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An integrated risk assessment for climate change: analysing the vulnerability of sharks and rays on Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Authors

  • ANDREW CHIN,

    1. Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Qld 4812, Australia
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  • PETER M. KYNE,

    1. Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia
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  • TERENCE I. WALKER,

    1. Marine and Freshwater Fisheries Research Institute, Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 114, Queenscliff, Vic 3225, Australia
    2. Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic 3052, Australia
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  • RORY B. McAULEY

    1. Government of Western Australia, Western Australian Fisheries and Marine Research Laboratories, Department of Fisheries, North Beach, WA 6920, Australia
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Andrew Chin, Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia, tel. +61 7 4781 6796, e-mail: andrew.chin@jcu.edu.au

Abstract

An Integrated Risk Assessment for Climate Change (IRACC) is developed and applied to assess the vulnerability of sharks and rays on Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to climate change. The IRACC merges a traditional climate change vulnerability framework with approaches from fisheries ecological risk assessments. This semi-quantitative assessment accommodates uncertainty and can be applied at different spatial and temporal scales to identify exposure factors, at-risk species and their key biological and ecological attributes, critical habitats a`nd ecological processes, and major knowledge gaps. Consequently, the IRACC can provide a foundation upon which to develop climate change response strategies. Here, we describe the assessment process, demonstrate its application to GBR shark and ray species, and explore the issues affecting their vulnerability to climate change. The assessment indicates that for the GBR, freshwater/estuarine and reef associated sharks and rays are most vulnerable to climate change, and that vulnerability is driven by case-specific interactions of multiple factors and species attributes. Changes in temperature, freshwater input and ocean circulation will have the most widespread effects on these species. Although relatively few GBR sharks and rays were assessed as highly vulnerable, their vulnerability increases when synergies with other factors are considered. This is especially true for freshwater/estuarine and coastal/inshore sharks and rays. Reducing the impacts of climate change on the GBR's sharks and rays requires a range of approaches including mitigating climate change and addressing habitat degradation and sustainability issues. Species-specific conservation actions may be required for higher risk species (e.g. the freshwater whipray, porcupine ray, speartooth shark and sawfishes) including reducing mortality, preserving coastal catchments and estuarine habitats, and addressing fisheries sustainability. The assessment identified many knowledge gaps concerning GBR habitats and processes, and highlights the need for improved understanding of the biology and ecology of the sharks and rays of the GBR.

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