Sediment tolerance and mortality thresholds of offshore benthos (innovation fund)

The sponge Crella incrustans. Photo: James Bell

We are investigating the effects that suspended sediment from human activities, such as mining and fishing, have on the health and survival of important deep-sea species in the South Taranaki Bight. These innovative laboratory experiments will help us understand how resilient species are, and how quickly they can recover.

Project leader: Malcolm Clark, NIWA

Effects of sediment on seabed species

The findings of this project will be useful to industry and environmental managers for managing and regulating the effects of sedimentation on benthic (seabed) communities.

We are collecting animals that are common in the region at depths of 50–60 m, especially dog cockles, sponges, and bryozoans. These are held in specialised laboratory facilities, where running seawater and environmental conditions such as sedimentation can be precisely controlled to ensure conditions are optimal for maintaining healthy specimens. Once we have determined optimal conditions, we will investigate the effect that increasing the amount of suspended sediment, for varying lengths of time, has on the different species. These innovative laboratory experiments will help us understand how resilient these species are and how quickly they can recover.

This information will help establish how sedimentation effects on benthic communities can best be managed and mitigated, and determine what the threshold levels of suspended and settled sediment are before their effect on deep-sea species becomes ‘ecologically significant’.

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