Mapping of benthic ecosystems: Key to improving the management and sustainability of anchoring practices for ocean-going vessels

Publication Name

Continental Shelf Research


A global fleet of more than 48,000 vessels conveys >80% of world trade by volume. Anchor damage to benthic habitats by these vessels, along with the burgeoning cruise ship industry, represents a key threat to benthic biodiversity and ecosystem function. Here, we use vessel positional information (Automated Identification System (AIS) data) to map anchoring activity. We then focus on the important role that high resolution habitat mapping will play in understanding the distribution of habitat types which may be impacted by anchoring activities. Many international ports have high-intensity anchor areas that remain unmapped and thus risks to benthic biodiversity are poorly understood and inadequately managed. We use case studies from an anchorage in south-eastern Australia, major trade routes in the Middle East and the anchoring of cruise vessels in the Caribbean to highlight the important role of habitat mapping in reducing anchoring impacts. We contend that mapping represents an important safeguard against anchoring impacts from unexpected events such as the COVID-related redirection of cruise vessels to anchorages and the blocking of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given grounding. With increasing maritime trade expected over coming decades there is a need to transition toward sustainable anchorage management practices and provide public confidence in stewardship of marine ecosystems by the maritime industry into the future.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access



Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Academy of Science



Link to publisher version (DOI)