WRL successfully co-hosts world’s first intermittent estuaries workshop

Climate change - the biggest challenge to the effective protection and management of intermittent estuaries.

Dr Tino HeimhuberWRL researcher and eco engineer Dr Valentin (Tino) Heimhuber recently co-hosted the world’s first international workshop on ‘Intermittent estuaries in a changing climate', together with Dr Sarah McSweeney, a coastal geomorphologist at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Eric Stein, Biology Department Head at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) and Dr Lara Van Niekerk, a senior research expert in estuarine ecosystems at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in South Africa. 

Intermittently Open/Closed Estuaries (IOCEs) occur on many of the world’s wave-dominated coastlines where they add substantial socio-economic and ecological value to coastal communities. Australia alone is home to 305 (21%) of the 1477 globally mapped IOCEs, including the Manly, Narrabean, Dee Why and Curl-Curl Lagoons on Sydney’s northern beaches or the large Lake Illawarra just south of Wollongong.  

Even though IOCEs are often considered the estuary type most vulnerable to climate change, current knowledge, data, and management tools are often insufficient to adequately address future challenges. Further, there is a recognized gap between the data generated by researchers and the information required by policymakers. 

To this end, the inaugural workshop aimed to bring together the global community of scientists, practitioners, and policymakers to establish and exchange the current knowledge around IOCEs in a changing climate. 

The workshop which took place over three days (16-18th June) was run as a free online workshop for three hours per day with attendees and presenters from Australia, Europe, North and South America, and South Africa.  

“We had over 380 people register," Tino said, “and, despite the challenges for some time zones, most of the sessions had over 100 people tuned in live, which was a great outcome for us.” 

Attendees came not just from around the world but from a wide variety of roles - research, government, consulting and estuary management.  “This kind of cross-sector collaboration and knowledge sharing is exactly what we set out to achieve with this workshop.”

Workshop sessions covered the key drivers of land-sea connectivity, conceptual/numerical models of inlet behaviour, the physical and biological responses of intermittent estuaries to a changing climate, technical innovations in detecting inlet behaviour – (satellite imagery, drones, and stationary systems), as well as looking at policy frameworks, community datasets, and management challenges.

Tino’s current research focuses on holistic water resources management under climate change as well as the engineering and economics around blue carbon ecosystem restoration. As he noted, “One of the big themes emerging during the workshop was that intermittent estuaries seem to face very similar and likely severe risks from climate change - no matter the continent.”

The workshop was extremely well received by the international community, and it was decided to create a ‘Global Forum on Intermittent Estuaries’, with the aim to streamline international research efforts and the development of efficient climate change adaptation measures. 

For anyone who missed any of the talks - all 31 presentations are now freely accessible on the official YouTube channel of the Forum: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHDesfaLfq0Vy4lFK-hqCXA

The workshop program can be downloaded here.

For further information, contact: Dr Tino Heimhuber | Research Associate | v.heimhuber@wrl.unsw.edu.au

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