HERITAGE PROTECTION GIVEN TO TASMANIA’S DEEP SEA MOUNTAIN RANGES
Fifteen of Australia’s deep ocean seamounts were listed on the Commonwealth Heritage list this week. The Tasmanian seamounts, located between 50 and 100m off southern Tasmania, represent a unique underwater geological feature that is teeming with biodiversity and evolutionary curiosities.
At depths of between 1000 and 2000m, the unique deep sea conditions of low temperatures, nutrients, and light have created a deep water ecosystem that is home to a community of bizarre deep sea creatures so highly specialised that they represent a distinct component of the Earth’s heritage which is unreplicated in any other environment.
“This unique and mysterious ecosystem includes rare deep sea species of fishes, corals and sea urchins, as well as primitive sponges, crinoids and hermit crabs that can provide clues as to how life evolved. Furthermore, a number of these species occur nowhere else on earth and many are largely undescribed and new to science”, said Nicola Beynon, HSI Wildlife and Habitat Program Manager
While already listed as a Marine Protected Area, this new listing as Commonwealth Heritage affords the Tasmanian Seamounts an elevated layer of legal protection. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, any actions that either have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on a Commonwealth Heritage site, are prohibited without Ministerial approval.
The seamounts are also home to the chronically over-fished orange roughy, a species HSI has nominated for endangered species protection. Bottom trawling for the prized orange roughy is a serious threat to seamount habitats worldwide.
“The Heritage listing is timely given that HSI is still waiting on a long delayed decision from Environment Minister Ian Campbell regarding our nomination to have the orange roughy listed as an endangered species under the EPBC Act, even after his Threatened Species Scientific Committee have advised that it meets the criteria for endangered species protection”, said Ms Beynon.
Heritage protection for the Tasmanian Seamounts is also timely when the Australian Government is formulating its position on a resolution for an international moratorium on high seas bottom trawling to go before the United Nations General Assembly later this year. The resolution, sponsored by the Government of Palau, is intended to protect seamounts and other deep sea habitats from the ravages of deep sea trawling for species such as orange roughy.
HSI notes that we originally sought heritage protection for all 70 seamounts in the Tasmanian Seamount range. While this listing gives protection to the 15 most studied seamounts, we hope heritage protection will be extended to all 70 Tasmanian seamounts and other deep sea mountain ranges elsewhere in Australia in the future.