What Australia's Oceans Are Missing: Marine Scientists

diver photo
CC BY-SA 2.0. mattk1979

mattk1979/CC BY-SA 2.0

The how, where and why of various ocean conservation projects may constantly be up for debate, but one thing that seems to be certain, at least according to one marine scientist, is that Australia needs a whole lot more skilled researchers if it is going to make any progress at all in protecting its marine habitats.

University of Western Australia reports, "On World Oceans Day... Chair of The University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute Advisory Board, Dr Ian Poiner, said: "Our oceans need chemists, economists, engineers, geographers, mathematicians, microbiologists, modellers, physicists, statisticians and taxonomists. Unless we do something about this, we will not be able to get the full benefits from our vast marine estate... As our population increases and coastal and offshore development continues to expand, efficient use and wise management of our marine estate is our greatest challenge and critical to the national interest."

According to the article, "Australia's marine industries, such as energy, tourism, shipping, and fishing, contributed close to $45 billion per year to Australia. The sector was one of the most rapidly growing areas of the Australian economy."

But we know that these industries take a heavy toll on the health of marine ecosystems. From coal carriers running aground on the Great Barrier Reef and causing miles of damage to the fragile reef, to flooding that washes pollutants into the ocean, to a boom in shipping traffic with exports, not to mention unsustainable fishing industry practices and more, there is a wealth of activity that has consequences on the marine habitats that need to be studied. But are there enough experts to assess the situations?

According to Dr. Poiner, no, there aren't.

"Observing the Southern Ocean was critical for understanding climate, Dr. Poiner said. Understanding northern waters would be critical for national energy resources, while researching coastal areas was critical for managing future development." But there are "significant knowledge gaps" about these areas, and only about 20% of Australia's biodiversity has been documented.

In many ways, the speed of a fast-moving economy is the determining factor for how quickly and desperately new researchers are needed. As industrial development grows, precious resources like the Great Barrier Reef are under serious threat. The quicker Australia can solve its shortage of marine research experts, the sooner it can know and perhaps mitigate the damages that development is causing to its oceans.