Terrestrial runoff has been reported to be elevated by human activities and to have implications for coastal coral reefs (see Chapters 9, 11). Coastal processes influence the composition of seabed biota as outlined above, but it is unclear whether possible anthropogenic increases in turbidity and sedimentation have caused any changes to the benthos in recent decades.
A widespread activity on the seabed in the GBR is trawling for prawns. Previous research showed that trawling can have direct impacts, particularly on easily removed and/or slow to recover biota, but stressed the importance of assessing the results in the context of the regional distribution of vulnerable biota in relation to the distribution of trawl effort. The Seabed Project has now completed this risk assessment, which will contribute to legislative requirements that all fishing in the Marine Park be sustainable. Trawlers now use devices to reduce the incidental catch in their nets of nontarget marine life (bycatch). These devices are effective for elasmobranchs and some fishes, which is beneficial as the distributions of these groups have the greatest overlap with trawl effort. The risk assessments have indicated that the majority of vulnerable fauna have distributions that overlap little with trawl effort. Combined with recent management that has reduced trawl effort substantially, this means that these fauna are unlikely to be at significant ongoing risk. The marine park zoning plan (Chapter 12) contributes to conserving benthic biodiversity by protecting 20%-100% of the populations of all species assessed, and the 2004 rezon-ing increased levels of protection by approximately 30%. These management actions provide greater assurance for the future of the diversity of habitats and biota on the seabed in the GBR.
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