The placement and construction of artificial reefs in Australia are regulated under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 (Sea Dumping Act). Therefore, organisations wishing to construct an artificial reef will require a sea dumping permit.
Artificial reefs are usually constructed for:
- recreational use (e.g. scuba diving, fishing)
- increasing or concentrating populations of marine plants and animals.
An application for a permit to construct an artificial reef must be obtained from us 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, apart from 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 impacts on the marine environment occur
- the reef does not pose a danger to navigation, fisherman or divers.
Applicants must clearly demonstrate that the proposed project is appropriate for an artificial reef. Reefs may only be created for legitimate purposes (i.e. not waste disposal) and cannot pose a significant threat to users or surrounding environments.
Applicants are advised to contact us as early as practicable to ensure a comprehensive permit application is submitted.
Key phases in preparing a reef for placement and for preparing a sea dumping permit application include:
- stakeholder consultations
- evaluation and securing of adequate resources
- site selection
- material preparation
- determining the method of placement
- preparing for post-placement monitoring and management.
Applicants are required to consult with relevant government agencies and community and industry organisations 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?
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 construction 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. Vessels should be sunk in a sheltered area in waters less than 30 metres. Applicants will need to carry out long term monitoring of the artificial reef 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 constructed 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.
The London Convention and Protocol/UNEP Guidelines for the Placement of Artificial Reefs provide guidance on the construction, deployment and ongoing management of artificial reefs. One of the main objectives of these guidelines is to ensure that the development of artificial reefs is consistent with the aims and provisions of the London Protocol which Australia is a Party to.
Application forms and fees
For information on how to apply for a permit and associated fees visit our Sea dumping permits page.
Draft Interim Policy on the use of plastics in Artificial Reefs
The department has developed a draft interim policy on the use of plastics in Artificial Reefs.
The draft interim policy is open for public consultation via our Have Your Say website until 30 April 2022.
The department is continuing to gather stakeholder feedback during this period to inform our advice to the government following the election. You can continue to participate in the survey on this page, however your feedback will not be progressed until after the caretaker period.
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