Waters off Tasmania's East Coast should be used in international climate change observation: IMAS

TASMANIA’S East Coast could act as an “early warning laboratory” on warming ocean waters for the rest of Australia and the world, the University of Tasmania believes.

The university’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in a submission to a senate inquiry into impacts of climate change on marine fisheries and biodiversity said the world’s natural laboratories for understanding the impact of warming waters on marine ecosystems would be in the regions changing fastest.

This would be because they would show impacts earlier and allow for predictive models and practical adaptations to be tested and confirmed first, it said.

The institute said that the temperature observed off Maria Island is the same recorded 350 kilometres north in Eden 70 years ago.

“We are seeing a large number of species beginning to make Tasmania their home, or an increase in abundance of species that were previously rare or uncommon in Tasmanian waters,” it said.

The institute said that warmer water temperatures increased likelihood of stress, disease and pathogen spread.

“For species endemic to Tasmania, there are no close coastal regions south of Tasmania for species to shift south into, as waters continue to warm,” it said.

“Species that have small geographic ranges are at ‘double jeopardy’ as they are less likely to be able to shift distribution and also more prone to extinction.”

The institute highlighted that there was a limited understanding on impacts of climate change on individual species, a poor understanding on how productivity will change over time in the Southern Ocean, and little socio-economic data on climate change’s impact on the marine sector and the communities it supports. 

The sector is anticipated to be worth $100 billion by 2020.

The senate inquiry was established last September and the  environment and communications reference committee is due to report on its outcomes by June 30.