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Our post-Covid rebuilding can also restore our oceans

May 20, 2020

By AMCS CEO Darren Kindleysides

The world that we witness around us is far from whatever could have been predicted just a few short months ago. Covid-19 has put life as we know it on hold – it has cost lives, closed businesses, isolated entire communities and forced us all to make individual sacrifices in the ways that we go about our daily routines.

But these challenging times also give us an opportunity – to adapt to this new world and make changes to our society, to personal and collective values and to support the natural environments that ensure our wellbeing. We need look no further than the oceans that surround our island continent for this new and fertile ground for a post-Covid investment.

During the Great Depression, governments in Australia and the USA set up large scale employment programs in conservation and land management which have had enduring benefits. As we emerge from this challenging period, we have an opportunity to replicate and expand on this historic venture – creating jobs, stabilising coastal communities across the nation and helping restore Australia’s unique and precious natural environment.

Economic stimulus

In this spirit, more than 70 farming, conservation and environmental management organisations across the country including the Australian Marine Conservation Society,
Landcare and the National Farmers Federation recently wrote to the Prime Minister and all state Premiers proposing a $4 billion economic stimulus package in the conservation, land and sea management sector.

This proposal is designed to provide jobs to 24,000 workers at its peak, providing practical restoration responses across Australia, helping to supercharge the recovery and have enduring positive impacts for nature around Australia, including those found underwater.

Through investment in programs that deliver high conservation outputs, we can provide meaningful employment for Australians while bringing environmental benefits at both small and large scales, in both cities and regional areas.

Restoring seagrass

We could see a rapid expansion of the highly successful Living Seawalls program in Sydney Harbour, which transforms featureless seawalls into ecologically and economically important habitats. These could be easily installed at multiple new sites across the eastern seaboard, creating construction, engineering and marine conservation jobs in local communities.

We can invest in restoring seagrass meadows that provide habitat for both commercially-caught species and Australian icons like the vulnerable dugong. They also filter the water of pollutants and sediments and help protect more fragile ecosystems like coral reefs. Seagrass habitats are also highly effective at carbon sequestration – resulting in a co-benefit of not only creating jobs but also helping Australia to mitigate climate change.

On a larger scale, community clean-up programs could create more than 1300 jobs to help remove plastics from Australian waterways. This work builds on long-standing partnerships with local councils to monitor local hotspots, identifying locations for litter traps and improving waste management – all of which reduces the amount of turtle and whale-killing plastics from reaching our oceans.

Supporting reef tourism

In regional areas like Cairns, the reef tourism industry, devastated by the impacts of the coronavirus restrictions, has already been identified by the government as ripe for both short and long term investment to get it back on its feet. A boost in conservation programs in these areas would be the smart and socially sensible way to help the Australian economy back to its feet, whilst also helping protect the Reef and its catchment.

Let’s face it, 2020 has already been a very difficult year for our oceans. The unprecedented bushfire had a devastating impact on the marine habitats of estuaries and coastal waters; record breaking sea surface temperatures driven by global warming caused widespread coral bleaching on our Great Barrier Reef; and scientists have warned that more frequent and severe marine heatwaves will kill fish species and damage habitat.

This is our moment to turn that around. Working together, we can see the potential success of tourism, government and conservation groups working together to create ‘shovel-ready’ jobs that can hit the ground running when social distancing measures are eased.

Covid-19 has shown us that when communities, scientists, politicians and businesses come together with a shared purpose, we can achieve a great deal. We need this same collective approach to tackle the rebuilding of our economy, and together we can ensure that it is for the betterment of the natural environment as well as humanity.