4680.0.55.001 - Information Paper: An Experimental Ecosystem Account for the Great Barrier Reef Region, 2015 Quality Declaration 
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DISCUSSION SUMMARY


INTRODUCTION

This information paper presents an experimental ecosystem account for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Region of Australia. The account is consistent with the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting 2012 - Experimental Ecosystem Accounting framework, which is also known as the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (or SEEA-EEA). The framework has been drafted by the European Commission (EC), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) and World Bank. It is consistent with the 2008 System of National Accounts (2008 SNA) and the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting 2012 - Central Framework, which is also known as the SEEA Central Framework (or SEEA-CF).

SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting offers a synthesis of the current knowledge in ecosystem accounting, and serves as a platform for its development at national and sub-national levels. It provides a common set of terms, concepts, classifications and an integrated accounting structure for measuring ecosystem services and condition, in both physical and monetary terms. The framework, however, provides little guidance on how to compile an ecosystem account.

The ABS has produced environmental accounts for over twenty years. In addition, it has produced statistics for related subjects, such as land cover and economic activity, but the integration of these and other information into an ecosystem accounting framework is a new field. Ecosystem accounting presents new challenges in account construction, not just for the ABS, but for compilers of environmental information worldwide. This paper is designed to highlight the interaction between terrestrial and marine economic activities (which rely on ecosystems), and the condition of the environment in which these activities are undertaken. According to the framework:

    'Ecosystem accounting goes beyond other approaches to ecosystem analysis and assessment through the explicit linking of ecosystems to economic and other human activity. The links are seen both in terms of the services provided by ecosystems and also in the impacts that economic and other human activity may have on ecosystems and their future capacity. While ecosystem accounting does consider ecosystems and the economy to be different systems, they are analysed jointly reflecting the fundamental connections between them. The use of an accounting framework enables the stock of ecosystems – ecosystem assets – and flows from ecosystems – ecosystem services – to be defined in relation to each other and also in relation to a range of other environmental, economic and social information' (SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting 2012, 2013, p.1).

Ecosystem accounting is not a new field of interest and there is a large body of scientific work in this area. The GBR Region is a well studied area with an array of experts, and the links between activities on the land and the condition of the GBR are well documented. Examples include a recent case study of the GBR conducted by scientists from Charles Darwin and James Cook universities which explored a new and holistic approach to assessing both the monetary and non-monetary values of ecosystem services (see N. Stoeckl et al., 2014), and a comprehensive report released in 2013 by Deloitte Access Economics which examined the economic contribution of the GBR.

This information paper has two aims. The first aim of the paper is to connect some of the very large body of scientific work being undertaken in the region to other environmental and macro-economic indicator accounts that are compiled by the ABS. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) produces an Outlook Report every five years to report on the Marine Park, and the contents of these have assisted in determining where to focus the content of this paper. From an economic perspective, this paper focusses on agriculture, tourism, fishing and aquaculture; the ecosystem services associated with those industries; and their outputs. The Outlook Reports cover many more areas of economic interaction with the environment. The ABS' contribution is to apply the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting framework to valuations of ecosystems services in the GBR Region.

The second aim is to provide feedback to the United Nations Statistical Division on the development of SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting. One part of this feedback is on the compilation of the accounts, including the selection of indicators and availability of data. An important part of the feedback will be in the utility of the account, and the ABS welcomes any feedback. As a first effort in the area, there will no doubt be datasets beneficial to the accounts which have not been located and other areas for improvement. The ABS intends to use this feedback to build and improve future accounts.


THE MARINE DOMAIN

The GBR is a globally significant area located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia. It extends for more than 2,300 kilometres along the north-eastern coast near the Australian state of Queensland. It is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, and is listed on the register of World Heritage sites.

