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SEEA Ecosystem Accounting For The Great Barrier Reef Region


By organising and presenting existing biophysical, social and economic data, and applying acknowledged economic valuation methods in an accounting framework, we offer a tool to policy makers that incorporates values of select ecosystem assets and services that is consistent with official macroeconomic indicators and statistics. In producing a structured and familiar accounting based product, we envisage greater uptake and consideration of environmental data in the policy decision making process. While still in development, it is intended that the account be produced periodically and become more refined, scientifically robust and better utilised with successive iterations. Part of an ongoing research project, the first account seeks to identify and present appropriate datasets and indicators, and will thereafter be built upon with more in-depth analysis including expanded valuations and mapping efforts.

Problem, challenge or context: 

The Great Barrier Reef is not only one of the natural wonders of the world, it is a significant part of Australia’s national identity. Every five years, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority prepares an Outlook Report for the Great Barrier Reef. These are regular and authoritative statements of overall progress, and provide a summary of the long-term outlook for the Reef based on assessments of condition, use, influencing factors, management effectiveness, resilience and risks. The Authority is committed to developing a net benefit policy to guide decision making and actions required to deliver an overall or ‘net’ improvement to ecosystem health and the condition of the Region’s values. The SEEA Ecosystem accounting for the Great Barrier Reef Region will be critical to informing the next Outlook Report, and to shaping the Authority’s net benefit policy.

Specific elements of components: 

At the heart of this project is the application of SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting Framework to a large (but subnational) area. The framework comprises a set of accounts including those describing ecosystem condition, ecosystem extent, flows of ecosystem services and biodiversity. The methodology is still under development and this project adds to an international research effort to test and refine draft guidelines.

Key lessons learned: 
  • Ecosystem accounting is truly a multi-disciplinary field. Input from specialists in the fields of ecology, biology, GIS, economics, statistics and accounting, among others, is necessary in developing high quality outputs.
  • In organising many datasets into this framework, ongoing engagement with various data custodians is key.
  • The broad scope of and amount of resources available for the project has dictated that prioritization of accounts and a staged approach to production be central to planning.
  • Harmonising spatial references across datasets is a challenge that requires specialist GIS expertise and software throughout the accounting process.
  • In-depth knowledge of metadata, especially survey design, is required in appraisals of dataset suitability for accounting purposes, especially for sub-national outputs.
Contact details: 
John Power, Analyst, Centre for Environmental Statistics Australian Bureau of Statistics
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