On Friday, 31 May, we had the privilege of welcoming the Federal Minister for the Environment and Water, the Honourable Tanya Plibersek MP, to SIMS. During her visit, Minister Plibersek witnessed the release of 100 endangered White’s seahorses into the waters of Chowder Bay as part of SIMS’s Sydney Seahorse project. This release is complementary to the ~400 seahorses eagerly awaiting their June releases into Balmoral and Gamay (Botany Bay).

The Minister’s participation in the release of White’s seahorses was particularly timely. Recently, we sighted a White’s seahorse at Cockatoo Island as a result of a new project SIMS has started in partnership with the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (Harbour Trust).

The Cockatoo Island / Wareamah Marine Restoration Pilot Project, undertaken with the Harbour Trust, aims to explore the underexplored marine environment at Cockatoo Island and trial interventions to enhance marine biodiversity. This initiative will provide crucial insights into the current state of the environment and the level of degradation caused by historical activities, guiding us in selecting the most suitable interventions to revitalise marine life.

Minister Plibersek carrying seahorses to divers for release
Minister Plibersek discussing the new partnership with Channel 9

Cockatoo Island, known traditionally as Wareamah, is steeped in history that reflects the evolution of Sydney itself. From its origins as a gathering place for the Eora Nation to its transformation into a shipbuilding yard and naval base, and now as a vibrant cultural heritage site, Wareamah has continually adapted to changing times. However, beneath its waters lies an underwater ecosystem in need of restoration.

“It’s fantastic to see a strong partnership formed between the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science. We must continue to conserve and manage marine ecosystems – including the iconic Sydney Harbour – for generations to come,” said the Hon Tanya Plibersek.

This pilot project is particularly exciting for SIMS as it provides researchers with an unparalleled opportunity to test the effectiveness of restoration at a site with a history of habitat disturbance. Additionally, restoring habitat at Cockatoo Island / Wareamah has the potential to connect with restoration efforts at other sites in the harbour, creating a healthier, more resilient seascape that benefits both people and nature.

The sighting of the White’s seahorse at Cockatoo Island marks the most westerly documentation of the species within the Port Jackson estuary, a significant and exciting discovery. This project will allow us to learn about the underexplored marine environment at Cockatoo Island and trial interventions that seek to enhance marine biodiversity.

We are delighted about our partnership with the Harbour Trust and are optimistic about the long-term prospects of rejuvenating Cockatoo Island. We are grateful to Minister Plibersek for visiting SIMS, participating in the seahorse release, announcing this novel discovery and exciting partnership, and engaging with our researchers.

We look forward to seeing how this project unfolds and harnessing the educational and outreach opportunities it will create to engage the community with our iconic harbour.

SIMS divers at Cockatoo Island’s Camber Wharf for fieldwork