The 27-day voyage started from Cairns
on February 23 and will finish at Weipa on March 21.
The marine National Facility RV Southern Surveyor has been
chartered by CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the National Oceans Office
for a three-phase assessment of seabed habitats in the Gulf of Carpentaria
and Arafura Sea.
The first voyage is a CSIRO-led investigation into the effects of
trawling on the seabed habitats and biodiversity in the southern gulf,
a productive region for the Northern Prawn Fishery (NPF). The vessel
departed from Cairns on February 23 and will end its 27-day journey
at Weipa on March 21.
Chief scientist on the voyage is Dr Peter Rothlisberg, and the principal
investigator for the associated research project is Dr Rodrigo Bustamante.
They will lead the sampling activities of 14 scientific and technical
The scientists – from CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and Griffith
University–will sample seabed habitats at prawn fishing grounds
near Groote Eylandt, the Sir Edward Pellew Group and Mornington Island.
They will trace the physical and biological processes that sustain
'soft' seabed communities at 120–150 sampling stations in four
different regions and habitat types, and compare areas subject to
different historical levels of trawling.
The sediments will be sampled with a 'box corer' to analyse their
physical characteristics, ecological processes and resident macrofauna;
a prawn net, sled and remote-operated underwater video camera will
be used to sample fish and invertebrate communities. Water properties
including current strength and direction, temperature, salinity, and
productivity also will be measured.
Southern Surveyor voyage track.
Information gathered on the voyage will form the basis of a multi-disciplinary
study of seabed communities and ecosystem processes in trawled and
untrawled areas of the gulf that will quantify the effects of commercial
This study has been made possible through the availability of detailed
patterns of fishing activity recorded for the management of the NPF,
and the advanced sampling capabilities of the RV Southern Surveyor.
It will provide knowledge of and tools for evaluating seabed habitats
and communities – such as computer-based models of marine food
webs and seabed maps – and lead to strategies for managing the
effects of prawn trawling to support the sustainability of the NPF.
For example, management strategy evaluation tools based on the new
information will be used to compare alternative spatial management
scenarios for the NPF, and enable environmental, economic and stock-management
objectives to be combined.
Knowledge of the distribution of habitat types across these waters,
and their responses to different patterns of use, also will contribute
to Australian Government bioregionalisation and conservation processes
and to the regional marine plan for northern waters between Torres
Strait and the eastern Arafura Sea.
The second voyage of the joint charter will focus on hard-bottom
habitats and untrawled rocky reefs in the southern gulf and the third
will inspect hydrocarbon seeps in the eastern Arafura Sea and their