Little Cliff Waterhole, Little Sandy Desert
Martu waterhole monitoring in the Little Sandy Desert, WA. Matthew Patterson (KJ) & Eddie Game (TNC) © Tony Jupp

Science in Action

Ask the Scientists

We invited our supporters to submit their most pressing conservation science questions to our conservation team. Here are some great questions answered by our scientists…

Q: Given the current pace of ocean acidification, is it reasonable to believe that marine organisms threatened by this phenomenon will have time to adapt and thus not become extinct?

A: Some animals are adapting better to ocean acidification compared to others. In terms of oysters, which I deal with on a day-to-day basis, ocean acidification is a real concern as oysters require high pH and carbonate—the building blocks of their shells. Ocean acidification lowers the oceans pH and the carbonate available so their shells become thinner and weaker. The aquaculture industry are already seeing the effects of this phenomenon. However, the beauty of the shellfish reefs The Nature Conservancy are constructing, is that they are diverse habitats, dominated by oysters, but also covered in macroalgae, kelp and often surrounded by seagrass. These other habitats will help keep the ocean pH balance more stable.

Sincerely, Chris.

Q: Are there any current or proposed projects to control feral animal populations on the Australian mainland or Tasmania and how effective will they be?

A: Yes. There are many different projects happening throughout Australia and its territories to rid areas of feral animals. The Federal Government has an extensive program to control feral cats. For more information check out the Department of Environment and Energy website here.

The Australian and Tasmanian Governments recently successfully eradicated feral rats, mice and rabbits from Macquarie Island. This 13,000 hectare island is now showing tremendously positive signs of ecological recovery.

We also support a number of Traditional Owner groups in managing feral animals like cats and camels on their lands. Click here for more information.

Sincerely, James.

Q: How can we maximise integration of the deep knowledge of our indigenous people with western science?

A:  The Nature Conservancy has actually been doing just that at Fish River Station in Northern Australian and the Western Desert in Western Australia. Here are some links for you to read about how we work with traditional land owners to help manage Country using shared knowledge, modern and traditional:

I also encourage you to watch these videos:

Thanks for your curiosity.

Sincerely, James.

Q: Which seabirds are most affected by ocean pollution?

AThe sea birds most affected by ocean pollution are the birds known as “pelagic seabirds”. These are birds that spend the vast majority of their time foraging out in the open ocean, often far from land, and include shearwaters, albatrosses, and petrels. Although they nest on remote oceanic islands, they spend the majority of their time (in fact, the majority of their entire lives) out on the ocean. Plastic ingestion is affecting these birds in all the world’s oceans.

Sincerely, David.

Q: What do you need to do to rebuild a shellfish reef? And what is the process of restoring it with oyster shells?

A: Sadly in Australia we have lost such a large extent of reefs from historic dredging that our coastal waters have limited hard surfaces for oyster spat to develop, and there is not enough mature wild oysters for natural recruitment to occur. So the key elements to restoring oyster reefs successfully involves building a reef foundation and seeding the reefs with native oysters grown in a hatchery.

In South Australia, the process involves carefully selecting a reef site that we knew historically had oyster reefs and now have the right conditions for oyster survival. We are building the reefs on the seafloor using limestone rocks between 100mm to 500mm in diameter. The baby spat settle onto recycled oyster shell in the hatchery and this is then deployed across the reefs where they will settle in amongst the crevices for protection against predators and waves. Over three years the spat will grow, cement themselves to the rock, and each other,  to create a living reef veneer. At this time they will also reach maturity where they will reproduce and self seed the reef naturally.

Sincerely, Anita.

Q: How do timber plantations nurture and protect wildlife? 

A: By definition timber plantations are grown to supply wood and fibre products as raw materials for various industrial applications. During their long periods between harvest, they can harbour wildlife who might use them for food or shelter. For example, pine plantations on the outskirts of Perth provide important roosting sites and a food source for endangered Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos.

Sincerely, James.

Q: How many oyster shells does it take to rebuild a reef? 

A: In South Australia for example, we are seeding a four hectare reef with 1 million baby oyster spat. These spat will settle onto recycled oyster shell at the hatchery at a density of around four per shell. At this stage they are only 1mm to 5mm in size. So for the entire reef we will be using 250,000 shells—that’s about 3.5 tonne.

Sincerely, Anita.

Q: I would like to know how many trees we would need to plant to offset our carbon emissions in Australia.

A: There are many different studies on how much carbon we emit. According to one study, the average Australian emits about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. On average, 98 trees can store up to 1 tonne of carbon dioxide per year, which means each person would need to plant 1,470 trees.

You may be interested to know that The Nature Conservancy has planted millions of trees from China to Brazil, and has an ambitious goal to plant a billion trees in the world by 2025. Click here to learn more.

However, planting trees alone is not enough. Consider that an area nearly the size of New Zealand was deforested in the world last year—we simply can’t plant enough trees to keep up with that pace. The solution lies in a multi-faceted approach, including avoiding deforestation to begin with by creating protected areas and alternative livelihoods, encouraging natural regeneration of degraded forests where possible, and by planting trees, too. If you’d like more information, click here to read TNC’s blog post that explains the different ways nature can fight climate change and this one about blue carbon.

I encourage you to plant trees and keep supporting The Nature Conservancy and other efforts to protect and restore our forests, and other degraded lands in Australia and around the world.

Sincerely, James.

Q: I am a bird lover. I would really like to know more about your program.

A: Thanks for your interest in our bird programs. Our conservation work focuses on protecting habitat so wildlife, including birds can thrive. Here are some examples of our work:

I hope this gives you a better idea of our programs that help protect birds and other wildlife.

Sincerely, David.

Q: When I was in the Northern Territory last year, I saw vast areas of land that had been cleared using “traditional methods”. Seemed like a lie to me and being used to clear land, I would say, illegally. Do you think that patch burning has been deliberately “misunderstood”?

A: The Nature Conservancy considers climate change one of top threats to the long-term sustainability of life on Earth and is working around the world on a range of programs to limit further climate change and mitigate its most damaging effects on people and nature.

Humans have been in Australia for at least 65,000 years and there is compelling evidence that over that time they used fire to manage their land, hunt, reinvigorate plant growth and more easily move through the landscape. The plants and animals of Australia that survive today have adapted to that fire regime. With many Aboriginal people moving off their lands in the last 200 years and the cessation of these practices, heavy fuel loads build up over time in the landscape in the absence of fire. This means that when fires do occur (such as from lightning strikes in summer), huge, highly destructive fires can rage for weeks.

By assisting Indigenous groups to recommence their traditional burning regimes of smaller, less destructive, patchwork fires in the cool season, these huge fires can be averted resulting in far less CO2 emissions than would otherwise occur through wildfires. There is also considerable evidence that this also benefits many native species.

The net negative volume of CO2 emissions generated from this regime can be used to create carbon credits, which when sold, generate revenue for Traditional Owners. This income results in a range of documented flow on economic, social and cultural benefits for remote communities.

Sincerely, James.

Our work at The Nature Conservancy is rigorously grounded in conservation science

From the projects and challenges we take on to the solutions we design and implement, our team of 600 scientists around the world guide our work to save Earth’s lands and waters, every step of the way.