Climate Change Discussion Paper

Climate Change Discussion Paper

‘Ngootyoong Gunditj, Ngootyoong Mara’
South West Management Plan

Climate Change

(download  a PDF from the Resources page)


Climate Change is predicted to impact in a number of areas including water security, coastal communities, energy security, infrastructure, human health, tourism, agriculture, food security, natural ecosystems and sustainable development (Steffen 2009). Of these natural ecosystems are considered one of the most vulnerable. This vulnerability includes pre-existing threats such as bushfire, storm damage and the spread of weeds, which are predicted to intensify under climate change scenarios and in a few cases  threats will be new, for example rising sea level.


The Federal Department of Environment, Climate Change, Energy and Water sets national policy direction for climate change response. This Department released Australia's Biodiversity and Climate Change, which is a summary of the key issues for policy makers derived from a strategic assessment (Steffen 2009).

Steffen (2009), notes “management objectives for the future aimed at maintaining all species in their present locations and ecosystems in their present composition will no longer be appropriate”.

Parks Victoria recently commissioned Marsden Jacob and Associates to complete a Climate Change Strategic Risk Assessment, which will inform Parks Victoria’s climate change response.

This discussion paper looks at climate change threats, possible adaptive management responses and ends with directions for future management. The information available to protected area managers on climate change is constantly being upgraded and new knowledge will be applied to the planning process as is becomes known.

Climate Change Strategic Risk Assessment

Parks Victoria’s Climate Change Strategic Risk Assessment (2010) describes the risks that climate change poses to Victoria’s parks system for the purpose of risk assessment and adaptation planning and includes a number of other areas managed by Parks Victoria as part of Victoria’s broader park system. The Strategic Risk Assessment is an initial ‘high level’ climate change risk assessment to enable Parks Victoria to prioritise risks across the organisation’s responsibilities.

The assessment provides ratings for terrestrial and marine biodiversity risks as well as risks to visitor services and assets, cultural heritage and management operations. Risks were assessed in three timeframes – current, at 2030 and at 2070 – to reflect the projected climate conditions at these times based on CSIRO modelling.


The key climate change priorities that emerged from the strategic risk assessment of the planning area are summarised below.

Terrestrial Biodiversity Risks

Four climate change risks rated highly across all ecosystems.

  • Reduced extent of refugia for native flora and fauna as a result of increased peak and average temperatures, reduced rainfall and increased moisture stress was identified as likely to lead to changed distribution and abundance of species, including the spread of plant and animal pests and increased disturbance of ecosystems.
  • Altered fire regimes (including changes in factors such as frequency, intensity, season, scale and patchiness) resulting from increased peak and average temperatures, reduced rainfall and increased high and extreme fire weather days was identified as likely to result in changes in floristic composition, habitat structure and diversity and increased disturbance of ecosystems.
  • Loss of ephemeral waterways and wetlands as a result of increased peak and average temperatures, reduced rainfall, runoff and surface water was identified as likely to lead to increased pressure on aquatic or amphibious species and communities.
  • Altered vegetation and animal life cycles resulting from changed timing and characteristics of seasonal rainfall events and temperature changes was identified as resulting in altered reproduction, feeding and other critical community interactions, altered ecosystem structure and increased disturbance of ecosystems.

Marine Biodiversity Risks

The marine biodiversity risk assessment includes estuaries, and whilst there is much that is currently unknown about the scale and timing of climate change on Victoria’s marine systems, impacts are predicted for the broad range of habitats in the marine and coastal area, parks and reserves, and marine national parks and sanctuaries:

  • Increasingly variable weather events influencing precipitation and catchment runoff, the frequency and intensity of storm events and storm surge, with estuaries also areas likely to be significantly impacted.
  • The impacts identified include increasing rates of environmental change due to increasing water temperatures and altered currents and water circulation systems with potential for changed species distribution including emergence of new pests.
  • Sea level rise will create an ecological squeeze effect for intertidal organisms on rock shelves and platforms leading to loss of suitable habitat for some species, loss of connectivity and coastal erosion.
  • A greater unknown but potentially very high risk is changed acidity (pH decline) and salinity concentrations causing the decline of cold water carbonate dependent species with significant impacts on food webs.

Visitor Services, Cultural Heritage, Operational Risks

Climate change will challenge the capacity to meet visitor expectations for recreational facilities and access to appropriate and sustainable visitor services.

Built assets

  • Increased risk of damage to assets located in forested, remote and coastal areas or in close proximity to inland waters. Location in these areas makes assets particularly vulnerable to increased bushfire, flooding and storm risks.
  • The compliance requirements and financial cost of meeting Government building codes and service standards including the reputational risk to land managers of not meeting community expectations for environmental sustainability.
  • Increase in insurance premiums diversion of funds and resources to recovery of assets disruptions to service delivery. Increased destruction of built structures and visitor facilities (especially older timber structures) due to greater frequency and intensity of bushfires.
  • Storm frequency and intensity. The increased frequency and intensity of storms is likely to increase damage associated with high winds, tree fall and flooding including roads and walking tracks. Coastal infrastructure such as jetties and piers may be damaged by more frequent and intense storms combined with higher sea levels.

