First-Of-Its-Kind Study Investigates Environmental Damage Caused By Deep Sea Anchors

The impact of the $200 billion shipping industry on Australia’s marine environment will be investigated in a groundbreaking project led by a multidisciplinary team of UOW researchers.

The UOW Global Challenges-funded project examines the effect of anchors and anchor chains on the ocean floor near Australia’s busiest ports, including Port Kembla, Newcastle, Port Dampier in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, and Townsville on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

Marine biologist Professor Andy Davis (pictured above with research assistant Allison Broad) 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 habitat-forming marine species, with implications for fish populations. We will now seek to identify areas of high conservation value, then identify how these areas may best be conserved.”

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, with the aim of creating sustainable anchoring practices throughout the world and working closely with the shipping Industry to achieve this goal.

“There is a huge knowledge gap in the impact of deep-water vessels on environmental habitats. Even the shipping industry’s code of practice fails to recognise anchor scour as an important environmental threat. 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 already 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 major research initiative designed to address the complex problems facing the world through multidisciplinary research. Sustaining Coastal and Marine Zones is one of the central challenges, focusing on how the world’s precious coastal and marine environments can be better preserved and protected.


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