Professor Dittmann’s work on assessing and monitoring carbon capture and storage provided a pivotal basis for Blue Carbon projects and policy in South Australia – from the St Kilda mangroves to ongoing transformation of a Dry Creek salt pond, which has become a national pilot project for the reintroduction of tidal flow to former salt harvesting sites.
Introducing positive change through rehabilitation was the focus of the Salt to C Project, delivered through the Goyder Institute for Water Research. Professor Dittmann’s team found that reintroducing tidal flows to one pond in the Dry Creek salt field worked well and could gain carbon credits as restoration through tidal flows, providing substantial carbon offset opportunities.
Bringing her expansive knowledge to the St Kilda mangroves is crucial in trying to solve an ongoing problem of plants dying due to high salt concentration. Funded by the Blue Carbon Futures Fund of the Green Adelaide Landscape Board, Professor Dittmann’s team is assessing the health of the mangrove and its carbon storage, to quantify effects of the dieback on the Blue Carbon storage of the mangrove.
“Building on our foundational projects, further research on Blue Carbon can make South Australia a leader in integrating coastal management and climate change mitigation.”
While she says many coastal systems in South Australia are in quite good shape, and guarded by legislation, Professor Dittmann still worries about possible future developments compromising the outcomes of the state’s Blue Carbon future.
“We have pristine systems in place that we can monitor – many of which are unique in the world – but there are still great risks that these fragile environments can be damaged, especially with developments and restrictions to inland migration with sea-level rise,” she says. “Our data presents strong arguments for more stringent protection, to safeguard our Blue Carbon future.”
The sum of this research and engagement provides an important qualifier to enable continued coastal restoration, and Professor Dittmann is confident of attracting growing amounts of corporate and industrial support. “We are seeing many companies wanting to take responsible action. For example, fisheries want protection and increase of fish nursery habitats and they want to benefit from carbon offsets. It’s a double win.”
She therefore hopes her research will provide evidence for even tighter environmental legislation, while also providing a framework for future Blue Carbon projects once the Clean Energy Regulator has determined a methodology to earn Australian carbon credit units through tidal restoration.
“The conservation, restoration and creation of stronger coastal ecosystems not only has the potential to mitigate climate change, but also provide many other important ecosystem services, such as improved water quality, tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection.”
The way forward demands different thinking and action – and Professor Dittmann is keen to see more Indigenous knowledge incorporated in future ecological management plans and practices.
She sees that this expansive view of improved environmental management will have global benefits.