In the final week of our 11-week campaign to celebrate Victoria’s marine environment, we are exploring the recommendation from the State of the Bays 2016 Report that developing a Marine Knowledge Framework is a priority, with the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability’s Director of Science and Reporting, Dr Scott Rawlings.

Dr Rawlings and his team are currently preparing the next iteration of the report, the Victorian State of the Marine and Coastal Environment (SMCE) 2021 Report. The SMCE Report will have a broader scope than the State of the Bays 2016 Report, incorporating Port Phillip Bay, Western Port, Gippsland Lakes, Corner Inlet and Nooramunga, and Victoria’s System of Marine National Parks and Sanctuaries.

“We are really excited about the amount of enthusiasm and momentum for the report despite the challenges of COVID-19,” says Dr Rawlings.

The co-creation process has continued despite lockdowns, with high attendance at online workshops to set the SMCE 2021 indicators. “Co-design enables disruption – a new way of seeing old problems,” says Dr Rawlings.

“This also reflects the increasing recognition of other forms of science and knowledge being generated outside of State Government agencies including local government, citizen science, social science and Traditional Owner knowledge.”

Tiny seagull

It’s not only geographical scope that will be expanded in the SMCE 2021, the report will also see the introduction of socio-economic indicators for the first time in marine and coastal reporting. “We are being guided by the Marine and Coastal Act 2018 as well as the scientific baseline in the Victorian State of the Environment (SoE) 2018 report chapter on Marine and Coastal Environments and the earlier State of the Bays 2016 report. We will be reporting on socio-economic indicators and ecologically sustainable development,” says Dr Rawlings. “We are building on our previous work and aligning our reporting in the SMCE 2021 with the relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals targets as well.”

The eight future priority areas identified in the State of the Bays 2016 report required in the Marine Knowledge Framework are divided into two sections: tools (1-2) and understanding (3-8). 

Tools: improving the way we monitor and report on marine health.
1.    The importance of mapping
Maintaining and expanding the mapping regimes. In 2017, following the State of the Bays (SotB) recommendation, DELWP committed to investment in mapping for coastal and marine environments. This focused on two priorities identified in the SotB 2016 report: biotope mapping, and coastal climate change vulnerability mapping. The Victorian Government committed around $4m in the May 2017 budget towards this endeavour. Work underway includes the development of digital spatial tools including use of digital twin technology.

Heat vulnerability index


2.    Technology
Future monitoring regimes for the bays must consider adopting new technologies and/or expanding and upgrading the use of existing technology. Understanding: gaining knowledge and addressing skill gaps.

3.    Pressure impacts of climate change
Greater understanding of how the pressures of climate change are impacting Victoria’s marine and coastal environments. For example, coastal sediment compartments, sea level rise and how climate change impacts factors such as catchment loads, wave height and light availability to seagrass.



brown seaweed

4.    Marine pests
Identifying specific management actions for marine pests including the northern Pacific sea star (Port Phillip Bay); the Japanese Kelp (Port Phillip Bay); and the European fan worm (Port Phillip Bay and Western Port).

5.    Fisheries, aquaculture and fishing
A deeper understanding of specific, important species. For example,  sand flathead recruitment and numbers in Port Phillip Bay and the impact of fishing in the area and further scientific investigations around why its numbers have reduced so significantly since the 1990s.

6.    Pollution
Working towards greater knowledge of the recreational and human health impacts of pollution and how they impact Victoria’s marine and coastal environments.

7.    Understanding the intertidal system

The intertidal habitats are the most ‘visible’ marine environments, located adjacent to human population, but also the most vulnerable to development and other threats. Understanding the interaction between seagrass, soft sediments, mangrove, saltmarsh and the water column habitats is critical for maintaining system health. The intertidal system also provides an important role as nurseries to incubate fish. “The intertidal systems offer huge benefits to Victorians in terms of their connection to the natural environment,” says Dr Rawlings. “There needs to be greater research in understanding the intertidal system including coastal erosion and dynamics, the vegetated soft sediments and the macroinvertebrates that inhabit them that provide an important food source.”

8.    Understanding subtidal systems 
In subtidal systems, key ecosystems  for understanding include soft sediments, rocky reefs and deep reefs. “There is very limited knowledge of the deep reefs, reducing the potential to effectively
manage the bays,” he says. “The social and economic value of these deep reefs is significant. They are tourist and recreational attractions – the most visited diving sites in Victoria – and some of the deep reefs lie within the shipping lanes. The deep reefs also impact on broader ecological processes in the region.

We invite you to head to our interactive State of the Bays website here and access the SotB 2016 report – the next iteration of the report will include an expanded scope and be titled the Victorian State of the Marine and Coastal Environment 2021 report – currently in preparation by the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability.

Quick fact

Did you know that Victoria is one of only two jurisdictions in Australia (the other being the ACT) with an independent Commissioner charged with periodic State of the Environment reporting? Read about Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability.


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