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UNSW scientists have begun surveying the sea floor as part of the first comprehensive study of the impact of boating infrastructure on marine habitats in Sydney Harbour.

Transport for NSW, UNSW and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) are collaborating to carry out the project which will examine how recreational boating facilities interact with marine ecoystems.

The collaborative team, led by UNSW Professor Emma Johnston, has secured funding through the Federal Government’s Australian Research Council Linkage Program.

Professor Johnston, Director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program at SIMS, says the harbour is home to more than 17,000 recreational vessels that deliver substantial social and economic benefit to the people of Sydney.

“Sydney Harbour is a stunning paradox. It is incredibly biologically diverse, and yet a busy hub of commercial and recreational activity. The information gained during these studies will help map the seascape’s diversity and structure and will contribute to planning for future boat storage solutions,” Professor Johnston says.

The team has begun a series of studies to understand the plants, animals and natural processes that occur across current boating storage facilities, including Sydney Harbour's extensive mooring fields and marina facilities.

Dr Luke Hedge, lead research associate on the project from UNSW, will spend the next month on the harbour using cutting-edge imaging and sub-sea positioning equipment with his team of divers and researchers.

“Managing this confluence of intense human activity and incredible biodiversity requires credible scientific data and rigorous assessment,” Dr Hedge says.

Howard Glenn, General Manager of the Maritime Management Centre, says this approach has never been used before in the harbour.

“We are collecting information on a very fine scale that maps and reveals the structure and the impacts of our activities. Until now, a comprehensive study of the way boating infrastructure affects marine habitats and aquatic animals has not been undertaken. Understanding the impact boat storage infrastructure has on marine life is key to developing future policies and standards to achieve this,” Mr Glenn says.

“Boat numbers in Sydney Harbour are set to grow at around 2.9% annually. Transport for NSW has developed a Sydney Harbour Boat Storage Strategy that sets out several options for increasing the capacity of both on-water and off-water boat storage to keep pace with demand. The results of the study will provide an important evidence base to inform potential reform options to assist in increasing boat storage capacity while minimising environmental impact.”

NSW Maritime is also providing logistical support to the researchers and policy makers.

Angus Mitchell, Director of NSW Maritime, says: “We are pleased to be able to provide support for this worthwhile study. The greater our understanding of the effects recreational boating and storage options have on marine ecosystems, the better placed we will be to shape ecologically sustainable growth.” 

Filming and photographic opportunities are available with UNSW divers and researchers.