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Sea mapping Tasmania.



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Perspective

Friday 3 March 2006

Vanessa Lucieer, Natural Resource Management Sub-Program, Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute

 

Sea Mapping Tasmania  

 

Concern for the marine environment is now high on the political and public agenda, with more and more people realising the sea’s future is our future. The oceans contribute millions of dollars to the Australian economy yet human needs place an increasing strain on the sea. Declining fish stocks, vanishing coral reefs and rising levels of marine debris and pollution are symptoms of the threats facing the world’s oceans - and ourselves. 

 

Without putting a toe in the water, Australians are now beginning to be able to see what the seabed looks like around them. For the first time habitat mapping of the seafloor is being undertaken without the main purpose of industrial interest for commercial activities such as exploitation of minerals or fish stocks. Mapping is being completed to develop an inventory of marine resources for marine protected area development and improved marine management. 

 

Since 1998 the governments of Australia have been developing a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas to protect examples of the full range of ecosystems and habitats across Australia’s vast marine territory. The first stage in this plan recognised the need for maps of the seabed as the primary source of information. In Tasmania, the task of creating these initial maps is being carried out by the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute using acoustics and underwater video.  

 

TAFI is mapping coastal and estuary areas in unprecedented detail to about 40 meters depth. Image resolution is so high that reefs, sand hills and other substrates can be distinguished. And their biota such as seagrass and kelp is being revealed. 

 

As the vessel passes over an area, the acoustic sonar signals relate data to the equipment. A particular signal might mean that the seafloor is made up of rocky reef, while another signal might mean there is a smooth sandy seabed. We are testing different equipment in various depths and over varying seabed types. We are also conducting airborne surveys to determine habitats within the visible range of 0- 10 meters. 

 

Collecting and generating bathymetric maps is also a valuable outcome of this research. For example, when mapping the Bathurst Channel into Port Davey in 2002 in remote South West Tasmania we discovered that many parts of the Channel including Joe Page Bay and Ila Bay had never been charted. The original bathymetric mapping had been completed exactly 100 years before and it felt like we were creating history when we discovered the original datum scratched into a rock by FC Pasco in 1902. 

 

The information from SeaMap Tasmania is being used to inform a range of processes such as monitoring sediment movement, mapping underwater habitats, measuring biological changes over time, and planning for marine protected areas. To January 2006 the project team has mapped nearly 40% of the State’s coastline, starting at Whale Head in South East Tasmania to Swan Island in the States North East with selected estuaries along the way.  

 

This year we will be mapping from the Tamar River to Hunter Island on the states north west coast. Key estuaries will be added to complete this section of coastline. The project is part funded through the Natural Heritage Trust and will be added to the other spatial data on the Land Information Services Tasmania database. 

 

This project is not only to create the first complete marine habitat map of Tasmania’s coastal seafloor but also to document the biodiversity of habitats that occur on the seabed of our immediate coastline. Just like on land, biodiversity in the sea is threatened. There are many causes for loss of marine biodiversity and the main ones include habitat destruction either from human or physical factors. 

 

The seabed maps are available to the public via the SeaMap Tasmania web page. For the next year we will continue to fill in the “blue bits” people have become familiar with seeing on an everyday topological map. For now our atlases will continue to depict the oceans as featureless blue expanses- but some day in the near future we hope that maps will be produced with the same detail that we are accustomed to for the land.  

 

Guests on this program:

Vanessa Lucieer  

Research Group Leader: Habitat Mapping and Assessment 

Natural Resource Management Sub-Program 

Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute 

University of Tasmania