Long-term recovery of trawled marine communities

Comparative survey of marine communities of the North West Shelf.
Voyage No


11 Oct, 2017


10 Nov, 2017




Chief Scientist

Dr John Keesing



Voyage summary

Research voyage along the coast of Western Australia to study the impact of trawling along the North West Shelf (NWS). 

This voyage is to determine the extent to which slow growing benthic organisms, such as coral and sponges, on the NWS have recovered from high levels of foreign trawling effort between the 1960s to late 1980s. By contrasting the diversity, abundance, biomass and size/age composition of these organisms with areas that have been under current management zoning for 20 years - and by comparing these data with that collected in the 1980s - researchers aim to make firm conclusions about the rates of recovery of trawled communities and the sustainability of trawling.

This research will gather data to that will be used to help inform and guide sustainable fishing practices both in Australia and internationally.

The voyage will include a number of scientific projects including:

  • Assessment of marine biodiversity to determine long-term recovery of trawled communities on the NWS (Dr Monika Bryce, WA Museum): Project to examine the recovery of marine communities on NWS. 
  • Natural iron fertilization of oceans around Australia: linking terrestrial dust and bushfires to marine biogeochemistry (Dr Andrew Bowie, UTAS): Project will sample and conduct experiments on atmospheric particles containing terrestrial dust and bushfire smoke that are transported from Australia to its surrounding oceans.
  • Collection of marine invertebrates and survey of their fluorescent properties (Prof Peter Karuso, Macquarie University): Project to examine, predominantly sponges, and survey their fluorescent properties correlated to depth and chlorophyll content.

Voyage blog:Super size me! Sponges and more discoveries from Investigator’s north west trip

Following decades of heavy trawling off the North West Shelf of Australia in the 1970s and 1980s, researchers are back on RV Investigator to assess how the region has recovered.
Read more on CSIROscope
A scientist holding one of the larger Ianthella sponges on the sorting deck

Voyage impact

This results obtained and samples collected on the trip will enable researchers to evaluate the recovery of benthic habitats and demersal fish assemblages 30+ years after significant reductions in trawl effort. It will also enable an unprecedented comparison with areas which have been trawled continuously over that period, using comparative data collected in the 1980s.

This will result in significant improvements in what we understand about the ability of trawl impacted systems to recover in the long term and whether management responses have been effective in both protecting and enabling recovery of impacted ecosystems.

The effects of trawling on the seabed are a major issue worldwide and the results from researchers on board will be both significant in an international context and relevant to the management of trawl fisheries in Australia and overseas. The results are likely to have significant potential for uptake into and impact on fisheries and marine ecosystem management.