Moreton Bay Artificial Reef Program
  |  First Published: May 2011



The Queensland Government has committed to establishing six new artificial reefs in Moreton Bay Marine Park, at a cost of $2 million.

The program is being delivered by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM). The new artificial reefs will provide recreational anglers with a range of new fishing opportunities in Moreton Bay Marine Park and form part of the promise made to angling groups and individuals that artificial reefs would be built to compensate anglers for losing 16% of Moreton Bay to Marine Park Green Zones.

This project is well underway with three of the six artificial reefs already installed and the remaining 3 reefs scheduled to be finished by the middle of 2011. I had the opportunity to talk with Kate Jones Minister for Environment and Resource Management about the project, a project she inherited less than a month after the Moreton Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan was enacted on March 1, 2009.

And while many anglers were bitterly disappointed at their treatment during the Moreton Bay Marine Park process, these artificial reefs provide a ray of sunlight and a real positive step forward in compensating angling families for loss of fishing grounds.

Aims

From an angler point of view, the biggest question for me is what are the artificial reefs intended to achieve? Just think for a moment or two about what you believe these reefs should achieve. The 30-odd people I have informally asked this question to all came up with different answers and all had different expectations.

Some of the responses included such things as provide more hard structure for recreational anglers, concentrate desirable species so they can be more easily targeted, create recreational only fishing areas free of divers and commercial fishers to remove common conflicts, create more habitat to increase fish numbers and sizes and lastly from the other side of the fence, to create areas where the bay’s fish will congregate so anglers (rec and pro) can slaughter them more easily. No need to say where that one came from is there?

I asked Ms Jones about the aims of the project and the answer was interesting in that it provided an insight into how the political powers think.

In a nutshell, this project was designed as a form of compensation for anglers who lost 16% of the bay’s waters to Green Zones in the Moreton Bay Marine Park Plan.

“We wanted to provide new opportunities for mum and dad fishers, as well as the more keen recreational fishers, to get back on the water and enjoy Moreton Bay,” said Ms Jones.

The mum and dad fishers are able to take advantage of the three inshore artificial reefs, which are predominantly constructed from Reef Balls, while offshore fishers can take advantage of the three offshore reefs and fish attracting devices (FADs).

These sites were not intended to concentrate fish for the slaughter, they were not intending to replace habitat. The sites were simply chosen to provide fishing opportunities to anglers that were lost when the Moreton Bay Marine Park Plan was enacted.

Reef Balls Director David Lennon said: “The individual reefs will attract rather than produce target fish as the Government had a tough challenge to effectively spread the reef ball budget over six reefs”.

It is hoped by everyone that positive feedback from the artificial reefs will lead to more funds being devoted to the project and these artificial reefs will be added to and become truly productive in their own right.

Process to date

DERM has undertaken significant work on the artificial reef program since it was announced in February 2008. This has involved mapping and analysing all of the physical, environmental, social and economic constraints for areas within the marine park to identify areas that may be suitable for artificial reefs.

Ms Jones said the government also implemented a consultation processes with different stakeholders.

“Extensive consultation has been conducted with representatives from the fishing industry, conservation groups and other government departments to discuss the mapping and potential locations for the reefs,” said Ms Jones.

Our government appointed recreational fishing lobby group Sunfish, along with Queensland Gamefishing Association, Ecofish and several tackles shop owners were part of the consultation team. The placement of the artificial reefs was an example of consultation done right and should be used as an example of how contentious issues can be handled.

At the consultation meetings a variety of topics were discussed and according to Ms Jones “the outcomes of the meetings were very positive”.

“We believe this program has been rolled out well because industry has bought into it.”

And this is an important step in my opinion. Those who will use or benefit from these programs must feel they have some ownership of the process and the outcome. If they feel some propriety they send positive messages to their networks and within a short period the project is widely accepted as a good project.

Six sites were ultimately selected; sites that provided a variety of opportunities for a variety of anglers.

