Scientists will install an artificial reef in waters adjacent to the Sydney Opera House to see whether marine species are happy to call it home – testing the potential of such refuges in areas where man-made structures have replaced natural habitats.
The modular reef will be suspended in the waters alongside the iconic building as part of a new research project exploring ways to maintain and enhance the marine biodiversity in Sydney Harbour.
“This trial is an important project because research shows seawalls and other man-made structures tend to attract less marine life and native species than natural harbour shores,” NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said in announcing the project.
Sydney Harbour is in good shape, says UTS Professor of Marine Ecology David Booth – it has more species than in New Zealand’s coastal waters – “but this experiment will test whether such structures can enhance what is already found on artificial shorelines”.
The three-year research project with the Sydney Opera House, led by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and including scientists from the University of Sydney, will start by recording the current state of play in terms of fish numbers and diversity in the waters around the Opera House and in other harbour sites.
Once this surveying is complete the new artificial reef will be installed early next year and then monitored regularly for changes in fish populations.
The project is being funded through an $86,000 NSW Government Restoration and Rehabilitation grant, with further in-kind contributions from the Opera House and UTS.
“This project is a great example of how the NSW Government can partner with organisations to protect and improve the environment,” Ms Upton said.
“The end game here is to see if these sorts of simple enhancements can help fish biodiversity
Professor David Booth
Professor Booth says more than half of the Sydney Harbour shoreline has been replaced by seawalls to protect infrastructure from storms and erosion.
“In some cases these have been around for over a century, and they’re made of lovely sandstone, but they just don’t offer the habitat that was there. The goal of this project is to see if we can enhance that.
“We believe initiatives like the artificial reef that will be trialled at the Opera House could help restore natural marine habitats and rebalance biodiversity.”
Professor Booth has been surveying fish ecology in Sydney Harbour for many years and has researched the impact of artificial reefs in a range of marine environments, including the pontoons that dot the harbour.
Having started with low-tech “milk crate” reefs in earlier projects in the harbour, this new initiative will use specially designed artificial reef modules and experiment with varying levels of complexity.
Professor Booth expects the project to provide further evidence of the value of reef enhancements on existing artificial structures as biodiversity boosters and refuges for fish.
The Opera House project is the next step in exploring ways to enhance biodiversity, including important and iconic species such as leatherjackets, blue groper and seahorses, he says.
“The end game here is to see if these sorts of simple enhancements can help fish biodiversity,” he says. The results of the research will also inform the design of artificial reef structures.
Sydney Opera House Environmental Sustainability Manager Emma Bombonato describes the project as an important step forward in the Opera House’s mission to better connect with and enhance the surrounding environment.
“In designing the Opera House, Jorn Utzon was strongly influenced and inspired by nature. Projects such as this enable us to continue that legacy by inspiring greater community awareness of the marine environment around Bennelong Point and contributing to local biodiversity,” she says.