Seabirds to Seascapes – A New Project to Restore Sydney Harbour

The largest harbour restoration project in the world is set to commence in the iconic Sydney Harbour to rewild and restore marine habitats for penguins, seals, seahorses and turtles.

Minister for Environment James Griffin has committed $9.1 million in a NSW Government initiative which will help restore Sydney Harbour to bring back lost biodiversity and improve carbon sequestration. Seabirds to Seascapes is being led by the Department of Planning and Environment, which is partnering with experts SIMS, Taronga Conservation Society Australia and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

SIMS will provide the expertise and experience to address the largest part of the initiative, Project Restore. Project Restore will be a world first approach to tackling marine ecosystem restoration at seascape level. Using methods and tools developed in partnership with university researchers, we will enhance Sydney Harbour’s seawalls with the installation of Living Seawall panels, replace swing moorings that damage fragile seagrass beds with non-scarring moorings, restore kelp fields from where they have been lost, and deploy fish and seahorse habitats.

The restoration will be completed in conjunction with modern scientific approaches to understand the inter-connectivity and benefits of restoration at seascape level. SIMS Chair Peter Cochrane said his ambition is that this project can be applied elsewhere. “Urbanisation has converted more than 50 per cent of Sydney Harbour’s natural shoreline into built structures and introduced many environmental stressors that have degraded aquatic habitats,” Mr Cochrane said. “Despite that, we’re fortunate that the foundations for habitat repair still exist and we have the world class science to guide this initiative.”

“During this first stage initiative, we will develop a template for seascape restoration which can be used throughout NSW and further abroad where similar challenges need to be addressed. This project will cement SIMS and NSW as a world leader of marine restoration action.”

SIMS General Manager Mark Scognamiglio highlighted the important role SIMS plays in bringing together scientific expertise from four partners to address broad challenges. “It is pivotal to have an organisation such as SIMS leading on these challenges. By bringing the expertise from four university partners together, and diverse approaches to ecosystem restoration, we can truly start to address broad ecosystem, or seascape level challenges.”

“This initiative will not only undertake great research and restore critical ecosystems in Sydney Harbour, but will engage the community and communicate our science at a scale not seen before in Sydney,” said Mr Scognamiglio

SIMS, the natural home of Project Restore, is a world leader in marine ecosystem restoration. SIMS is already tackling the restoration of crayweed forests and seagrass beds lost from Sydney’s coast and harbours, restoring critical habitat for endangered marine life such as White’s Seahorse, and installing Livings Seawalls — a global project that is using novel ecological engineering methods to convert built structures into the natural marine environments they once were.

The project builds on existing management of threatened and protected marine species and will be further guided by NSW’s Saving Our Species program and Marine Estate Management Strategy.

SIMS Foundation Chair, Jas Chambers, said this project couldn’t be more well timed and suited to theglobal shift in restoration science. “The world is turning its attention to the ocean at a rapid rate and with the start of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, as well as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development just behind us, this announcement from the NSW Government is well time and reflective of where other nations are already moving.”

The NSW Environmental Trust will grant $6.6 million to the DPE who will manage the project, with the SIMS partnership receiving $4.5 million and contributing a further $2.2 million in kind.