Port development in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area: understanding complex systems through a transdisciplinary lens

The sustainable governance of industrial development in coastal zones is among the most pressing challenges of the 21st century. Coastal zones are complex and highly productive social-ecological systems, but they are facing myriad anthropogenic threats. Industrial port development is a key driver of localised environmental declines in many coastal areas, including the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, where a recent boom in construction of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and coal terminals has raised international concerns about the possible impacts of such development on the marine environment.  Among the marine ecosystems most affected by port development are seagrasses and the species that depend on them, including marine turtles and dugong. Human communities in the region, too, are feeling the effects of the LNG boom on themselves and their local environments, with higher living costs, increased burden on healthcare and other community services, and public safety concerns among the major impacts. This research integrates qualitative and quantitative research methods to understand complex interactions between industrial port development, social wellbeing and degradation of aquatic habitats through a case study of Gladstone, an industrial port city located inshore of the southern Great Barrier Reef. The research also evaluates key policy and management approaches aimed at mitigating the impacts of the industry on local communities and coastal habitats, focusing on impact assessment.

About the speaker

Claudia is a marine and social scientist with an overarching interest in the study of coupled social-ecological systems and sustainability in coastal and marine environments. Her PhD research examined the impacts of industrial port development on seagrass meadows and local communities in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. She is particularly interested in participatory and interdisciplinary research approaches, and uses a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques in her work. Prior to starting her PhD, Claudia worked for the Australian Government in a variety of environmental policy and management roles.