An online planning tool to assist coastal communities determine their climate change vulnerability and plan for the future has been created by Murdoch University, the University of Tasmania and CSIRO.

The Coastal Climate Blueprint tool, four years in the making, has been designed to increase the capacity of under-resourced regional communities, helping them to make decisions about how to adapt to locally specific climate change threats, particularly around changes to the marine environment that could affect local economies.

Project leader Dr Stewart Frusher from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies said that although coastal communities were aware of changing climates and local effects, there was a limited awareness of flow-on consequences and economic effects on sectors such as commercial and recreational fishing, marine tourism and aquaculture.

“Our surveys indicate a perception that pressures on the marine environment are coming from sources other than climate change such as fishing pressure,” he said. “This means there is a certain level of inertia to overcome with respect to convincing communities to undertake marine climate change adaptation planning.”

He said the tool was a way for coastal communities to “manage their climate future”.

Murdoch marine economics expert Professor Malcolm Tull said the main climate pressures affecting the marine environment in Western Australia were changes in ocean temperatures, the seasonality and location of storms, and increasing ocean acidity.

Understanding how climate change would effect fisheries and the marine environment was the first step in helping communities prepare for flow-on effects of marine climate pressures, he said.

One example is Geraldton, which is struggling with changing ocean temperatures.

“Geraldton has seen an increase in ocean temperatures and declining strength of the Leeuwin Current, which has led to increased stress and caused higher mortality of ‘cool water’ marine species,” Professor Tull said.

“This has led to a decline in rock lobster larvae and while predictions are always uncertain, is expected to cause a decline in breeding stock in the future.

“These changes have already had an impact on employment in fishing and support industries, and have led to the decline of the vibrant seasonal communities on the Abrolhos Islands.”

With warming waters, however, was potential for communities to develop new sources of income.

“Ocean temperature changes in Geraldton have increased the potential to farm warm water species,” he said.

“The introduction of popular warm water species may also have a positive impact on recreational and charter fishing in the area.”

The researchers said the Coastal Climate Blueprint website and planning tool would be particularly useful to community organisations such as Coastcare, fishing associations and tourism authorities.