The inaugural Australian Coastal Restoration Symposium was held at James Cook University in Townsville on the 31 August and 1 September 2017. The Symposium, hosted by TropWATER, aimed to bring together coastal and marine restoration specialists and experts from across Australia, as well as a few international representatives, for the first time and initiate the development of a Coastal Restoration Network that will hopefully connect restoration scientists from across the country. Limited to 60 participants as the founding members, I was honoured to be invited to present on the restoration work I have been a part of over the past decade in the Maldives.
My background in restoration has been quite varied. It has included shoreline restoration following the construction phases of massive developments (predominantly mangroves), coral gardening trials and coral reef restoration using electrolysis and translocation, riparian and mangrove restoration in the upper and lower reaches of tidal estuaries, and terrestrial restoration, remediation and rehabilitation of grossly disturbed and contaminated landscapes. For much of my short (12-year) career to date, I haven’t come across a large number of coastal or marine restoration scientists. Many scientists have done elements of monitoring of ecosystems, some of which have experienced some restoration, but there certainly hasn’t been much of a network or opportunity to connect previously.
When Dr. Ian McLeod from James Cook University contacted me a couple of months earlier with an invitation to present, I was very excited. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity for me to share the work I had been doing in the restoration space for over a decade, but more so it was an opportunity to meet like-minded scientists who had been working in the same space for many more years than I have been.
The most astonishing thing about the Symposium was the diversity and volume of restoration projects that were and are going on throughout Australia. From oyster reef restoration in Victoria and South Australia, to mangrove restoration on Queensland’s Sunshine and Gold Coasts; from seagrass restoration in Gladstone, to crayweed restoration in Sydney. The diversity of projects was phenomenal. Add to that examples of coral restoration projects from the Philippines and my own from the Maldives, and oyster reef restoration projects in Texas and North Carolina, we quickly realised that there was truly some significant experience and knowledge in that room of 60 scientists.
The two-day Symposium was jam-packed with presentations and examples of what was working, what needed improving, how projects were being delivered, and how the community was getting involved. There were scientists from local government, research centres, universities, state government, natural resource management groups, not-for-profits, federal government, and citizen science organisations. Egos were left at the door and we all came together as a combined force.
These days we hear so often about environmental degradation and loss of ecosystems. The location of the Symposium, at JCU’s Townsville campus, was particularly important with respect to the extensive habitat and coral loss being experienced throughout the Great Barrier Reef and its catchment. It has been so depressing to be a marine or coastal scientist in recent times. You could be forgiven for thinking all was lost. But the Coastal Restoration Symposium did the opposite. Reports of successful restoration of coral reefs, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities, and oyster reefs, gave us all an enormous boost. There truly is some really exciting work going on in the restoration space both in Australia and overseas.
The afternoon of the second day was spent brainstorming the ‘where to from here’ question. We hope to develop a strong and powerful network of coastal and marine restoration scientists who can work together to develop innovative and successful ways of restoring marine and coastal habitats and protecting those still intact. The development of the network is already in the works, and I am excited to be part of its establishment.
On Saturday, after the Symposium, around 15 of the members went across to Magnetic Island to learn more about the Reef Recovery pilot project being conducted by Reef Ecologic to address the macroalgae infestations on the fringing reef around Magnetic Island. The project aims to explore whether simply ‘weeding’ (i.e. removal of the algae by hand) can being to control algae populations and encourage assisted restoration and recovery of the reef.
I have attended and contributed to many conferences and symposia over the years, but the Coastal Restoration Symposium was by far the most energising, inspiring, and exciting I have had the honour to be part of. I came away from the two-day Symposium and half day Reef Recovery pilot project field trip with a renewed energy. I am so inspired by the amazing work being done, and the knowledge that there is a strong and committed community of scientists working to restore some of the world’s most important habitats and ecosystems. I can’t wait to see where things go next, and I am excited to be part of the future.