Offshore marine production systems – using artificial reefs to build a blue economy

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  • Project Summary

    This strategic initiative begins a longer journey focusing on the blue economy for marine production through transformational use of Australia's largest area – its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). As the country with the third largest EEZ, Australia has the potential to significantly increase its productivity through sustainable and appropriate use. While a bold vision, this journey will rely on incremental "proof of concepts" across a range of disciplines including science and engineering and humanities that strategically progresses our knowledge and understanding and builds on our strengths in aquaculture, fisheries, marine engineering and marine renewable energies.Artificial reef


    Tasmania is Australia's largest seafood producing State (by value) and has an existing international reputation for high quality reef associated seafood attracting some of the highest global prices for lobster and abalone. Thus there is the opportunity to build on this reputation with a quality (and differentiated) product – sea ranched lobsters (and abalone) from clean offshore environments. These would be enhanced with other high-valued products such as seaweed culture for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical production for human health. Tasmania also hosts Australia's largest aquaculture industry and thus has the knowledge and skill base in both fishing and aquaculture to engage in the development of innovative marine production systems.

    Artificial reefThe reefs will require energy and accommodation for operation, maintenance and continued R&D. Development of offshore renewable energy systems will power further development and, through innovative and creative design, there is an opportunity to build on Tasmania's reputation as a tourism and gourmet food destination by the provision of unique marine tourism accommodation options (divers, recreational fishers, seafood experience).

    Offshore reefs could also act as refugia or zoos to house marine animals at risk of extinction from climate change (warming SE Australian coastal waters) thus providing conservation solutions.

    The combined sector approach including marine production, renewable energy, biodiversity conservation and marine tourism provides a holistic approach that can transform the way we use our marine domain into the future.

    Artificial reef The University of Tasmania hosts Australia's premier marine institutes (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and Australian Maritime College (AMC). This project builds on this expertise base which includes IMAS's success and global reputation for innovative lobster research, particularly in the culture of lobsters and, sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture. Currently, IMAS research leads the world in closing the life cycle of cultured rock lobsters and it is the only research institute that can provide reliable quantities of lobsters for pilot scale production. IMAS also houses Australia's largest experimental aquaculture facility.

    The Australian Maritime College (AMC), a specialist institute of the University of Tasmania, is Australia's national institute for maritime and maritime-related education, training and research. AMC is a world leader of engineering for extreme environments through the establishment of a specialised research centre in the fields of polar, underwater, offshore and renewable energy engineering for applications and operations in extreme environments, and by significantly developing and strengthening the research, training and education capabilities of these areas. The AMC has built a network of collaborations with industry partners and international universities.

    Artificial reef diverCollaboration with Australia's first Centre for Marine Socioecology (CMS), a joint initiative with CSIRO and Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) will bring interdisciplinary expertise. This Centre focuses on the multiple use management of the marine domain and brings together multi-disciplinary expertise across physical and biological sciences, social science, economics, policy and law to provide the research that will underpin the management of the current and future use of Australia's oceans and seas.

    The journey to-date

    Working with our industry partner Southern Blue Reefs, two 6m x 2.1m x 2.4m reefs were placed on the seafloor off the Taroona Marine Research laboratories in February 2015.  The design of the reefs was based on the combined knowledge of commercial and recreational divers and researchers and involved two different habitat shapes – a simple cantilevered design providing open shelves and a more complex set of open and closed habitats.

    After a 10-month conditioning period, lobsters were added to determine if either of the designs would support lobsters and which of the habitat shapes they preferred. This experiment is still underway and a final report is due by mid-July (click to read a news story about the progress of the reefs).

    Click here to open the .pdf flyer Enhancing marine production through innovation: Developing a sustainable blue economy

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Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
1 October, 2019