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Sandy beach ecology Q & A: More Q than A!

By: Alan Jones, Category: AMRI, Date: 27 Feb 2018

Sandy beaches are a great ecological unknown. Who knew?

Beach nourishment engineering at Lady Robinson's Beach, Botany Bay

Beach nourishment engineering at Lady Robinson's Beach, Botany Bay
Photographer: Alan Jones © Australian Museum

Sandy beaches are seriously valuable, threatened and poorly known ecologically. To meet conservation goals and management in general, we need information by answering key questions. We tried to identify these questions for sandy beaches.

We all know about the values of sandy beaches. Think recreation, commerce and land prices. And they are largely inanimate piles of sand, right? Wrong! They contain diverse assemblages of species that interact with adjacent landward and seaward ecosystems. And beaches are under the gun from human activities. Already most of the world’s beaches are eroding and components of climate change such as sea-level rise and intensified storms may even remove beaches entirely.

What to do? Good policy and management depends on scientific information. Unfortunately, the scientific information base for beaches is weak compared with other coastal ecosystems. But what information is needed to achieve society’s beach management goals?

Since science starts with questions, I and my co-authors set out to identify key ecological questions. As always with complex systems, there are no single silver bullets. So, after much debate, we came up with questions under several headings such as natural condition, ecosystem health, conservation, ecological services and climate change.

These questions are important if we want good, evidence-based policy setting and management that will achieve society’s environmental goals.

These questions address known unknowns. No doubt many unknown unknowns exist and ignorance can lead to ruin. As thirteenth-century Persian poet Ibn Yamin said “One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know... He will be eternally lost in his hopeless oblivion!”

Alan Jones, Senior Fellow, Australian Museum

More Information:

  • Jones, Alan R., Thomas A. Schlacher, David S. Schoeman, Michael A. Weston and Geoffrey M. Withycombe (2017). Ecological research questions to inform policy and the management of sandy beaches. Ocean and Coastal Management 148: 1-6.

Further Reading:

  • Defeo, O., McLachlan, A., Schoeman, D.S., Schlacher, T.A., Dugan, J., Jones, A., Lastra, M. and Scapini, F.(2009). Threats to sandy beach ecosystems: A review. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 81:1-12.
  • Dugan, J.E., Defeo, O., Jaramillo, E., Jones, A.R., Lastra, M., Nel, R., Peterson, C.H., Scapini, F., Schlacher, T. and Schoeman, D.S. (2010). Give Beach Ecosystems Their Day in the Sun. Science 329, (3 September 2010): 1146.
  • Schlacher, T. S; Schoeman, D. S; Jones, A. R. 2014. Metrics to assess ecological condition, change, and impacts in sandy beach ecosystems. Journal of Environmental Management. 144. 322-335.

For further information or queries regarding sandy beach ecology, the effects of pollution, climate change and beach nourishment, please contact Alexandra Nuttall.


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