Australian seafood farms are set to benefit from a world-first water monitoring system recently trialled in the Spencer Gulf.

Key points:

  • CSIRO has completed initial testing of a ‘weather service’ for water quality in the Spencer Gulf in South Australia
  • The industry’s production in the Spencer Gulf region is worth over $238 million a year
  • The data could warn seafood industry of harmful marine events like algal blooms, which can kill fish

The Gulf is known as Australia’s ‘seafood basket’ with the local industry’s production worth more than $238 million a year.

For countless Aussies this Christmas, the region’s famous prawns will be on the table.

CSIRO’s Aquawatch will act as a ‘weather service’ for water quality by using data from water sensors and satellites with computer models and artificial intelligence, to provide real-time water quality forecasts.

Experts say the information provided could be a game-changer for the seafood industry – allowing for early warnings of changes in temperature and salinity that could pose lethal risks to fish stocks.

One such threat is algae blooms, which can kill fish by depleting oxygen supply in the water.

Water quality monitoring will help support the ecologically sustainable growth of aquaculture in the region.(Supplied: CSIRO)

Protecting Australia’s ‘seafood basket’

Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association research scientist Kirsten Rough said knowing when such an event may occur could prevent stock losses.

“Whilst we do monitor water quality, it’s currently time consuming and labour intensive. Real-time monitoring means we can scale up surveillance and adjust feeding cycles,” she said.

“Early warning forecasts would allow for planning decisions like moving pens out of the way of harmful algae.”

In April 1996, approximately 75 per cent of the captive southern bluefin tuna in Boston Bay in Port Lincoln died.

At the time, no environmental data such as levels of dissolved oxygen, suspended solids and toxic algae was available.

“Knowledge is power, because it gives you the ability to make decisions,” Ms Rough said.

Kirsten Rough says the decision allows the tuna industry to reallocate its resources to other research areas.(Supplied: Kirsten Rough)

CSIRO senior scientist Nagur Cherukuru said the sophisticated data system and national water sensor networks developed by Aquawatch would help Australia become more resilient to extreme weather and adverse marine events, such as the recent heavy rainfall that inundated oyster farms on the NSW South Coast, raising concerns of oyster supplies over Christmas.

“Having that knowledge of what is changing in water quality is going to help this industry and industry partners and ecosystem managers,” Dr Cherukuru said.

Wider application of water quality technology

Dr Cherukuru said the system could be used for other industries beyond seafood, and could even benefit recreational ocean users.

“Aquawatch aims to provide the sort of data for people to have easy access to make decisions and understand the water quality in their local water body,” he said.

Long term, the data will help inform the ecologically sustainable use and development of Australian marine systems.

The gross value of fishery and aquaculture production in 2021–22 increased by 8 per cent to $3.42 billion, with aquaculture exceeding the value of wild catch, according to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.