Thursday Dec 14 01:06 AEDT

Fish given experimental dome homes

Wednesday Dec 13 18:00 AEDT
By Dale Paget

National Nine News

Hooking fish could become easier in New South Wales with the early success of an unusual artificial reef program.

Scientists are monitoring fish activity around hundreds of submerged concrete domes which could eventually be used to build a reef in the ocean off Sydney.

National Nine News was given an exclusive tour of one of the experimental reefs located in Lake Macquarie, south of Newcastle.

Cameraman Matt Coble and I were guided by reef researchers seven metres below the surface to the strange city of domes. The water was murky and the domes — or "reef balls" as they are called — were covered with a coat of algae.

Our arrival caused the fish to disperse, but after a few minutes schools of bream returned.

Prior to the construction of the artificial reef the bottom was silt and sand and offered lean pickings for fishermen. Now a variety of sea life have moved in.

"We're seeing some unusual fish, some pelagic fish like amberjack and yellow tail king fish that, this far into the lake, we really didn't expect," said researcher Heath Follt.

Because of the cloudy water scientists are using a new underwater camera called a Didson to monitor the evolution of the reef.

Like an ultrasound machine the camera uses sound waves to create a picture of the reef and any fish that take up residence.

Reef balls were also used in the ocean off Phuket in Thailand to encourage the recovery of marine life after the 2004 tsunami.

Hundreds of the reef balls have been dropped into Lake Macquarie and at another experimental site in Botany Bay.

"We're very confident these artificial reefs will make a difference," said NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald.

Lake Macquarie fishermen say they already have.

"You can go there any time of day or night and pull fish," said charter boat operator Brad Minors. "It's helping tourism."

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