Friends of Gulf St Vincent

The Friends' principal aim is to:
Foster a unified community approach
to the protection and wise use of
the Gulf of St Vincent
Book Launch
26 May 2008


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Launched on May 26th at the SARDI Aquatic Sciences Centre at West Beach by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Rory McEwen, The Natural History of Gulf St Vincent, is, according to chief editor Dr Scoresby Shepherd:

"quite simply ... the definitive work on the Gulf ... for at least the next 30 years".

First proposed in 2004 to give an updated marine focus to the Royal Society's 1976 publication The Natural History of the Adelaide Region, the new book has taken shape under an editorial team lead by FoGStV committee members
Dr Scoresby Shepherd, Pat Harbison and Ian Kirkegaard, in conjunction with Dr Simon Bryars (formerly at SARDI, now working in Coast & Marine Environment Reporting at the Department of Environment & Heritage) and Dr John Jennings of the University of Adelaide.

Containing 38 chapters and written by 58 contributors whose experience spans decades of research, the book starts with the geological history and oceanography of the Gulf, which has been repeatedly flooded and exposed by the fluctuations in global sea level caused by the retreat and advance of the Pleistocene Northern Hemisphere continental icesheets.

The individual studies extend from the waters and cliffs, rocky reefs and high-energy beaches [ 1, 2 ] of Investigator Strait and Backstairs Passage that connect the Gulf to the Southern Ocean, to the extensive shallow seagrass beds [ 3, 4 ], mangroves and samphire saltmarshes that characterise the sheltered upper reaches of the Gulf, particularly along its northeastern shoreline.

A rich biodiversity

The book's chapters represent a summary of our current knowledge of the Gulf's coastal and marine flora and fauna, ranging from the microscopic foraminifera of the Gulf's open waters and the microbial activity of mangrove muds, through the various types of marine life - crustaceans (prawns, crabs), cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish, octopus), the many types of fish (including bony fish, sharks, seahorses and seadragons) - to the marine mammals (seals, dolphins, whales) and seabirds, including the migratory waders that come to the Gulf to escape the winters of Siberia and Alaska.

The richness of the marine biodiversity of the Gulfs region of South Australia (including Spencer Gulf, which is to be the subject of a proposed further book in the Natural History series) arises from its position at the centre of the world's longest east-west temperate coastline. Here two converging influences, from the warm temperate west and the cooler temperate southeast of Australia, meet and mingle along the north-south gradients of energy, temperature and salinity found in the two Gulfs. This creates a wide variety of environmental niches and results in a very high rate of species endemism (species found here, but nowhere else), much greater than that found in Australia's northern tropical waters.

Historical perspective of human impacts

The book provides a historical perspective of how human activities have impacted on the Gulf, from the simple fishtraps of the Aboriginal inhabitants to the predations of the American and European sealers and whalers who visited these shores in the early 19th Century, hunting some species to near extinction.

Following settlement in 1836 and increasing urbanisation, especially in the second half of the 20th Century, silt and nutrients from urban stormwater runoff, wastewater and industrial discharges have affected water quality and led to extensive near-shore seagrass dieback in the Gulf, in turn destabilising seafloor sediment and contributing to increased erosion along the metropolitan coastline.

Past urban and industrial coastal zone development has also alienated much coastal habitat - dunes, estuaries, mangroves and saltmarsh - particularly around the Barker Inlet/Port River Estuary, the Gulf's largest fish nursery.

The decline of many of the Gulf's economic fisheries over the same period has led to a great deal of research - understanding the life cycles of individual species and their distribution is essential to allowing the recovery of these important fish stocks and maintaining the sustainability of catches.

Threats to the Gulf

In the light of this knowledge gained over many years and recently confirmed through the CSIRO's Adelaide Coastal Waters Study, the major sources of pollution and the extent of their impacts are now well-known. Through the agency of the Natural Resource Management Boards and the Environment Protection Authority, steps are being taken to try to reduce the pollution load.

But severe damage such as the loss of seagrass off the metropolitan coast may take decades, if not a century or more, to fully recover; and questions remain, such as whether the proposed reductions are large enough to significantly reduce the impacts on the marine environment, or whether the run-off from expanding suburban development to the south of Adelaide will in fact increasingly degrade those reef systems which are now still in relatively good condition.

Further threats to the Gulf come from a variety of sources. Some exotic invasive marine pests, including the marine alga Caulerpa taxifolia, have become established in certain areas, and others may arrive in future. Coastal development needs to take account of the newly recognised hazards of acid sulphate soils. Recent proposals for major developments, such as for a large marina at Port Wakefield in the relatively pristine waters at the head of the Gulf, and a large desalination plant at Port Stanvac, also have the potential to create significant impacts.

The future

Fortunately there is an increasing awareness in the community of the richness of the marine biodiversity that lies such a short distance from our shores. Much work in educating the public occurs through the activities of community groups: recreational divers take part in marine monitoring through events such as those organised by Reefwatch, and each year the popular calendar of the Marine Life Society of SA showcases their stunning photographs of local marine organisms. Valuable work in educating schoolchildren is done by the Marine Discovery Centre at Henley Beach, and the marine studies centre at the Port Vincent Primary School.

Since the construction of the St Kilda Mangrove Trail and Interpretive Centre in 1984, mangrove forests are now better appreciated; however samphire and salt marshes are still generally undervalued, despite the recent development of the Samphire Discovery Trail at Middle Beach, and the adoption of the Samphire Coast theme to promote the environmental values of the coast of the Northern Adelaide Plains region as a tourist attraction.

FoGStV has also played a role in public education through holding community forums in various locations around the Gulf. But attendances at these is relatively modest, and largely made up of those who already have an interest in coastal and marine life and issues. Over the last few years an involvement with the annual SALA (SA Living Artists) Festival has enabled FoGStV members to engage with creative artists, schools and the broader community through developing marine-themed public artworks - sculptures and murals - and art exhibitions.

The publication of the Natural History of Gulf St Vincent however will achieve a great deal more. It will be the major reference for marine managers and policy makers for many years to come and will find a place of every library shelf.

The book also has the potential to be of great interest to a much larger readership such as recreational fishers, who may initially come to it from a more limited perspective but find it enhances their understanding and appreciation of the Gulf and the need for its conservation, to protect their own interests.

And even if only a small proportion of the estimated 328 000 local recreational anglers who fish in SA waters each year (or 426,000, including interstate visitors - The Advertiser, 31/12/2005) take up the cause, then policy-makers will surely take notice.

The Natural History of Gulf St Vincent is published by the Royal Society of SA Inc., in conjunction with the SARDI Aquatic Sciences division of PIRSA, and copies are now available at the SA Museum bookshop, at a price of $120.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Rory McEwen. launching the book at the SARDI Aquatic Sciences Centre.

Dr Scoresby Shepherd poses for an official photograph at the book launch.

Dr Scoresby Shepherd (right) talks with seabird expert Dr Greg Johnston
of Flinders University, one of the contibutors to the book.

Marine policy expert Patricia von Baumgarten (left) in animated conversation with marine research scientist
Janine Baker.

(L-R) Coast Protection Board member Brian Caton at the launch with environment planner Kathryn Bellette
and coastal geomorphologist Doug Fotheringam.

  Photos and text: Andrew Winkler

This page maintained by Littoral Productions for the Friends of Gulf St Vincent
Last modified 26th November 2009.