Science

Sydney’s colourful marine life is back in the headlines

Sydney Harbour
Friday, 27 February, 2009

With fish, dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles, shellfish and even fairy penguins returning to the increasingly clean and healthy Sydney Harbour, the need has never been greater to better understand how to sustainably manage its waters and wildlife in the midst of a major city.

So it is timely that the Sydney Institute of Marine Science has announced $1.2m in new funding for urban marine research at its unique setting at Chowder Bay, on the harbour's north side.

A cross-disciplinary and multi-institution research facility, SIMS is host to some 55 marine researchers working on issues that are critical for the sustainable management of coastal and oceanic environments. The site has direct access to clean, high quality seawater and the extraordinary diversity of life in the harbour, which is home to some 600 fish species, penguins, dolphins and visiting whales.

SIMS is the first centre of its kind in New South Wales to focus on urban marine science and provides an ideal base for research, teaching and outreach activities. Since its opening in November 2005, it has quickly become a beacon to both NSW and international researchers.

A not-for-profit organization, it relies on support from the public and sponsors to assist its research and educational activities. These activities have received a boost, thanks to a $1.2m joint donation from the NSW Government and the Ian Potter Foundation, one of Australia's leading philanthropic organisations.

The funding partnership will support scientific marine research to improve the environment of Sydney Harbour and the NSW coastline, said NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Carmel Tebbutt.

"We need the best possible research to protect our harbour and beaches for future generations - and we'll be teaming with some of the world's best marine scientists to achieve that goal," said Ms Tebbutt, who announced the funding at SIMS with the Minister for Science and Medical Research, Jodi McKay, and Mrs Janet Hirst, the CEO of the Ian Potter Foundation.

"The foundation is conscious that ensuring the long term survival and sustainability of our coastal environment is of urgent and immediate concern," said Mrs Hirst. "We are pleased to be working with the NSW Government and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science to begin this vital work and we feel confident that the new facilities and the high calibre of experts working at this centre will help marine science both locally and internationally."

Ms McKay said the $1.2 million contribution would help the institute build a new marine molecular biology lab and lease a new building to expand its headquarters at Chowder Bay in Mosman. "The centre will also explore the impact and management of climate change on our beaches and coastline and examine how marine bacteria and other microbes affect the ecology of our oceans," Ms McKay said. "The aim is to achieve sustainability for Sydney Harbour, the surrounding estuaries and our coast through research that will produce a much better understanding of the impacts of large cities like Sydney on their marine surroundings.

"Protecting our marine assets is important from an environmental perspective and vital to our multibillion dollar tourism industry given Sydney Harbour and our coastline are major attractions for international visitors."

"We are very pleased and grateful for this support from the State Government and The Ian Potter Foundation," SIMS and UNSW scientist Professor Peter Steinberg said. "SIMS is a unique collaborative venture for marine scientists in NSW, and this support puts us well on the way towards our goal of building SIMS into a world class marine institute."

SIMS is a partnership between UNSW, Macquarie University, UNSW, the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney.  Wollongong University, the University of Newcastle, the NSW State Government Departments of Primary Industry and Environment & Climate Change, and The Australian Museum are Associate Members.

Chowder Bay is part of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust which was established by the Australian Government to plan the future of former Defence and other special Commonwealth lands in Sydney Harbour. The lands contain historic buildings and areas of pristine natural vegetation, magnificent views of the harbour and a record of our city's Aboriginal, maritime and defence heritage.