Overview/ Research Focus

Our coastal environments and their waterways provide abundant natural resources, a ‘sense of place’ and many economic opportunities for the communities they support. A major challenge for these natural-human systems globally, however, is the continued delivery of their numerous ecosystem services (societal benefits) in the face of many growing stressors from ongoing population growth and climate change.

This project, based in the fast-growing Peel-Harvey region in south-western Australia, aims to develop a decision support framework to help optimise trade-offs between socio-economic development goals and downstream ecological impacts on one of the regions’ greatest natural assets, the Ramsar-listed Peel-Harvey Estuary.

Our overarching aim is to produce a decision support framework to help identify land-planning solutions that best optimise trade-offs between catchment development goals (‘societal health’) and estuarine ecological integrity (‘estuarine health’) in the face of a fast-growing population and drying climate.

The Peel-Harvey system provides an excellent socio-ecological case study for exploring this sustainable development approach, given (i) its history of profound ecosystem decline and radical remediation, (ii) it’s rapidly-expanding population (~4.5% pa), among the fastest in Australia’s regional areas; and (iii) a major land planning initiative currently taking shape in the region (the Perth and Peel Green Growth Plan for 3.5 million , led by project partners Department of the Premier and Cabinet).

Our research objectives include the following:

  • 1. Characterise the dominant drivers and pathways along the catchment-estuarine continuum that best explain estuarine processes, environmental quality, higher ecological response (e.g. invertebrates and fish) and ultimately ecosystem health.
  • 2. Produce quantitative indices of estuarine and societal health and define their target thresholds.
  • 3. Identify the stakeholder-defined land-use mosaics that best balance catchment development aspirations with minimal negative impacts on estuarine health.
  • 4. Interrogate estuary resilience to proposed stress trajectories.