Professor Neville Barrett, right, with Jacquomo Monk, left, and Justin Hulls dismantle the autonomous underwater vehicle used on the research voyage south of Maatsuyker Island.
To what extent has marine life benefited in Tasmanian waters where fishing has been excluded?
It’s a question University of Tasmania researchers believe they can answer after a five-day research voyage south of Maatsuyker Island aboard the Australian Maritime College vessel Bluefin.
A team of scientists and support staff, led by Institute of Marine and Antarctic Science’s Neville Barret, deployed an autonomous underwater vehicle to compare marine life and sea floor habitat in the Tasman Fracture Commonwealth Marine Reserve with fished areas in southeast Tasmanian waters.
The $300,000 assessment included an initial phase of habitat mapping on the continental shelf section of the 42,501 sq km reserve.
A second phase concentrated on examining the extent to which rock lobsters had been protected by the reserve. A third phase has been to study the habitat that supports rock lobsters and associated fish communities and the ecosystem health.
Dr Barrett said the research results would be used to inform management of changes during seven years of protection and to improve researchers’ understanding of the area as a baseline for future studies.
The underwater vehicle is operated by the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney and is part of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System. Imagery from the voyage will be made available through the IMOS Ocean Portal https://imos.aodn.org.au
Dr Barrett said scientists were excited by the opportunity to visit the region and collect data. “The AUV has supplied us with highly-detailed imagery of the rocky reefs and sediments, together with an assessment of the benthic marine animals that live in these deep offshore systems,” he said. “This provides our first detailed look at the shelf fauna of the Marine Reserve and cool temperate region, as well as the habitat and biological assemblages that support our important coastal fisheries, such as rock lobster.
“We’ll be analysing the new data over the next few months, but first indications are that the deep reef systems extending south of Maatsuyker Island into the CMR are particularly rich in invertebrate diversity, and are unusually dominated by soft corals and brittle-stars.’’
The work is supported by the Federal Government’s National Environmental Research Program Marine Biodiversity Hub and the Department of Environment Parks Australia Division.