Professor Kenny Black and Professor Paul Tett, from the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS), have completed their review of the Broadscale Environmental Monitoring Program (BEMP) for the Macquarie Harbour marine farming region.
The broad aim of this review was to evaluate the suitability and efficacy of the existing BEMP for Macquarie Harbour and to determine whether the BEMP is adequate in detecting environmental impacts of finfish farming at regional scales. As part of the review process, SAMS were asked to provide a list of recommendations to rationalise, improve, and modernise the monitoring program.
The review is now complete, and it outlines several recommendations for updating the Macquarie Harbour BEMP. These recommendations include, but are not limited to:
- rationalise the number of monitoring sites and review the location of these sites to ensure detection of broad-scale ecosystem effects while increasing the frequency of some parameters being monitored
- expand existing monitoring methods to include routine sampling of physio-chemical and biological parameters of soft sediment habitats and other key water quality sampling parameters
- clearly identify the Macquarie Harbour BEMP and its distinct role amongst the other monitoring and research programs in Macquarie Harbour
- implement further research to modernise key aspects of environmental monitoring, including the potential use of cutting-edge technologies for DNA analysis
- develop an integrated annual report to summarise monitoring data and to increase accessibility for the public.
Overall, the Director, EPA supports the recommendations provided in the review - see the table below.
The EPA intends to incorporate the recommendations into a revised BEMP for Macquarie Harbour.
The EPA will consult with industry and key scientific experts at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) and Analytical Services Tasmania (AST) to develop the revised BEMP.
The SAMS BEMP review will be provided to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania for consideration during the development of the proposed Environmental Standard for Marine Finfish Farming.
SAMS International Macquarie Harbour BEMP Review (PDF 3Mb)
Response to the Recommendations
The following table sets out the position of the Director, EPA in response to the report recommendations.
(a) Clearly identify the Macquarie Harbour BEMP (MH BEMP) and its distinct role amongst the other monitoring and research programs in MH; ensure that it fully monitors for expected broad-scale ecosystem effects (as set out below).
(b) update farm environmental licences to reflect these improvements.
The Director, EPA agrees that the Macquarie Harbour BEMP (MH BEMP) should be a distinct monitoring program separate from research activities in MH. As such, the EPA is committed to reviewing the current requirements of the MH BEMP, as well as former and existing research programs to ensure the revised MH BEMP is contemporary and encapsulates a holistic monitoring approach to capture broad-scale ecosystem effects of marine finfish farming in Macquarie Harbour.
Once this review has been undertaken and a revised MH BEMP has been established, Environmental Licences for marine finfish farms would be updated to reflect this.
What is measured (pelagic habitats) –
(a) improve sensitivity of chlorophyll method;
(b) add sampling for phosphorus compounds, midwater 'dark web', and zooplankton;
(c) use more sensitive method for Pelagic Oxygen Demand (POD)
The EPA will have further discussions with AST staff to ascertain whether the current analytical method can be adapted to lower the chlorophyll detection limit from 0.5 mg/L to 0.1 mg/L. After this has been explored the Director, EPA will make a final decision on the detection limit for chlorophyll in the BEMP program.
The inclusion of sampling for phosphorus compounds, midwater 'dark web', and zooplankton; and the use of a more sensitive method for POD will be considered during the revision of the MH BEMP.
Where measured (pelagic habitats) –
(a) reduce number of stations within MH,
(b) add external stations for inflowing water State and external nutrient-enriched zone State;
(c) consider replacing use of 12 m integrating those in MH (but not outside)
The Director, EPA agrees that the number of pelagic monitoring stations within Macquarie Harbour needs rationalisation. To achieve this, the EPA will look to commission a project with the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) through the SMRCA (Sustainable Marine Research Collaboration Agreement) to undertake a rigorous statistical analysis of the pelagic datasets available in Macquarie Harbour to gain a greater insight into the spatial and temporal components of these data. The analysis outcomes may allow the EPA to rationalise the number of pelagic sampling locations, whilst optimising the frequency of monitoring in Macquarie Harbour.
Consideration will also be given to including external stations for inflowing water conditions and external nutrient-enriched zone conditions and reviewing the depth of integrated sampling for phytoplankton within Macquarie Harbour during the revision of the MH BEMP.
Analyses and interpretation (pelagic habitats) –
(a) clarify purposes of Nitrogen species measurements; add additional trigger variables;
(b) apply 'balance of organism' indicators to track change in habitat biota;
(c) identify either WFD-type (unimpacted) reference conditions or arbitrary set of years from which to track change
The Director, EPA supports the need to clarify the purposes of Nitrogen species measurements and the addition of trigger variables during the revision of MH BEMP.
Further, the Director, EPA agrees that it is important to extract more value from environmental data that is collected as part of Broadscale Environmental Monitoring Programs to further develop indicators of ecosystem change. The EPA will engage further with Paul Tett at SAMS and with scientific experts at IMAS/UTAS to explore the benefits to the MH BEMP of adopting a 'balance of organism' indicator approach and how this should best be undertaken.
