Project 1 focuses on shelf and canyon features as these were identified as important areas for biodiversity in marine bioregional plans. Improved information on the importance of individual features to biodiversity values and the relative biodiversity value of nearby features will assist assessments of the impacts of marine use and inform subsequent management decisions. Ecologically important physical processes that operate within and between shelf and canyon ecosystems determine their value as biodiversity hotspots, eg. for locally rich benthic biodiversity, high productivity, or local abundances of listed species. This project will improve knowledge of the importance of large-scale shelf features that support biodiversity values for areas of management interest in Northern Australia, selected in consultation with the Department of the Environment. The project will harvest the best available existing data (bathymetry, oceanography, sediments, habitats, species), incorporate new data from strategically selected sites (in collaboration with National Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting and Regional Biodiversity Discovery to Support Marine Bioregional Plans) and employ advanced spatial analysis methods (in collaboration with Project 2 and National Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting). Importantly, this project will develop an analytical template for characterising and assessing the significance for biodiversity of key physical and ecological features throughout the Australian Marine Estate. This will assist managers evaluating options for biodiversity management of the many canyons and outer shelf features (especially outside the Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network) where no biological surveys have occurred. The project comprises two tasks:

Task 1: Data Discovery for Areas of Management Interest. Data that describe physical features, processes and patterns of biodiversity on the continental shelf in areas of management interest of Northern Australia will be identified, harvested and formatted for analysis. The key outputs will be GIS products and supporting documentation that describe and integrate these datasets for these areas, as well as the provision of sustainable management and online discoverability of the data.

Task 2: Data Analysis & Synthesis for Areas of Management Interest. The role of large-scale physical features on the shelf (banks, canyons, reefs) in influencing patterns of marine biodiversity will be analysed for these identified areas. Key objectives of the analysis are: (i) Providing quantitative descriptions of the morphology of large-scale physical features that can be used to predict their likely influence on key ecological processes (exposed substrate and increased productivity); (ii) Characterising physical and biological oceanography both on and off these large-scale physical features (e.g. upwelling zones); (iii) Mapping the distribution, abundance and behaviour of selected taxa (e.g. large sharks and fishes); (iv) Assessing the role of physical processes and ecology in the distribution of biodiversity. The key outputs will be new models (conceptual, qualitative & quantitative) that describe how the morphology and local oceanography of large-scale physical features influences their value to biodiversity. These models can then be used to predict the biodiversity value of other large-scale physical features that have not been sampled for their biodiversity. This information will assist assessing and managing impacts of marine industries including fisheries and oil and gas development.

News item - Researchers discover Australian canyons are hotspots for fish life (link is external) - UWA, 25 August 2017