Explore the science behind marine parks

Explore the science behind marine parks

Learn how Har­le­quin fish helped South Aus­tralia devel­op marine sanc­tu­ary zones.

Marine parks have been ful­ly oper­a­tional in South Aus­tralia since Octo­ber 2014, but do you know much about the sci­ence behind their creation?

By under­stand­ing the eco­log­i­cal require­ments of South Australia’s rare and icon­ic species such as the Har­le­quin fish, sci­en­tists were able to estab­lish a marine parks net­work that rep­re­sent­ed the habi­tats and loca­tions to best pro­tect these species. 

But first – what are marine parks?

Marine parks are designed to pro­tect plants and ani­mals, and the marine envi­ron­ment where they live – just like our nation­al parks do on land.

Marine parks have mul­ti­ple types of zones, with sanc­tu­ary zones offer­ing a high lev­el of pro­tec­tion by pre­vent­ing the extrac­tion of any plant or animal. 

Evi­dence from around the world shows that marine parks with sanc­tu­ary zones will help us pro­tect our marine envi­ron­ment from increas­ing pres­sures such as pol­lu­tion, resource use, devel­op­ment, pest organ­isms and cli­mate change.

So how did these parks and zones get on the map?

Marine Biol­o­gist Dr Simon Bryars, who has over 25 years of expe­ri­ence in bio­log­i­cal sci­ences and nat­ur­al resource man­age­ment, tells us how the Har­le­quin fish made such a splash in the ear­ly stages of marine park development.

Explore the science behind marine parks

It was one of a num­ber of reef fish­es that were researched to inform the sanc­tu­ary zon­ing process with­in SA’s marine parks.’

We under­took a fish track­ing study to mon­i­tor the move­ments of har­le­quin fish off the coast of Kan­ga­roo Island for 16 months.’

We found that har­le­quin fish were strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the coastal reef habi­tat and rarely ven­tured far from their home base.’

This site-attached behav­iour means that pop­u­la­tions are sus­cep­ti­ble to localised deple­tions, but ade­quate­ly-sized sanc­tu­ary zones will pro­vide them with a high lev­el of protection.’

Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the Sponge Gar­dens Sanc­tu­ary Zone with­in the Encounter Marine Park now includes a known hot spot for har­le­quin fish in SA.’

This is one of many research projects com­plet­ed to help care­ful­ly design South Aus­tralian sanc­tu­ary zones. These zones pro­tect breed­ing and feed­ing areas of marine life and ensure full pro­tec­tion for impor­tant habitats.

It is expect­ed that it will take some time for the full pos­i­tive effects of this major ini­tia­tive to be realised, how­ev­er the endur­ing ben­e­fits will be there for future generations.’

A review of the zon­ing arrange­ments and man­age­ment strate­gies of marine parks is cur­rent­ly being under­tak­en and is antic­i­pat­ed to be com­plet­ed in 2024.

Fast facts

  • The ocean cov­ers 71 per cent of the earth’s sur­face and is home to as many as 100 mil­lion species.
  • The rich vari­ety of life forms in the ocean far out­weighs that on land.
  • About 85 per cent of the marine species in South­ern Aus­tralian waters are found nowhere else in the world.
  • SA has 19 marine parks, which were declared in 2012.
  • In marine parks, you can still go fish­ing, boat­ing, swim­ming, div­ing, surf­ing and pad­dling, among oth­er recre­ation­al activities.
  • In sanc­tu­ary zones, you can go sail­ing, div­ing, kayak­ing, surf­ing and swim­ming, but there are restric­tions on min­ing, trawl­ing and fish­ing activities.

Want to learn more? Vis­it the marine parks web­site for maps and infor­ma­tion on zon­ing or vis­it Envi­ro Data SA for more infor­ma­tion on sci­en­tif­ic research under­tak­en in marine parks since 2012.

Main image: Posi­do­nia sin­u­osa (image cour­tesy of Simon Bryars)

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living