Anchor scour from shipping and the defaunation of rocky reefs: A quantitative assessment

Publication Name

Science of the Total Environment


Anchor scour from shipping is increasingly recognised as a global threat to benthic marine biodiversity, yet no replicated ecological assessment exists for any seabed community. Without quantification of impacts to biota, there is substantial uncertainty for maritime stakeholders and managers of the marine estate on how these impacts can be managed or minimised. Our study focuses on a region in SE Australia with a high proportion of mesophotic reef (>30 m), where ships anchor while waiting to enter nearby ports. Temperate mesophotic rocky reefs are unique, providing a platform for a diversity of biota, including sponges, ahermatypic corals and other sessile invertebrates. They are rich in biodiversity, provide essential food resources, habitat refugia and ecosystem services for a range of economically, as well as ecologically important taxa. We examined seven representative taxa from four phyla (porifera, cnidaria, bryozoan, hydrozoa) across anchored and ‘anchor-free’ sites to determine which biota and which of their morphologies were most at risk. Using stereo-imagery, we assessed the richness of animal forest biota, morphology, size, and relative abundance. Our analysis revealed striking impacts to animal forests exposed to anchoring with between three and four-fold declines in morphotype richness and relative abundance. Marked compositional shifts, relative to those reefs that were anchor-free, were also apparent. Six of the seven taxonomic groups, most notably sponge morphotypes, exhibited strong negative responses to anchoring, while one morphotype, soft bryozoans, showed no difference between treatments. Our findings confirm that anchoring on reefs leads to the substantial removal of biota, with marked reductions of biodiversity and requires urgent management. The exclusion of areas of high biological value from anchorages is an important first step towards ameliorating impacts and promoting the recovery of biodiversity.

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Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Academy of Science



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