NSW Ports and the University of Wollongong have teamed up to explore options for ecosystem-based management of seafloor environments in a project expected to benefit marine life in the waters off Port Kembla and other ports in Australia and around the world.
The partnership builds on an existing collaboration between UOW and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to map sections of seafloor near oceangoing vessel anchorages.
The aim of the program is to identify areas of high conservation value while working with the shipping industry to create sustainable anchoring practices.
NSW Ports CEO Marika Calfas said the company was committed to supporting sustainable supply chains to transport goods, both those consumed locally and exported overseas.
“We are pleased to partner with UOW to identify valuable offshore habitats and promote anchoring practices which contribute to the conservation of marine ecosystems,” she said.
UOW School of Biological Sciences marine scientist Allison Broad said the research was important, as large vessels’ anchors and anchor chains could disrupt marine life when they dragged across the seabed.
“This is an exciting opportunity which sees university researchers tackling real-world issues locally with the support of industry,” she said.
“We are pleased that a private organisation such as NSW Ports is taking a proactive approach to support research that investigates environments where ships anchor. This information will be useful to provide scientific, business and legal recommendations to government, the shipping industry and decision-makers for better management options for the anchoring of commercial ships.”
The anchoring project is revealing new details about the seabed off the Illawarra, using sonar and video systems mounted on the OEH research vessel RV Bombora.
The OEH team mapped the seabed out to more than five kilometres and to depths of more than 60 metres.
The researchers found that rocky reefs cover close to 60% of the seabed between Bellambi Point and Five Islands. Now, the scientists are using the OEH’s towed underwater video system to document marine life on the reef.
Ms Broad said: “This find is really significant, as rocky reefs house significantly more biodiversity than soft sediment seafloor environments and are also less commonly encountered at these depths”.