What is measured (soft-sediment benthic habitat) –
(a) Include including routine measures of physio-chemical parameters that assist with interpretation of biological responses.
(b) Bottom-water dissolved oxygen levels should be monitored at each station at each sampling, and at the point(s) in the annual cycle when they are likely to be at the lowest from real-time monitoring.
(c) Surficial sediments at the main benthic stations should be analysed for a broad suite of elements using ICPMS in the solid phase.
(d) The potential for metabarcoding eDNA methods to improve the quality and reduce the cost should be examined. Such methods give the added benefit of rapid analysis, which could enhance adaptive management in Macquarie Harbour.
The Director, EPA supports the expansion of the existing MH BEMP to include monitoring of key measures of physio-chemical parameters that assist with the interpretation of biological responses. This will further align BEMPs state-wide. Consideration will also be given to the inclusion of benthic fauna sampling of soft sediment habitats as part of the revision of the MH BEMP.
The Director, EPA supports the inclusion of bottom-water dissolved oxygen levels and this will be considered during the revision of the MH BEMP. The EPA will seek further input from key scientific experts on the value of sampling surficial sediments for a suite of elements using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS).
The Director, EPA agrees that it is important to look at new methodologies to improve the accuracy, cost and speed of environmental monitoring. It is also acknowledged that research into DNA metabarcoding methodologies for environmental monitoring of finfish farming is underway globally. However, at this stage it is unclear whether this type of technology will be more cost-effective and rapid for benthic assessment given the expertise required for analysis and interpretation of molecular data.
To realise the potential of using DNA metabarcoding methodologies a significant body of work is needed to be undertaken in Tasmania, to determine whether DNA metabarcoding will be appropriate for the monitoring benthic impacts of finfish farming. IMAS are currently undertaking research as part of their Storm Bay monitoring project to assess the potential of using these methodologies alongside traditional benthic monitoring methods.
Where measured (soft-sediment benthic habitat) – the number of “external” or reference stations should be reduced (probably by around 50%) to a set which adequately covers the Harbour longitudinally. Stations should be retained on the basis of their ability to provide information that is not duplicated by other stations.
The Director, EPA agrees with this recommendation that a rationalisation of ‘external” or reference monitoring stations within Macquarie Harbour may be necessary as part of a revised MH BEMP. As outlined in the Director, EPA’s response to recommendation 3, a rationalisation of monitoring stations should be carried out using a rigorous statistical analysis of existing benthic datasets available in Macquarie Harbour to gain a greater insight into the spatial and temporal components of these data. The analysis outcomes may allow the EPA to rationalise the number of benthic sampling locations, whilst optimising the frequency of monitoring. The EPA will discuss the potential for the statistical analysis with IMAS.
Further research (soft-sediment benthic habitat) –
(a) A research project should specifically consider the redox cycling of elements in sediments at various distances from the farm over an annual cycle.
(b) Research should examine the effects of fish farms on local fish and epibenthos scavengers.
The Director, EPA acknowledges this recommendation and will seek further input from key scientific experts (IMAS) on the value of conducting research redox cycling of elements in sediments at various distances from the farm over an annual cycle and the need to further examine the effects of fish farms on local fish and epibenthos scavengers.
Monitoring Maugean Skate - Research and monitoring (outside the BEMP) should continue on the Endangered Maugean Skate, which may be particularly vulnerable to habitat change owing to its low genetic diversity.
The Director, EPA acknowledges this recommendation and will pass it on to an expert working group that has been convened by NRE Tas to inform the development of options to remediate environmental conditions (for the Maugean Skate) in Macquarie Harbour. The EPA will participate in and support this process. The EPA understands that options to support skate recovery will be considered by this group.
Other benthic habitats - consideration should be given to including low-intensity monitoring of sea-grass and sea-weed communities in the BEMP and to reporting results in the overall assessment of the State of the MH ecosystems.
The addition of other benthic habitats will be considered as part of reviewing the MH BEMP to ensure that the monitoring program is contemporary for Tasmanian marine and estuarine habitats
An integrated annual report and assessment should be prepared, accumulating previous annual reports as in the HEDC annual reports
As with the reporting of Broadscale Environmental Monitoring in other regions of Tasmania, the Director, EPA will require the submission of annual BEMP reports as part of a revised MH BEMP. The Director, EPA will continue to publish annual BEMP reports and commits to maximising public access to these annual reports. The EPA will investigate opportunities to synthesise BEMP report findings into a more accessible and simplified ‘report card’ format.
Ensure continued availability of MH physical-biogeochemical model
It is the Director, EPA’s intention that the use of well-established hydrodynamic and biogeochemical models developed by CSIRO will continue to be important tools used to provide diagnosis and prognosis for the BEMP program.