Selected sites

As a result of the hard work, six locations were confirmed as sites for artificial reefs in Moreton Bay Marine Park (see map):

Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef

Wild Banks Artificial Reef

North Moreton Artificial Reef

South StradbrokeArtificial Reef

West Peel Artificial Reef

East Coochie Artificial Reef

Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef

Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef has been created for use by recreational fishers. It covers an area of 92 hectares and is located 7km eastsoutheast of St Helena Island.

The artificial reef was first established in 1975 and more than 17,000 tyres were deployed at the site over a five year period. In 1987, 200 shopping trolleys were placed on the reef. While some of this material is still present and provides good fish habitat, some has been dispersed or covered by sand.

A reef enhancement project that commenced in December 2008 involved the deployment of 150m3 of quarry rock, 450 tonnes of concrete pipes, and a 24m, 96 tonne, ex-tuna fishing vessel, the Tiwi Pearl.

The old tuna fishing vessel Tiwi Pearl was scuttled just after 1pm on 12 March 2010 on the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef, about 18km offshore from Manly and east of St Helena Island. The 24m, 96 tonne ship has become a major extension to the reef.

Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef had already been a popular fishing spot but the Tiwi Pearl will help attract additional bait fish, small tuna and mackerel.

Final instalments

In August 2010, 450 tonnes of concrete pipe were deployed in four locations each consisting of approximately 23 pipes of varying size. The height of each clump of pipes ranges from 2.5-6m above the seafloor. Pipes were donated as an alternative means of recycling, rather than crushing.

Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef is now complete. It was the first of the six artificial reefs in Moreton Bay Marine Park to be completed.

West Peel Artificial Reef

The development of West Peel artificial reef was completed in late 2010 covering an area approximately 50ha. Reef Balls of varying size were placed at 11 locations within the artificial reef site. The balls in each group (comprising 10 or 11 Reef Balls) are spaced a few metres apart. The spacing between each group is between 100 and 200m. The balls were lowered into place with a crane and automatically released on the seabed by a ‘wanger’, that is, a gravity hook that is released when the weight is taken off the hook as the ball touches the sea floor.

East Coochie Artificial Reef

The development of East Coochie Artificial Reef was completed in February 2011. It consists of 78 Reef Balls distributed over seven clusters. The Reef Ball heights range between 50cm and 80cm off the sea floor and are spread over a 15ha area in approximately 12m of water. The balls were lowered into place with a crane and automatically released on the seabed by a wanger in a similar fashion to the West Peel Artificial Reef.

Next steps

A contract is in place for the fabrication, transportation and deployment of purpose built artificial reef structures to be used on the three remaining sites. Fabrication of the structures commenced in early January 2011 with deployment scheduled for March (weather permitting). These structures are massive with a combination of 11m steel fish caves and 4m cubed cement boxes being used.

From my conversation with Ms Jones, it appears the project is on schedule and by the middle of this year offshore anglers will be visiting the new reef sites and hopefully catching a fish or two.

Six new fish attraction devices (FADs) that were trialled in 2010 have been deployed at the South Stradbroke site. These devices generally attract fast growing, short-lived pelagic species, such as mahi mahi. FADs are not a new concept, but they are very effective in capturing the attention of anglers and bait. Pelagic fish that hunt this bait have little choice but to visit these FADs in search of food.

What to expect

As the six artificial reefs are constructed differently and in different locations, it is expected they will attract a variety of different species to them.

The Reef Ball reefs are designed to attract baitfish, providing them with cover inside the balls. The balls are also designed with rough surfaces. This allows weed, algae and sponges to easily attach, improving the immediate habitat. It is also likely that the Peel Site Reef Balls will attract corals from Peel Island itself, creating more unique southern coral habitat that is widely regarded in conservation and fishing circles.

The balls also provide respite from current, deliver ambush points and resting areas for a wide array of species. Anglers will be targeting species such as snapper, sweetlip, cod, bream and flathead at Reef Ball sites. However the profusion of bait that will be attracted to the area will invite mackerel, tailor and tuna to visit. It’s quite an exciting fishing opportunity.

