Understanding the human impact on natural environments is crucial for developing sustainable and ethical practices. One of the key methods used to achieve an in-depth and scientifically rigorous understanding of the human impact is ‘environmental monitoring’. These days environmental monitoring plays a key role ensuring environmental standards and conservation objectives are achieved. Often, environmental monitoring is legally required, as part of meeting compliance obligations that may have been imposed, as conditions of environmental approvals.
What is Environmental Monitoring?
Environmental monitoring involves assessing the conditions of a particular environment or environmental feature in order to determine the risk of impact from human activity. Monitoring programs conduct various tests and investigations to monitor that state of the environment, its natural trends and potential negative impacts that human activities could have.
Environmental monitoring can be used for a wide range of applications from daily inspections on operational sites to large-scale comprehensive monitoring programs. An environmental monitoring program can focus on assessing the condition and trends of one particular value, or they can be far more comprehensive. Some monitoring programs are conducted as one-off assessments, but other programs can continue for several years.
What is the purpose of environmental monitoring?
Most essentially, the purpose of environmental monitoring is to help us understand and protect the environment from the detrimental effects human activity may have. Monitoring plays an important role in environmental impact assessments, and can influence the decision to approve projects. Proponents make commitments to not negatively impact the environment, when they apply to have development projects approved. Monitoring programs are a way of checking and reporting on whether or not impacts are resulting. If impacts become evident, environmental management measures can then be put in place to reduce or stop the impact from continuing. This is referred to as adaptive management.
There are a variety of reasons why environmental monitoring may be carried out. However, two of the most common purposes are:
- In order to meet compliance obligations outlined in environmental approvals. i.e. an environmental approval may require monitoring to be used in order to demonstrate that an activity is not causing any impact on the environment.
- In order to meet conservation and natural resource management objectives.
What do environmental monitoring specialists look at?
Environmental monitoring specialists may look closely at and investigate several values within an environment. Some of the specific types of environmental monitoring include:
- Vegetation Monitoring
Vegetation monitoring involves recording changes that occur within vegetation communities including the composition and structure of groups of native plants and weeds.
- Flora Monitoring
Flora monitoring often focuses on investigating the condition of threatened or priority flora populations within the given environment.
- Fauna Monitoring
Fauna monitoring usually focuses on conservation-significant fauna and their habitat.
- Rehabilitation Monitoring
Rehabilitation monitoring involves monitoring rehabilitation areas, including the condition of vegetation, fauna, air and soil. It provides the basis for defining the success of rehabilitation programs and is usually conducted to detect whether or not rehabilitation has met agreed completion criteria.
- Air Quality Monitoring
Air pollution can have a negative impact on the environment and can also cause harmful consequences for human populations. Therefore, for many projects or activities, monitoring air quality is important to protect the environment, including human populations.
- Soil Quality Monitoring
Soil quality monitoring involves looking closely at the health of the soil including factors such as erosion, soil contamination and salt levels.
- Water Quality Monitoring
In order to keep bodies of water healthy, water quality monitoring looks closely at the chemical (e.g. the presence of nutrients, contaminants, etc.) and physical (e.g. pH, turbidity, temperature, etc.) conditions of the water.
Most environmental monitoring programs will be carried out in accordance with environmental management plans which are prepared specifically for the project and environmental aspect/s to be monitored.
How long does environmental monitoring continue for?
Environmental monitoring may be carried out for an indefinite period of time (commonly for research of natural resource management purposes), may continue for a set period of time (usually as set by conditions of approval), may conclude once agreed completion criteria are met, or may be required to continue longer than originally planned, if monitoring results are unfavourable. Whatever the duration, the ultimate objective is always to protect the environment from unnecessary and avoidable impacts and to optimise the health and sustainability of the environmental aspects being monitored.