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area totals 348,000 km2, extending from the top of Queensland in north-eastern Australia to the north of Bundaberg. Ninety-nine per cent of the area (344,400 km2) is made up of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This paper was prepared using data that was mostly collected to inform the status of the Marine Park, though the extent of overlap means data gives good representation of both areas. The remaining 3,600 km2 of the World Heritage Area falls under the jurisdiction of the Queensland State Government and includes islands, ports and other internal waters.

The GBR is one of the richest in terms of faunal diversity with approximately:
  • 411 species of hard corals
  • 150 species of soft corals and sea pens
  • 39 species of mangroves
  • 15 species of seagrasses
  • 1,625 fish species (including 1,400 coral reef species)
  • 136 species of sharks and rays
  • 6 species of threatened marine turtles
  • 30 species of marine mammals
  • 3,000 species of molluscs
  • 500 species of worms
  • 1,300 species of crustaceans
  • 630 species of echinoderms
  • 14 breeding species of sea snakes
  • 20 nesting species of sea birds.

Amongst this diversity, the GBR provides habitat for a range of endangered or iconic species, including major feeding grounds for the endangered dugong, nesting grounds for two endangered marine turtles and is an important breeding ground for whales.

The GBR marine ecosystem is also closely linked with the 28 terrestrial river catchments that drain into the sea in the area. Those catchments cover over 38 million hectares, and have a population of over one million people. The 28 river catchments are grouped into six Natural Resource Management Regions (NRMs): Burdekin; Burnett Mary, Cape York (eastern-draining areas only); Fitzroy; Mackay Whitsunday; and Wet Tropics.

Threats to the condition or health of the reef include climate change, declining water quality (from catchment run off) and the loss of coastal habitats (from coastal development and fishing impacts). Many of these threats are the result of regional or global actions, beyond the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.


THE TERRESTRIAL DOMAIN

The terrestrial domain of this publication presents data primarily by NRM Region. These regions represent a classification of Australia's ecosystem regions, and their boundaries are more closely linked to the marine area of interest. They are particularly relevant in the case of the GBR Region because they mostly correspond to the river basins draining into the ocean of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The regions, therefore, represent the area directly impacting on the GBR, as well as the area most likely to be economically connected to the region. This focus on river basin drainage also led to the decision to divide the Cape York NRM Region, with only the basins draining eastwards considered in scope. Annual rainfall maps covering the terrestrial domain are available from the Bureau of Meteorology website (www.bom.gov.au) for use as contextual information when interpreting the data in this publication. Table 1 below presents a brief demographic profile of each of the six regions, followed by a short description of their principal population centres.

TABLE 1: PROFILES, NRM REGIONS, GREAT BARRIER REEF REGION, Queensland and Australia, Selected Indicators

Population
Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander persons
Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander persons
Persons born overseas
Persons born overseas
Great Barrier Reef Region - Terrestrial Domain
Population density
Average total personal income (excl. government pensions)
2011 Census
2011 Census
2011 Census
2011 Census
2011 Census
30 June 2014
2011 Census
2009-10
NRM Region
Numbers ('000s)
Numbers ('000s)
% of population
Numbers ('000s)
% of population
Area (sq km)
Persons per sq km
Dollars ($)

Burdekin
222.3
15.7
7.1
27.0
12.2
140 834
1.6
50 861
Burnett Mary
300.8
11.3
3.7
37.6
12.5
55 636
5.4
37 986
Cape York (reef-draining basin area)
14.0
7.5
53.9
1.3
9.0
43 058
0.3
46 552
Fitzroy
226.9
10.9
4.8
22.9
10.1
156 599
1.4
54 773
Mackay Whitsunday
131.8
5.3
4.1
16.3
12.4
9 232
14.3
58 212
Wet Tropics
237.4
24.2
10.2
42.2
17.8
22 184
10.7
43 643
GBR Region
1 133.1
74.9
6.6
147.2
13.0
427 543
2.7
47 867
Queensland
4 332.7
155.8
3.6
1 140.6
26.3
1 852 642
2.3
49 057
Australia
21 507.7
548.4
2.5
6 489.9
30.2
7 692 024
2.8
52 240

sq km - square kilometres
Source: 2011 Census; National regional profile.


