A Tasmanian Greens senator is urging the Commonwealth government to open its purse and fund autonomous underwater vehicles to destroy invasive sea urchins ravaging reefs in the waters off the state’s East Coast.
Peter Whish-Wilson’s comments follow the release of the findings of a study conducted by the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, which laid bare the impact long-spined sea urchin barrens were having on underwater ecosystems off Tasmania.
The study found that over the five-year survey period (2011-16), overall barren cover in sites around the Bicheno region had doubled, which researchers said “raises serious concerns around the likely longer-term trajectory of barren formation”.
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Feeding on macroalgae, seaweed and sponges, Senator Whish-Wilson said the long-spined sea urchins were like “little Pac-Men”. One estimate has urchin barrens eventually covering 50-60 per cent of rocky reefs in Eastern Tasmania.
“That has a whole cascading effect on the ecosystems,” Senator Whish-Wilson said. “These systems are protection for a whole range of marine life. I think the only economic solution … is to get AUVs and destroy [the sea urchin barrens].”
A spokesperson for federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the urchin was not a biosecurity responsibility of the Commonwealth and its management was a state responsibility.
However, the spokesperson said the federal government was funding “remotely operated underwater vehicles” for use in biosecurity surveillance and that this technology could be applied to other forms of ecological surveillance.
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