A comparison of marine communities along a subsea pipeline with those in surrounding seabed areas

D. McLean, K. Cure, M. A. Abdul Wahab, R. Galaiduk, M. Birt, B. Vaughan, J. Colquhoun, M. Case, B. Radford, M. Stowar, S. Harries, A. Heyward, K. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The value of subsea pipelines as habitat for fish and benthic species is being considered, particularly by the oil and gas industry as they look to decommission seafloor infrastructure reaching the end of production. We investigated fish and benthic communities along a ca.345 km section of offshore pipeline in remote northern Australia to compare pipeline communities with those in surrounding areas and provide context for decommissioning risk assessments. We surveyed pipeline and adjacent natural seabed ecosystems at five locations on the continental shelf using remote video technology to quantify fish and benthic communities and modelled predicted fish communities across the study locations. We found that the pipeline supported turfing and low-relief biota (e.g. coralline algae, ascidians, bryozoans, small/encrusting sponges and soft coral or mixed filter feeder communities) with cover >75%. Pipeline benthic communities differed from those in adjacent ecosystems. Within 6 km of the pipeline, the seabed was predominantly sand/silt with only sparse biota; natural hard substrate (e.g. shoal features within 3 km of the pipeline) supported diverse coral and filter feeder communities (average 10–25% cover). Fish abundance and assemblage composition on the pipeline also differed from those in surrounding high- and low-complexity habitats. This difference was driven by high abundance and biomass of commercially important fish species near the pipeline and sand-affiliated species elsewhere. Our study provides important new insights into the marine communities associated with a subsea pipeline in northern Australia; with this artificial habitat observed to support a subset of species known to inhabit the area, but effectively representing a unique assemblage within the region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104394
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Volume219
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2021

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