The Burdekin NRM Region is primarily defined by the Burdekin River catchment. The largest population centre is Townsville which contains most of the region’s population. Smaller centres include Charters Towers, Ayr, Home Hill and Bowen.

The Burnett Mary NRM Region is the southernmost of the six regions. It is adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This region is the most populous. The principal population city is Bundaberg, along with two other major towns, Maryborough and Gympie and many smaller centres.

The Cape York NRM Region is the northernmost region adjacent to the reef. It covers most of the Cape York Peninsula. As such, many of its river basins drain into the Gulf of Carpentaria rather than the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The area of interest for this publication is therefore confined to the river basins which drain eastwards. The principal town in this part of Cape York is Cooktown in the south of the region, with the smaller Lockhart River further north.

The Fitzroy NRM Region covers most of what is known as Central Queensland. The principal city is Rockhampton, with Gladstone and Emerald the other major centres.

The Mackay Whitsunday NRM Region is the smallest of the regions in the Great Barrier Reef catchment. Its principal city is Mackay, with smaller towns including Proserpine, Airlie Beach and Sarina on the mainland, as well as Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.

The Wet Tropics NRM Region spans north to south from Bloomfield to Ingham, west to Mount Garnet and includes the Atherton tablelands. The principal town in the region is Cairns, with other centres including Mossman, Innisfail, Gordonvale and Babinda.

It should be noted that the Queensland NRMs include offshore islands in the Great Barrier Reef in these accounts. For example, Green and Fitzroy Islands are part of the Wet Tropics NRM Region.


SEEA - EXPERIMENTAL ECOSYSTEM ACCOUNTING

The SEEA Central Framework was adopted as an international statistical standard by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2012. The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting was released by the same body the following year.

The SEEA records as completely as possible the stocks and flows relevant to the analysis of environmental and economic issues. An accounting approach distinguishes the SEEA from independent sets of statistics on environmental and economic issues because it demands coherence and consistency with a core set of definitions and treatments. As such, the SEEA provides a framework to combine a wide range of data to create aggregates, indicators and trends across the broad spectrum of environmental and economic issues.

The SEEA has its roots in the System of National Accounts (SNA), from which the key economic indicator Gross Domestic Product (GDP) emerges. The SNA also provides estimates of wealth, via the compilation of national balance sheets. These balance sheets record environmental assets including land, mineral and energy resources, timber and fish. The SNA identifies standard industries (e.g. agriculture, mining, manufacturing, transport, education, finance, etc.) as well as sectors (public, private, not-for-profit and households). Information from the national accounts can be re-arranged to show other industries, some of which are particularly relevant to ecosystem accounting such as tourism.

The SEEA extends the measurement boundaries of the SNA beyond economic consumption, production and ownership and records environmental data in both monetary and physical units (that is, hectares, megalitres, parts per million, petajoules, etc.).

The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting is a summary of the state of knowledge on ecosystem accounting. Ecosystem accounting is an approach to the assessment of the environment through the physical measurement of ecosystems and of the flows of services from these ecosystems into economic and other human activity. In this the scope of ecosystems includes those substantially modified by human activities, such as urban and agriculture areas. The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting is not a definitive set of concepts, classifications and methods, but provides a platform for integrated, multi-disciplinary research.

An important feature of the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting is its discussion of valuation. Valuation is one of the most contentious areas of environmental and ecosystem accounting. The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting highlights the distinction between exchange values and welfare values. Exchange values reflect the quantity of services that would have been obtained had they been freely traded. Exchange values are in keeping with accounting approaches and with the SNA approach of valuing non-market goods, such as public education and household production (e.g. owner-occupied houses). In this approach to valuation, the cost of production can be used (i.e. for public schools) or equivalent market price (e.g. imputed rents for owner-occupied houses). Examples in the case of ecosystem services might be the use of access permits, tourism expenditure, insurance premiums, land values, replacement or remediation costs.

