Cold-water corals are found on many seamounts dotted in the deeper waters surrounding Australia, and have been extensively damaged by bottom trawls. In 1999, the Australian government declared the Tasmanian Seamounts a marine reserve, spreading over 140 square miles to protect 20% of the 70 known submerged seamounts off the Australian continental margin. Since 2007, this reserve is part of the Huon Commonwealth Marine Reserve which protects all 70 seamounts. This area is part of Australia's South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network, the first temperate deep-sea network of marine reserves in the world.
The Huon Commonwealth Marine Reserve is 9991 square kilometres, and spans the continental shelf, continental slope and deeper water ecosystems of a primary biological zone to the south of Tasmania. Many seamounts are found in this reserve, which feature large erect corals and sponges. These seamounts also provide an important connection between seamounts of the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea.
Further north, live cold-water corals were recently discovered at a depth of 1100 m along the edge of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) margin by a team of researchers from James Cook University and the University of Sydney . This area, the Gloria Knolls, represents the first documented case of a coldwater coral habitat adjacent to the GBR World Heritage Area (GBRWHA). Although the Gloria Knolls lie outside the boundary of the GBRWHA, the area is part of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone, a protected zone which was declared in May 2009 to provide interim protection while the area is being assessed for possible inclusion in a Commonwealth marine reserve. Regulations can be made under the Zone declaration which reduce the impacts of damaging activities, but in this case, no regulations have yet been made. Although at present a permit is required for research, fishing and tourist activities in the area, commercial fishers are exempt from these restrictions as they already have permits and they may be already causing damage to these fragile corals. Scientists working at Gloria Knolls and The Coral Sea Heritage Park initiative are seeking further protection measures to protect these newly discovered corals.
Further information on the area can be found on the Deepreef Explorer website. We thank Dr Rob Beaman (James Cook University) for information on Gloria Knolls and images used in this section, and Imogen Zethoven (Pew Environment Group) for information on the Coral Sea Heritage Park initiative.
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