Sea dumping fact sheet
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2008
About the publication
The placement and construction of Artificial Reefs are regulated under the Commonwealth Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 (the Sea Dumping Act).
An application for a permit to create an artificial reef must be obtained from the Department of the Environment and Heritage or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Additional permits may also be required under relevant State or Territory legislation.
The Sea Dumping Act applies to Australian waters, from low water mark to the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone, other than internal waters, within the limits of a State or Territory (such as Sydney Harbour, the Gulfs in South Australia, Darwin Harbour or Port Phillip Bay).
Penalties for placing materials to create an artificial reef without a permit can attract fines of up to $220 000, imprisonment or both.
Permits are necessary to ensure that:
- appropriate sites are selected
- the materials are suitable and prepared properly
- no significant adverse impact on the marine environment occurs
- the reef does not pose a danger to navigation, fisherman or divers
- Once a permit is issued the artificial reef is then charted on maritime maps
Completed applications for artificial reefs are circulated to relevant government agencies and to community and industry organisations for comment. This is to ensure that there are no user group conflicts and that the proposal is environmentally acceptable. Fundamental questions to be addressed by prospective applicants are:
- Why is an artificial reef necessary?
- What purpose will it serve? A group looking to applying for a permit should also consider other factors.
It is imperative that groups interested in constructing artificial reefs have the resources (funds, committed personnel, expertise, equipment, insurance, and divers) to construct the reef, transport the materials to the site and to carry out longer term monitoring requirements.
Experience has shown that these projects are labour intensive, time consuming and can be very expensive even if the materials are obtained at no cost.
It is essential that sufficient time is spent preparing the material to ensure both environmental protection and diver safety.
Factors such as water depth, currents, substrate type, wave action and biota can have a bearing on the suitability of a site for the construction of a reef.
Other factors that must be taken into account include: environmental impact, navigation safety, commercial fishing activities and diver safety. It is essential that the proposal has community support and that the site is accessible to the public.
An artificial reef should not be placed on top of natural reefs or close to sensitive sites, such as, coral habitat or sea grass beds. Sandy or rocky sites devoid of natural vegetation are usually selected.
Not all materials are suitable for the creation of artificial reefs. Some, which may be suitable for one site may not be so for another.
The materials for reef creation need to be durable and have a large multi-dimensional surface area for colonisation of sessile organisms, and several entrance and exit holes for mobile organisms, water flow and light penetration. The reef components should be designed for long term stability and be suitably weighted so they cannot move around on the sea floor.
All materials need to be free of noxious substances and residues. In particular any oil and hydraulic fluids should be removed (including from inside engines). Plastics and any loose components should also be removed.
Obsolete vessels that are to be used as dive wrecks need to be made safe for divers. Vessels will need to be properly prepared. This includes removal of any hatches, sharp or protruding objects, cabling and wires that are liable to break free over time, excess equipment on board and any other potential hazards.
Each compartment accessible to divers will need a second exit. The vessel should be sunk in a sheltered area in waters less than 30 metres. Proponents will need to monitor the wreck (long term) and undertake any maintenance to ensure diver safety.
Reef layout is very important and factors such as spatial arrangement, orientation to currents and vertical relief need to be taken into account as they can have a bearing on the success of the artificial reef.
It is essential that once an artificial reef is established there are resources available to monitor the reef in the long term.
Two main reasons for establishing monitoring programs as part of reef management are to assure compliance with the prescribed conditions and to provide an assessment of the predicted performance of the artificial reef as outlined in the permit application.