Welfare values measure the potential consumer surplus value of goods or services. The consumer surplus is the gains obtained by consumers because users are obtaining a product at a market rate less than they would be willing to pay. In the case of ecosystem accounting, current payments (i.e. exchange values) may often be zero so the willingness to pay and thus consumer surplus may be substantially higher. Welfare values are not included in national accounting, and are therefore incompatible in the context of valuation in the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting.


ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

Ecosystem services are the contributions of ecosystems to benefits used in economic and other human activity. The definition offered by SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting involves distinctions between (i) the ecosystem services, (ii) the benefits to which they contribute, and (iii) the well-being which is ultimately affected. Ecosystem services should also be distinguished from the ecosystem characteristics, functions and processes of ecosystem assets.

Ecosystem services are defined only when a contribution to a benefit is established. Consequently, the definition of ecosystem services excludes the set of flows commonly referred to as supporting or intermediate services. These flows include intra- and inter-ecosystem flows and the role of ecosystem characteristics that are together reflected in ecosystem processes.

A range of terms is used to refer to the concept of ecosystem services defined in this release. The most common are the terms 'ecosystem goods and services' and 'final ecosystem services'. These two terms highlight particular aspects of the definition of ecosystem services. The first recognises that ecosystem services include flows of tangible items (i.e. timber, fish, etc.) in addition to intangible services. The second recognises that only those ecosystem services that contribute to a benefit (the final outputs of the ecosystem) are within scope. Ecosystem services as defined in SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting exclude abiotic services and hence do not encompass the complete set of flows from the environment. A complete set of flows from the environment may be reflected in the term 'environmental goods and services'.

Three main types of ecosystem services are described: provisioning services, regulating services and cultural services. These services are illustrated in the diagram below.

FIGURE 1: ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND THEIR LINKS TO HUMAN WELL-BEING
Figure 1: Ecosystem Services and Their Links to Human Well-being
Source: Figure 1 in Alcamo et al., 2003, p.5.


SUMMARY ECOSYSTEM ACCOUNTING TABLES


Ecosystem condition

Table 2 below presents summary information by indexing measures of condition of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, as well as the flow of river loads to provide an overview of the ecosystem characteristics within the GBR Region. The table uses 2007-08 as the base year for indexing, as each of the input datasets have observations for this time period.

TABLE 2: TERRESTRIAL AND MARINE ECOSYSTEM CONDITION AND RIVER LOADS, GREAT BARRIER REEF REGION, 2007-08 to 2012-13, Index (2007-08 =100)

Terrestrial Condition
River Loads
Marine Condition
Average NPP
Solids
Nitrogen
Phosphorous
Coral
Water Quality
Seagrass
Fish numbers

2007-08
100
100
100
100
100
100
100
100
2008-09
97
67
64
57
102
102
97
99
2009-10
91
37
51
58
96
115
94
101
2010-11
110
105
176
197
81
73
53
92
2011-12
98
29
48
47
67
na
53
101
2012-13
94
na
na
na
73
na
78
93

na - not available
NPP - Net Primary Productivity
Source: Summary of data from tables in later chapters


2010-11 was a wet year with high levels of rainfall, affecting the score of most indexed characteristics. For example, Net Primary Productivity (NPP) relies heavily on the availability of water in the landscape. The average NPP index rose from 91 to 110 points between 2009-10 and 2010-11, an increase of 19 index points from the previous year. The high rainfall also caused a significant increase in the amount of solids, nitrogen and phosphorous being transported from the landscape to the marine area by rivers, shown by rises of 68, 125 and 139 index points respectively between both years. In 2010-11, the marine area recorded sharp decreases in the condition of coral (15 index points), water quality (42 index points), seagrass (41 index points) and to a lesser extent, fish numbers (9 index points).

