Quantitative biological baseline surveys of shelf rocky reef biota in Commonwealth MPAs off Tasmania

In many cases, due to planning time constraints and budgets, MPAs are declared without a detailed inventory of the biological assemblages they are intended to protect. As management plans are developed subsequent to protection, the need arises to understand the actual biological resources that are to be managed, and to understand the risks to these resources that might need to be managed through time to ensure the MPAs are performing the role they are intended for. In addition, MPAs have a key role as reference areas for biodiversity management and conservation. If well protected MPAs through time develop significantly higher biodiversity, they can inform us of the extent that human activities are altering marine systems. This information can inform ecosystem based management of human activities more generally throughout Australia’s coastal waters, leading to effective management of biodiversity, not only within MPAs but of the entire coastal system. At the single species level, particular for fished species, MPAs with a high level of protection can provide vital information on their natural population structure and inform us of the extent that they have been influenced by extractive activities. This is particularly the case where little historical information is available on unfished stock levels, and the resulting information can lead to significant improvements in fishery management that flow back to more sustainable fisheries and ecosystems.

In this project we aimed to provide an initial quantitative description of the biota associated with shelf rocky reefs within the newly created Commonwealth MPAs off Tasmania’s east and south coast. Rocky reefs within shelf waters are a relatively rare habitat within eastern Tasmanian waters yet are often subject to fishing pressure via rock lobster and scalefish fisheries, both commercial and recreational. The rarer nature of reef habitat here makes the description of this habitat and its biota a priority action for developing management plans and prioritising actions such as policing. The overall outcomes are an increased understanding of the shelf reef assets of the new MPAs, and improved information on which to base management plans and actions.

While delays have occurred in response to equipment development, the necessity to progress in a step-wise program (mapping first) and a serious vessel grounding, the project is close to completion with respect to the funding and facilitation of fieldwork, and further analysis of the data obtained will be analysed within the CERF Marine Biodiversity Hub research framework over the next 12 months. This report provides a preliminary overview of the work completed by the end of May 2009, and the remaining work anticipated to be completed by the end of the contract in June 2009.

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