Offshore the reef structures are a little more complex, a little larger and aimed at attracting pelagic and demersal species.

The offshore artificial reefs are expected to extend up to 11m from the sea floor (Reef Balls extend less than 2m usually) providing vertical, as well as horizontal, habitat. This means the offshore grounds will attract a host of pelagic species such as tuna, kingfish, amberjack, tailor, large and small mackerel species and cobia. The positioning of the reefs will also see popular offshore reef species attracted. Snapper, pearl perch, trag jew, Moses perch and more will visit and stay on these new reef areas.

The best part of these new reefs is that they will not be secret. You can get exact GPS marks of where Reef Ball clusters were placed, along with the positioning of FADs and offshore reefs when they are completed. It will be a boon for anglers new to the bay or the offshore grounds providing a known area where fish are likely to be. This will also increase safety as it is very likely a boat will not have these spots all to themselves and that is a good thing if your boat ever gets into trouble.

I am eagerly awaiting the finalisation of this project. Taken individually and regardless of your opinions of the Zoning Plan, this project is a good thing for recreational anglers. It is the delivery of a promise and is certainly a ray of hope for anglers who are struggling under the weight of so many new regulations in the last five years.

More information

For more information log onto the DERM website (www.derm.qld.gov.au) and follow the links to marine parks and then Moreton Bay Marine Park. A lot of work and effort has gone into the creation of these artificial reefs and time will tell if they are a solution and reasonable compensation for the loss of 16% of the fishing grounds in Moreton Bay Marine Park. We certainly hope this is the case and there is only one way to make these artificial structures work: by fishing them and being successful.

Facts

What are Reef Balls?

A Reef Ball is actually not a ball, rather a hemispherical hollow concrete unit invented over 15 years ago in the United States of America and now used in over 60 countries. Marine life can take advantage of the hollow interior, gaining access via holes in the structure. The size, shape and number of holes can easily be varied depending upon the reef’s application.

Its design has evolved over many years of trials, fine tuning and input from engineers and scientists.

Key features of reef balls include:

Aesthetically pleasing — in a very short period they take on a natural rock/bommie appearance

Highly stable — specifically engineered to stay upright and withstand waves and currents with 70% of its weight in the bottom third of the structure

Durable in the marine environment — marine concrete mix is engineered to last for several hundred years in sea water pH adjusted surface — special concrete mix and construction technique is used to ensure rapid colonisation

Maximum productivity — the dome shape, holes, internal void and rough texture mimic natural reefs and maximise species richness.

The West Peel Artificial Reef consists of 117 Reef Balls consisting of 54 Pallet Balls, 21 Bay Balls and 42 Mini Bay Balls.

Reef Balls of varying size were placed at 11 locations within the artificial reef site. The balls in each group (comprising 10 or 11 reef balls) are spaced a few metres apart. The spacing between each group is between 100-200m. The balls were lowered into place with a crane and automatically released on the seabed by a ‘wanger’.

The East Coochie Artificial Reef consists of 78 Reef Balls consisting of 36 Pallet Balls and 42 Bay Balls.

Balls of varying size were placed at seven locations within the artificial reef site, with each cluster comprising 11 or 12 Reef Balls.

Sizes of Reef Balls

Ball typeWidth (m)Height (m)Weight (kg)
Pallet1.220.88682-800
Bay0.910.61250-341
Mini bay0.760.53120-180

Fact Box

Reef Ball Australia

Reef Ball Australia has been the Australian contractor for the patented Reef Ball technology since 1997.

David Lennon, Director of Reef Ball Australia, started constructing reefs in 1991 and has now designed and deployed reefs in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Antigua, Cyprus, Fiji and Australia.

Reef Ball Australia has a fulltime manufacturing facility in Sydney and has supplied modules to the Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian governments as well as individuals and organisations.

For further information, visit www.reefballaustralia.com.au or call David on 0400 520 471.

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