This report is one in a series of eco-narrative documents that synthesise our existing knowledge of Australia’s individual Marine Parks. This series is a product of the National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub Project D1, which seeks to collate, synthesise and visualise biophysical data within the parks. These documents are intended to enable managers and practitioners to rapidly ascertain the ecological characteristics of each park, and to highlight knowledge gaps for future research focus.
The Gifford Marine Park is dominated by two submerged flat-topped seamounts (guyots) that rise up to three kilometres above the surrounding abyssal plain and provide a diversity of benthic environments. These range from gently sloping plains atop the seamount plateaus to near-vertical towering cliffs of exposed bedrock that encircle both seamounts, and abyssal plains that characterise the northern third of the park. Depositional cones and mass movement scars alternate around the upper to mid slopes of the seamounts, and illustrate the processes by which these extant volcanic features are undergoing escarpment retreat.
The information in this eco-narrative forms an initial characterisation of Gifford Marine Park. The key gaps in our knowledge of the park are its specific oceanographic processes and its ecological significance; only limited ecological and oceanographic sampling has been undertaken within the park. Surveys have revealed lower than expected species richness and abundance, likely linked to the nutrient-poor waters over the Gifford guyot. Nevertheless, the extensive escarpment surfaces and the relatively shallow plateau surfaces do provide important habitat for sparse epibenthic communities. Sea surface temperatures within the park display only a slight warming trend since 2002, at an annual rate of 0.016oC. Targeted oceanographic and more extensive biological surveys over both seamounts are needed to develop a more informed overall assessment of the biological significance of the park ecosystem and identify potential anthropogenic threats to park health.