A team of sixty physical, natural and social scientists from around Australia have participated in the Theo Murphy High Flyers Think Tank aimed at assisting in policy generation for managing the country’s most stressed ecosystems.


Held at the Australian Academy of Science, the think tank examined a variety of ecosystems, including Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia, the Murray-Darling River Basin, native grasslands on the outskirts of Melbourne, and Queensland’s Surat and Bowen Basins, all of which have been the subject of recent controversy over the extraction of coal seam gas.


The participating scientists found that the health of artesian water in Queensland’s Surat and Bowen Basins must be urgently monitored. The team urged that the water quality must not be compromised by mining, saying that any fall in the health of water systems would lead to significant declines in the health of the local population and the surrounding ecosystems.


“Very little data was collected before mining began so we have a limited baseline against which to compare the current state of the ecosystem. The horse has bolted,” the think tank found.


“The lack of freely available and well-communicated data for Australia’s ecosystems is a problem that impedes all aspects of natural resource management in Australia.”


The team found that scientists should integrate environmental and social factors into a single model to create a more holistic picture of the impact of mining in the Bowen and Surat regions.


Strategically placed cameras, online interactive models and smartphone applications could be used to encourage people who live in the Murray-Darling River Basin to work with scientists to monitor the health of the ecologically and politically sensitive ecosystem and plan for its management, the scientists said.


The Think Tank also examined ways to juggle the competing commercial fishing, tourism and ecological pressures of the Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia, and ways to protect the nationally threatened species being consumed by encroaching urban sprawl in Melbourne’s peri-urban grasslands.


Plans to model for and manage the four ecosystems – and stressed Australian ecosystems more generally – will be drawn up as a result of the Think Tank.