We’re developing the first baseline picture of sea floor communities deep in the Great Australian Bight, so we can assess any potential future impacts of oil and gas exploration.

The challenge

Understanding sea floor communities in the Bight

The Great Australian Bight is set for an increase in oil and gas exploration and development in the next decade. Much of this activity will focus on benthic (sea floor) habitats of the mid- to lower continental slopes (1000 to 3000 metres depth) and their associated biological communities.

A brittlestar on a black background

Brittlestar from the deep Great Australian Bight.

Benthic communities play a vital role in deep ocean ecosystems – engineering habitats and transferring energy up the food chain – but little is known about these communities in deep areas of the Bight.

A baseline picture of their diversity, distribution and ecology is fundamental to assessing the potential impact of future human activities.

Our response

Exploring the depths

In a pioneering study, we are working with the South Australian Research and Development Institute to examine the composition and distribution of benthic communities in the Bight. Through this work we aim to identify suitable regions and cost-effective survey techniques to monitor future ecological change in sea floor communities.

Our researchers are conducting field sampling and acoustic surveys in the Bight, to record biological and physical features of the sea floor. The sampling includes locations in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park and features of special interest, including seabed volcanoes and potential oil seeps.

Information about the composition and distribution of benthic organisms will be related to environmental factors such as sediment composition, bathymetry, surface and water column productivity, and oceanography. This will enable researchers to predict biodiversity distribution across the Bight.

This project is part of the Great Australian Bight research program.

The results

Effective ecological monitoring

This research will provide the basis for innovative, cost-effective ecological monitoring programs to accompany future exploration and development in the deep Bight.

Cost-effective ecological monitoring of oil and gas exploration and development can reduce the risk of potentially harmful incidents. Knowledge of the ecosystem’s natural ability to ‘clean up’ after any accidental release of hydrocarbons helps to plan a response to any future oil spill.

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