Global warming is leading to many unprecedented changes in the ocean-climate system. Sea levels are rising at an increasing rate and are amplifying the impact of storm surges along coastlines. As variability in the timing and strength of storm surges has been shown to affect pup mortality in the Australian fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus), there is a need to identify the potential impacts of increased sea level and storm surges on the breeding areas of this important marine predator in Bass Strait, south-eastern Australia. Using high-resolution aerial photography and topographic data, the present study assessed the impacts of future inundation levels on both current and potential breeding habitats at each colony. Inundation from storm surges, based on a predicted rise in sea level, was modeled at each colony from 2012 to 2100. As sea level increases, progressively less severe storm surge conditions will be required to exceed current inundation levels and, thus, have the potential for greater impacts on pup mortality at Australian fur seal colonies. The results of the present study indicate that by 2100, a 1-in-10 year storm will inundate more habitat on average than a present-day 1-in-100 year storm. The study highlights the site-specific nature of storm surge impacts, and in particular the importance of local colony topography and surrounding bathymetry with small, low-lying colonies impacted the most. An increased severity of storm surges will result in either an increase in pup mortality rates associated with storm surges, or the dispersal of individuals to higher ground and/or new colonies.
Keywords: Arctocephalus pusillus; Pup mortality; Sea level; Storm surge.