Sea change: what undersea researchers are looking for in our marine parks

Sea change: what undersea researchers are looking for in our marine parks

A mon­i­tor­ing expe­di­tion has cap­tured impor­tant infor­ma­tion about three sanc­tu­ary zones in South Australia.

Four cen­turies ago, Dutch explor­ers in a sail-pow­ered tim­ber galleon sur­veyed the now icon­ic off­shore island sanc­tu­ary zones in their nat­ur­al con­di­tion – a mar­itime Gar­den of Eden. With the marine park sanc­tu­ary zones becom­ing oper­a­tional in Octo­ber 2014, work has begun to bet­ter under­stand and con­serve these pre­cious under­sea trea­sure troves.

Off the coast of the South Aus­tralian town of Ceduna lies a group of islands named the Nuyts Arch­i­pel­ago, includ­ing the Isles of St Fran­cis. Both Matthew Flinders and Nico­las Baudin explored the area over 200 years ago. Flinders named the arch­i­pel­ago after Pieter Nuyts of the Dutch East India Com­pa­ny who was here with Cap­tain François Thi­jssen to make the ear­li­est known maps of the region in 1626. Their ship Gulden Zeep­aert trans­lat­ed means Gold­en Seahorse’.

From the ear­ly days of Euro­pean set­tle­ment the coastal areas became a focus for indus­tries that includ­ed whal­ing sta­tions on St Peter Island, Fowlers Bay and Streaky Bay.

Fast for­ward to this cen­tu­ry, a marine parks team set out on a two-week research expe­di­tion this year to com­mence eco­log­i­cal mon­i­tor­ing of marine plant and ani­mals and map­ping of sea floor habi­tats, set­ting a base­line for future obser­va­tion and mon­i­tor­ing. The expe­di­tion vis­it­ed Isle of St Fran­cis, Pear­son Isles and Cape du Couedic sanc­tu­ary zones.

Sanc­tu­ary Zones Sci­ence Mon­i­tor­ing Expe­di­tion, March 2015 

Aboard the ves­sel Ngerin, the crew used a num­ber of meth­ods to sur­vey the marine parks, send­ing down divers to record the abun­dance and types of fish, inver­te­brates and algae in the reef sys­tems, low­er­ing bait­ed remote video cam­eras to count and mea­sure fish com­mu­ni­ties and using a state-of-the-art sonar map­ping sys­tem called SWATH map­ping to gath­er data about the sea floor. The dig­i­tal maps pro­vide much more detail than the hand-drawn nav­i­ga­tion maps orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed for mariners and traders.

In the com­ing years the data from this and oth­er expe­di­tions will be used to record and mon­i­tor any changes inside and out­side sanc­tu­ary zones as they occur. It may take many years for change to be notice­able or significant.

What I’m expect­ing is that prob­a­bly we will see the fish stocks change,’ Marine Parks Region­al Coor­di­na­tor Dr Shel­ley Har­ri­son said.

Prob­a­bly we’ll see big­ger reef fish, because they are not being fished now. Prob­a­bly we will see a change in the vari­ety of fish that are here as well.’

Senior Ecol­o­gist, Dan­ny Brock, was Team Leader for the two-week expedition.

The objec­tive is to con­serve and pro­tect bio­di­ver­si­ty,’ he said. To assess that, we need a mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram that runs long term and com­piles data on reefs and fish com­mu­ni­ties inside and out of the marine park sanc­tu­ary zones.’

It’s real­ly a priv­i­lege being part of this con­ser­va­tion effort in estab­lish­ing SA’s marine parks sys­tem. It’s one of the most sig­nif­i­cant ini­tia­tives in this state for the past 50 years.’

This week is Nation­al Sci­ence Week and a fit­ting time to fea­ture our Marine Parks map­ping and mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram – look­ing after SA’s unique marine envi­ron­ment for future generations.

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living