THE IMPACT of Australia’s shipping industry on the marine environment is being studied in a project led by a team of University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers with the hope of developing a universal framework for environmental stewardship.

Funded by UOW Global Challenges, the project is examining the effect of anchors and anchor chains on the ocean floor near Australia’s busiest ports.

Ports included in the study are Port Kembla, Newcastle, Port Dampier in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, and Townsville on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

Initiated through a workshop in May 2014, the project based on planning and current funding is expected to run for three years.

If funding and resources are available the three year time frame could be extended.

Marine biologist Andy Davis said preliminary mapping and 3D imagery of the sea floor three nautical miles from Port Kembla had revealed the anchor chains of more than 250 metres in length and with individual links up to 200 kilograms, are dragging across seafloor habitat.

“Preliminary mapping has confirmed anchoring is occurring on reef near Port Kembla. This may well have damaging environmental impacts on important habitatforming marine species, with implications for fish populations,” Professor Davis said.

“We will now seek to identify areas of high conservation value, then identify how these areas may best be conserved,” he said.

Professor Davis, a member of the Centre for Sustainable Ecosytem Solutions at UOW, said the project is the first of its kind to research the impact of anchors on the marine environment.

The project aims to create sustainable anchoring practices throughout the world and work closely with the shipping Industry to achieve this goal.

Professor Davis said there is a huge knowledge gap in the impact of deep water vessels on environmental habitats.

“We are focusing on Port Kembla to begin with, but as each port and region is different, the impact on the ocean floor may vary dramatically from port to port,” he said.

Professor Davis and his team have been liaising with government, both state and federal, members of the shipping industry, and environmental agencies to examine how much damage results from the 11,000 vessels that visit Australian ports annually and how impacts may be mitigated.

It is hoped the project will develop universal frameworks for environmental stewardship that can be adapted for coastal environments around the world, in both tropical and temperate latitudes.

UOW’s Global Challenges program is a research initiative designed to address the complex problems facing the world through multidisciplinary research.