Ecosystem service flows

Table 3 below presents some of the main ecosystem services from this publication without indexing. Only one service type has no data available - Indigenous interaction with landscape and seascape.

As well as physical measures of ecosystem services, such as tonnes of agricultural production, Table 3 provides estimates of the market value of those physical measures (i.e. the value of production), and where possible also lists the derived ecosystem service contribution.

The service types listed are, as far as possible, align with the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES V4.3). See Explanatory Notes for a discussion of this classification system.

The value of the Ecosystem Service from Agriculture rose from $730 million to $1,344 million (or 84 per cent) between 2007-08 and 2012-13. Tourism rent rose from $379 million in 2007-08 to $575 million in 2012-13, an increase of 52 per cent. The value of the Ecosystem Service from Fishing and Aquaculture fell from $26.6 million in 2007-08 to $23.6 million in 2011-12, a fall of 11 per cent. More detail on the derivation of these data can be found in the individual sections of this publication.

TABLE 3: ECOSYSTEM SERVICE FLOWS (PHYSICAL AND MONETARY MEASURES) AND VALUE OF PRODUCTION, GREAT BARRIER REEF REGION, 2007-08 to 2012-13

Domain
2007-08
2008-09
2009-10
2010-11
2011-12
2012-13
Industry/Activity
Service typeUnit

Terrestrial
Agricultural Industry Production
Nutrition and Materials - Biomass
Nutrition
Food for HumansWeight'000 tonnes
34 276
31 317
30 813
24 890
25 690
27 603
Current prices$ million
4 143.1
4 351.1
4 227.3
3 967.6
4 195.6
4 320.1
Materials - Biomass
Plant and Animal ProductsWeight'000 tonnes
217
458
166
200
274
271
Current prices$ million
172.8
205.2
220.4
212.7
301.1
237.3
Ecosystem ServiceCurrent prices$ million
730.5
803.5
854.0
962.6
1 331.4
1 343.8
Tourism
Experiential Use of Landscape
Visitor Nights Numbersmillions
16.4
15.9
17.4
15.6
18.8
18.3
Direct Tourism ConsumptionCurrent prices$ million
8 363.8
8 176.1
8 274.9
7 658.3
8 560.0
8 633.7
Tourism RentCurrent prices$ million
379.0
440.0
449.1
452.7
633.9
575.1
Indigenous interaction with landscape
na
na
na
na
na
na

River
Buffering and Attenuation of Mass Flows
SolidsWeight'000 tonnes
18 783
12 638
6 886
19 647
5 532
na
Dilution of Freshwater Ecosystems - Rivers
NitrogenWeighttonnes
57 511
36 883
29 334
101 000
27 470
na
PhosphorousWeighttonnes
16 226
9 170
9 350
31 950
7 611
na
FertilisersWeighttonnes
na
na
na
11 937
3 804
na

Marine
Tourism
Experiential Use of Seascape
VisitsNumbersmillions
2.0
1.9
1.9
1.8
1.9
2.0
Fishing and Aquacultural Production
Nutrition and Materials - Biomass
Production
Food and Animal ProductsWeight'000 tonnes
14 488
15 299
16 383
14 946
13 223
13 889
Current prices$ million
178.8
178.8
189.5
175.4
162.0
176.9
Ecosystem ServiceCurrent prices$ million
26.6
29.2
20.9
19.0
18.9
23.6
Indigenous
Interaction with Seascape
na
na
na
na
na
na

na - not available
Source: Summary of data from tables in later chapters

Feedback on this release can be forwarded to <mark.lound@abs.gov.au> or in hardcopy to Director, Centre of Environment Statistics, ABS, Locked Bag 10, Belconnen, ACT, 2616. Alternatively, please contact Mark Lound on (02 6252 6325) during business hours. The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to the ABS.