to growth in community and industry awareness of the need for effective environmental management and the shift needed within WA legislation in the way aquatic ecosystems and fisheries are conceptualised and managed.
Introduced pests are considered to be one of the major threats to the marine environment throughout the world. A snapshot study that deployed settlement plates for six months in 2007-08 found 25 pests in Albany and 15 in Esperance. Further introductions that have the potential to devastate the marine environment of the region could come from the west coast of WA, eastern Australian and overseas.
While both major marine areas were found to have a low risk of introductions and translocations from both commercial and recreational vectors, there is still a need for continued vigilance.
A number of marine cetaceans are resident or migrants to the region including humpback and southern right whales which calve and breed in the waters off the coast. Shore and boat-based whale watching is an important tourism draw card during winter months.
Coastal and marine planning
A MARINE bioregional planning process has begun for Commonwealth waters from the 3 - 200 nautical mile offshore boundary. The south west marine region covers more than 1.3 million km2 of ocean adjacent to the eastern tip of Kangaroo Island off the South Australian coast to waters off Shark Bay.
The south-west bioregional profile and background reports were released in 2007, with the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts identifying seven areas for further assessment as marine reserves in 2009.
A regional marine strategic planning process is underway for state waters off WA’s South Coast – from Cape Leeuwin to the South Australian border - to the 3nm state limit. The process involves the development of a comprehensive and integrated approach to the sustainable use and conservation of these waters.
In September 2010, the State Government released the draft Regional Marine Strategic Plan for the South Coast and the accompanying reference report, Oceans of Opportunity: a proposed strategic framework for the marine waters off WA’s South Coast.
The State-coordinated process of developing a Regional Marine Strategic Plan is being carried out concurrently and cooperatively with marine planning for South West Commonwealth waters further offshore. At present the South Coast has one marine park, the Walpole and Nornalup Inlets Marine Park, which was gazetted in May 2009.
State policy for sustainable management and planning in coastal and near shore marine environments is defined in the WA State Coastal Planning Policy (Western Australian Planning Commission, 2003).
This policy provides guidance for local and regional planning strategies, structure plans, schemes, subdivisions, strata subdivision and development applications, as well as other planning decisions and instruments relating to the coast. The objectives of this policy are to:
- Protect, conserve and enhance coastal values, particularly in areas of landscape, nature conservation, Indigenous and cultural significance.
- Provide for public foreshore areas and access to these on the coast.
- Ensure the identification of appropriate areas for the sustainable use of the coast for housing, tourism, recreation, ocean access, maritime industry, commercial and other activities.
- Ensure the location of coastal facilities and development takes into account coastal processes including erosion, accretion, storm surge, tides, wave conditions, sea level change and biophysical criteria
Planning for land use and infrastructure requirements is set out in the Lower Great Southern Strategy (Western Australian Planning Commission, 2007).
A regional coastal management strategy, Southern Shores 2009-2030, outlines regional objectives, management actions and opportunities for collaboration between stakeholders to better manage the coast.
One of the major issues identified by the community was the increasing impacts from vehicle use, both road-registered 4WDs and off-road vehicles (ORV) on beaches and in the coastal zone.
The Control of Vehicles (Off Road Areas) Act 1978 exists to control, license and restrict ORV use in some areas, but enforcement is limited. ORVs have been prohibited on popular swimming beaches in Esperance using local laws and in Albany through State legislation.
The Department of Parks and Wildlife(DPaW) improves terrestrial conservation reserve plans on behalf of the Conservation Commission of WA and develops marine conservation reserve plans on behalf of the Marine Parks and Reserves Authority.
DPaW is currently in the process of reviewing regional plans for the Albany coastal reserves and Esperance and Recherché parks and reserves.
Several coastal planning and management documents have been developed for Local Government Authority coastal reserves (shires of Denmark, Jerramungup, Ravensthorpe and Esperance).
It is predicted climate change will have significant impacts on the coastal and marine environment which may include:
Sea level rise of between 0.2 and 0.8m by 2100 and subsequent estuary water-level rise with subsequent flooding, erosion and alteration of adjacent ecosystem.
Possible modification of the Leeuwin Current with subsequent impacts on life cycle and distribution of marine fauna including species of commercial interest.
Acidification of the marine environment may impact on vulnerable species
These impacts contain considerable risks and the community needs to develop and implement strategies to mitigate or adapt over future decades.
The State Coastal Planning Policy 2.6 (Western Australian Planning Commission, 2003) is being updated to recognise predicted sea level rise over the next 100 years. However, the new setbacks only apply to new development and not existing ones.