Visitor services and experience

  • Construction, servicing and maintenance of existing facilities such as picnic areas, shade trees, safe harbours and other infrastructure is likely to be affected by reduced water availability and increased risks of damaging weather events.
  • Park and reserve, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and Winda Mara Aboriginal Corporation properties and IPA’s closures, access controls and other restrictions resulting from extreme fire and weather conditions both during events and during recovery phases after events or environmental protection requirements will periodically reduce access to parks with potential for significant impacts on visitors, tourism business operations and local support services in nearby communities.
  • Changed patterns of visitation and visitor experience affected by reduced amenity of protected areas results in redundancy of assets in some areas (e.g. inland waters) and increased demand for assets in other areas (e.g. coastal areas).
  • Maintaining business continuity during emergency periods to ensure services are provided, for example at coastal or urban locations during major inland bushfires.

Gunditjmara Traditional Owners Cultural values

  • Destruction or major damage to coastal significant Gunditjmara Traditional Owners cultural values and archaeological sites due to coastal flooding and erosion.
  • Damage by bushfire of cultural sites and landscapes.
  • Increased recreation activity in coastal and river areas leading to damage of cultural sites.
  • Increased costs for site restoration and management.

Fire and emergency management

  • Increasingly severe fire weather combined with drier fuel and lower ground moisture levels is likely to result in more frequent fires of longer duration. Modelling suggests that fire seasons will start earlier and end later, while generally being more intense throughout their length. A longer and more intense fire season may decrease the time available for planned burning.
  • Increase in frequency of severe, extreme and catastrophic fire weather leading to an increased frequency of catastrophic wildfire with significant loss of life or injury of visitors with adverse impacts on land managers reputation and image.
  • Potential legal ramifications and increased frequency of park, reserves and Gunditjmara Traditional Owners property closures including economic impacts (loss of public and private assets) and disruptions (e.g. tourism businesses, road closures).
  • Increase in land managers costs due to other climate related policy responses (e.g. more stringent codes and statutory requirements, insurance premiums).

Gunditjmara Traditional Owners concerns about Climate Change

  • Potential impacts on waterways ecosystems such as Lake Condah, Glenelg River.
  • Impacts on cultural heritage.
  • Increased dryness with potential for more bushfires.
  • Searise impact on underground water ecosystems with associated impact on fish traps/aquaculture and eel migration.
  • The combined impact of climate change with changed land use practices such as blue gum plantations.


  • Gunditjmara Traditional Owners have an aspiration for a skills audit and training/capacity building in all areas of protected area management.
  • Increased fire could expose new cultural heritage sites.
  • Building ecosystem resilience through an integrated and partnership landscape approach to planning and management.
  • Latitudinal connectivity of ecosystems could allow species to safely migrate south.
  • Carbon offset programs
  • Increased connectivity of country through habitat corridors.


  • Target the control and removal of invasive species, such as weeds and feral animals, and work across land tenure to achieve ensure control.
  • Improve environmental monitoring, assessment and modelling to map baseline condition, key threats and change in condition as direct input unto adaptive management practices. Consider environmental, economic and social impacts and benefits in all monitoring, assessment and modelling.
  • Work with Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and local communities to develop co-operative climate change adaptation strategies.
  • Identify and map refugia for threatened/endangered species.
  • To achieve the above, invest in the capacity of land managers, Gunditjmara Traditional Owners, research, governance, systems, restoration, visitor use and community liaison.


  • What are the natural, cultural, social and economic values in the ‘Ngootyoong Gunditj, Ngootyoong Mara’ South West Management Plan that you consider to be the most at risk and should be protected?
  • How do we manage parks in a dramatically changing environment?
  • How much intervention should be done to adapt to climate change? (e.g. restoration, safeguarding drought refuge).
  • How do you see recreational access changing in the face of climate change?


DPC 2009, Victorian Climate Change Green Paper, Department of Premier and Cabinet. East Melbourne.

DSE 2009, Victoria’s Land and Biodiversity White Paper - Securing our natural future, Department of Sustainability and Environment, East Melbourne.

Dunlop M and Brown PR 2008, Implications of climate change for Australia’s National Reserve System: A preliminary assessment.

Lucas C, Hennessy K, Mills G and Bathols, J 2007, Bushfire weather in southeast Australia: recent trends and projected climate change impacts. Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, Melbourne.

Mackey BG, Lindenmayer DB, Gill AM, McCarthy AM. and Lindesay JA 2002, Wildlife, Fire and Future Climate: A forest ecosystem analysis, CSIRO Publishing, Australia.

Marsden Jacob and Associates 2010, Climate Change Strategic Risk Assessment (in prep.)

Read 2009, Climate change, terrestrial parks and biodiversity in Victoria.

Steffen W 2009,Australia's Biodiversity and Climate Change,CSRIO Publishing.

Contact: James Hackel

Phone: 0429950623