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Spencer Gulf Ecosystem and Development Initiative

The Spencer Gulf is one of the most important economic development areas in South Australia. It is the subject of a major initiative, the Spencer Gulf Ecosystem and Development Initiative. The Initiative, led by the Environment Institute to help facilitate change and maintain the integrity of the Gulf is a multi year program delivering:

  • Clearer approval pathways with potential to reduce costs and time delays thus greatly assisting economic development.
  • Information, data, tools, capabilities and networks to assist in approval pathways.
  • Community support and public comments more likely to be based on evidence.
  • A thriving Gulf region, where progressive developments occur, community opportunity is optimised and the unique ecosystem is protected and enhanced - specifically through effective consideration of cumulative, chronic and long term environmental stresses.

The subsections of this webpage provide a depth of information on the initiative including:

  • Executive Summary

    The Initiative sets out to drive sound outcomes for all gulf users and the environment. It is currently supported with nearly 2.5 million dollars of investment from industry, as well as through research efforts. Corporate investment includes BHP Billiton, Santos, Arrium, Alinta, Nyrstar, Centrex, Flinders Ports and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Research partners include SARDI and Flinders University.

    To date the initiative has:

    • Identified substantial knowledge gaps with respect to the Gulf.
    • Engaged with a wide range of stakeholders across sectors and the regions to determine important points of focus, interest and tension.
    • It is delivering an integrated science program, backed with structured decision-making, so that the environmental evidence can be most easily applied for economic and social outcomes. 
  • Background

    The Gulf is a special and rare inverse marine estuary. Salt levels are lowest at its mouth and highest at the top of the Gulf. It provides a nursery for much of South Australia's fish species and is an area of high and unique biodiversity.

    The conditions across the Gulf will change as development, and climate change, affect it.

    One of the major changes will result from South Australia's growing mining sector. This is likely to see increase shipping, wharf facilities and potential dredging in the Spencer Gulf.

    The industry, as well as the people around the gulf (and throughout South Australia and beyond), are keen to see its future carefully managed. The Spencer Gulf Initiative aims to do this by developing the science, and understanding, for world class decision making, proactively maintaining the Gulf's unique ecosystem rather than engaging in a costly restoration should damage occur.

    Expansions of human activities have the potential to lead to resource-use conflicts, and environmental impacts - particularly from cumulative stresses and chronic (slow) long term degradation or loss. These create tensions between industry, the environment, across industry sectors and with the community.

    Consultation with industry and government suggests that considerable ongoing development of this region is likely and that the information needed to manage resultant cumulative impacts may not be available.

    The Initiative consequently develops independent and credible science to enable evidence-based assessment of development options and avoid unnecessary delays.

    The Spencer Gulf Ecosystem and Development Initiative (SGEDI) supports progressive and productive industries alongside environmental considerations, for the benefit of the community and South Australia as a whole. The Initiative has been informed by proven models and is led by The University of Adelaide. Its board provides strategic industry, community and fisheries insight. The Science Committee adds broad ranging research capacity and validation of the initiative’s directions. Through scientific research, consultation and stakeholder engagement SGEDI will become a key influencer for future development in the region.

  • News & Resources
  • Important Issues

    The Spencer Gulf Ecosystem and Development Initiative is at the forefront of driving sound outcomes. As a research collaboration that aims to address damage before it occurs and is supported by most of the major industry in the region in question, this initiative is very unique.

    The key aims of the work have been refined through research into the knowledge gaps and extensive engagement with community, industry and government. Some of the important issues that will be considered are:

    • Understanding the consequences of shipping increases for the Gulf's environment and productive uses,
    • Considering the need for a biosecurity framework that specifically addresses issues that may be unique to the Gulf,
    • Addressing community desalination concerns - Gulf wide,
    • Identify stresses that may be related to cuttlefish declines and population changes and the connections these have with the whole Gulf system,
    • Developing a whole of gulf, broad scale, understanding (including the marine plant and animal ecosystem and productive uses that rely on it),
    • Engaging across the Initiative's partners to address common problems and reduce duplicated effort,
    • Knowledge sharing of environmental information and data sets,
    • A credible, independent voice. the Initiative is based at the University of Adelaide (with SARDI and Flinders University),
    • Communication between partners and stakeholders. The board for the Initiative includes fishing, aquaculture and community representatives allowing tensions and concerns to be raised early and discussed in the context of Gulf science.
  • Science

    In order to fully understand the Spencer Gulf, deliver sound outcomes and develop a decision support system the initiative is considering the following issues:

    • Scenario Development

    Scenarios describe a baseline and differing conditions that may occur in the Gulf This work draws on reviews and assessments underway by other groups and includes finalising regional boundaries for this work. It also sees care taken as it cannot be assumed that the scenarios developed for each region can be added together.

    • Whole of System Understanding

    A whole of system understanding is developed so that interdependencies of one environmental value on another variable can be incorporated within the initiative's research. This work primarily draws on existing data as well as information from other priority projects.

    • Cuttlefish

    A greater understanding of population dynamics, factors contributing to changes in abundance and an understanding of how future developments could impact cuttlefish are required.

    • Shipping Investigation

    Increased maritime trade within Spencer Gulf may produce both direct stressors and indirect effects due to increased port use and port expansion. Shipping thresholds, if there are ship numbers beyond which a step change in impact might occur, will be investigated. Issues of turbidity and pathways for biosecurity threats (beyond ballast water) need to be considered.

    • Desalination

    The total stress placed on the Gulf from desalination is of some significant community concern. Oceanographic modelling can be used to investigate optimal site locations and cumulative pressure that may lead to impact from multiple desalination plants.

    • Biosecurity

    An understanding of the inputs, risks and potential consequences posed from new and emerging pests and pathogens as a result of increased vectors is required. This will include risk identification, risk prioritisation, surveillance and risk management options, response options, and economic impact assessment.

Image credits:
Spencer gulf buoys: Maritime Constructions
Aerial view of Port Lowly, near Whyalla: Martin Dean
Port Pirie sector beacon: Maritime Constructions
Spencer Gulf prawn fishermen: Spencer Gulf & West Coast Prawn Fisherman's Association
Australian Giant Cuttlefish: Nick Payne

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