As you may have heard, the Australian government has recently launched a new programme that is hoping to make it easier for Australians to keep their home aquariums at sea.
The plan is to have them outfitted with artificial reefs that will allow visitors to take in the sea life in a safe and clean environment.
It’s a big idea, and the first step is to set up a few small coral reef tanks in your backyard, says Dr Mark Stokes from the Australian Museum.
“We have got about 150 coral reefs in Sydney that are suitable for this type of operation, so we have a very small selection to work with,” he says.
Stokes is part of a team of researchers and aquarium experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Victoria and the University of Queensland.
We’ve got a small selection of coral reefs that are suited to this type, so there’s a lot of room for experimentation.
The reef tanks are to be connected to a pump which will pump water from the tank to the reef, where it will be used to cool the aquarium.
Each tank will have two to three reef animals living in it, says Stokes.
“This is a very robust, robust system, so this is a really robust system for keeping coral reef,” he said.
After a year, the coral reef will be fully set up and ready for visitors.
But there are a few more steps to ensure the tanks stay at sea for long periods of time.
They need to be monitored closely for algae growth, and Stokes says it will take a couple of months for the system to recover after the initial installation.
If visitors want to keep coral reef at sea permanently, they’ll need to buy a special licence to keep it.
Once they buy the licence, the government is hoping they will have a permanent marine park licence, which would allow visitors and marine life to keep a reef there for up to 20 years.
But for now, the plan is for the new system to be outfitted as an “on-site” installation, with the aquariums to be hooked up to a power source for 24 hours a day.
A big problem with this plan is that the government says it can’t afford to install all the necessary infrastructure in the first place, says James Rolfe, the Director of the Sea Life Program at the Royal Zoological Society.
“It’s not a massive investment, so it’s going to be really challenging,” he told ABC Radio Sydney.
And it’s not just tourists that have concerns.
The Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne is also planning to install a large number of marine life tanks in their gardens.
But there’s also the issue of sustainability.
“There is a lot that can be done with the equipment, but it’s really not the type of thing you can afford to do,” Rolfes said.
“You can get into some pretty deep trouble when you go down that path.”
The government is also concerned that the system could become too big.
The Queensland government has a plan to build a reef system of around 3,000 reef animals over 10 years, and has asked scientists from the University in Queensland to design a reef for this purpose.
As the reef tanks get bigger, so too do the problems of algae and other issues, says Rolfed.
“So the problem is that you’ve got this huge amount of coral that needs to be protected from this pollution, so the idea is to make sure that they are protected,” he explained.
This is an issue that is raised by environmentalist and former marine biologist Peter McInnes, who said it is not the end of the world that marine life will eventually disappear off the face of the earth.
He told the ABC that the world is heading towards a “tidal wave” of marine death, which will take its toll on the natural systems around us.
Dr Peter McEwen, who was a marine biologist and biologist for Australia’s Department of Environment, told ABC radio on Monday that the Australian Government should consider using marine parks to preserve marine life.
“[They] need to have the infrastructure to make the aquaria permanent, they need to provide a safe, secure environment,” he noted.
“They also need to make their aquaria accessible to people.”
In an interview with ABC radio’s Lateline program on Monday, Professor McEwan said it was difficult to know how long marine life would be able to be maintained in their current state.
While marine life in Australia is relatively stable, he said that it could be affected by climate change, pollution, overfishing and other factors.
For instance, if there is a large increase in fish stocks, scientists say that would likely have a large impact on marine life and the reef systems around them.