Rocky reefs provide anchors for attached marine invertebrate species such as corals and sponges, creating habitat for mobile invertebrates, and resident and roving fishes and mammals. They are subject to pressures from activities such as fishing, shipping, as well as climate change. Given their important natural, economic and social value, rocky reefs are focus areas for management in marine bioregional plans and Australian Marine Parks (AMPs).

Previous collaborative research by the NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub (a predecessor of the Marine and Coastal Hub) and Parks Australia found that for many AMPs, understanding the extent of seabed habitats (including reef) is a priority for evaluating management effectiveness. While detailed habitat maps exists for many nearshore regions, however, they are lacking for Commonwealth waters.

This project will fill gaps in knowledge of the extent and distribution of seabed habitats on Australia’s temperate continental shelf, with a focus on surveys of rocky reefs in the South-west Marine Parks Network and the South-east Marine Parks Network. The new knowledge will enhance the capacity of AMP managers to protect marine park values and assess the effectiveness of management.


Surveys in the South-west Marine Parks Network

This work builds on seabed mapping programs led through previous NESP hubs and regional projects led by research institutions and state agencies, with seabed data collated and managed through initiatives such as SeaMap Australia and AusSeaBed.

Existing data will be collated and analysed to validate the presence/absence of seabed habitats on the temperate continental shelf. During fieldwork conducted in April 2023, drop cameras will be deployed at priority areas determined in consultation with research users, primarily Parks Australia.

New data workflows will allow the temperate reef ecosystem map to be rapidly updated as new information becomes available. The robust and reproducible framework for temperate reef ecosystem mapping will ensure consistency. Data and visualisations will be provided directly to Marine and Coastal Hub Project 2.3 – Improving knowledge transfer to support Australian Marine Park decision making and management effectiveness evaluation.

Surveys of continental shelf habitats and improved mapping of reef habitats and non-reef soft sediments (including seagrass beds) conducted by this project will support:

  • identification of natural values in temperate AMPs;
  • targeting of future surveys in ecosystems with higher conservation values;
  • quantification of ecosystem services through ‘ocean accounts’: an emerging global approach to managing marine ecosystems and resources; and
  • marine spatial planning and sustainable use of marine resources, including environmental assessments, ecosystem-based fisheries management and exploration and production of offshore energy.

Indigenous consultation and engagement

The project team will engage with Indigenous scientists and Rangers to identify interests and prioritise areas and opportunities for collaboration in field research, and facilitate knowledge exchange workshops, Welcome to Country and cultural awareness training on country.

It is hoped that this work will provide an opportunity to strengthen established and developing relationships. For example, University of Western Australia (UWA) researchers have existing collaborations with Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (ETNTAC) on complementary projects. UWA has also previously worked through the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Corporation (SWALSC) in consultation with the South West Boojarah (now Karri Karrak) and the Undalup Association, to inform cultural mapping and biodiversity surveys within the NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub.

Data and information management

All data generated by the project will be accompanied by descriptive metadata and made available through the Australian Ocean Data Network catalogue, and other relevant discipline-specific data portals. For example, seafloor imagery and annotations will be made available through the Integrated Marine Observing System sub-facility Understanding Marine Imagery. Data and information will be managed in accordance with FAIR principles, and additionally guided by Global Indigenous Data Alliance CARE principles in the case of Indigenous data.

Expected outcomes

New knowledge generated by this project will enhance the capacity of AMP managers to protect marine park values and assess the effectiveness of rocky reef habitat management in the South-west Marine Parks Network and the South-east Marine Parks Network.

Project location

South-west Marine Parks Network: South-west Corner Marine Park, Eastern Recherche Marine Park, Bremer Marine Park. South-east Marine Parks Network: Murray Marine Park, South-west Corner Marine Park.