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Project 1.3.2 - Ecological role and potential economic value of sponges to the Torres Strait

Project Leader and Host Organisation

Dr Steve Whalan, Australian Institute of Marine Science

Project Description and Objectives


Download Poster:  Sponge farm at Masig operated by Kailag Enterprises

For detailed descriptions of the outputs for this project for Year 4 (2009/2010) of the MTSRF Research Programme, see the Annual Research Plan.

Project 1.3.2 builds on outputs and methodology of sponge aquaculture research previously conducted in the Torres Strait. Given awareness that the scale of the potential international market for commercial sponges may permit a venture larger than cottage industry size, it is now important to examine sustainability of the likely commercial development of a new industry in the Torres Strait. This will be achieved by laying ground work for an understanding the dynamics of shallow water sponge characterised communities and exploring risks and threats to sponge seed stock populations.

Given sponges play an important ecological role in these environments, possibly acting as nursery or recruitment habitat for other species of economic or ecological importance (as reported in other tropical habitats); and as sponges themselves are useful indicator or sentinel species for environmental stress, then relevant information will be delivered that will inform assessment of general habitat risk (from pollution, disease, invasions or sedimentation). Exploring the wider economic potential of bath sponge aquaculture in Torres Strait, based on work undertaken with CRC Torres Strait and Torres Strait Regional Authority will be contingent upon other funds and future work in collaboration with the Yorke Island Council and the Authority.

Ecological and risk assessment information will be integrated into the relevant Data Integration and Synthesis Frameworks for Reporting on the health of the Torres Strait ecosystems.

Key Objectives of Project 1.3.2 include:

  • Undertake an assessment of the distribution and abundance of wild commercial sponge species in Torres Strait, identifying elements of environmental risk (evidence of disease, sedimentation, etc.);

  • Determine connections between sponge populations and risks in translocation;

  • Determine patterns of sponge recruitment/mortality and the environmental risk of seed stock harvest leading to development of a sustainable seed collection strategy; and

  • Develop optimal handling guidelines to improve sponge explants growth and survival.

Further Information

Ms Mellissa Jess
Torres Strait Program Research Manager
Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited
Tel: (07) 4050 7400

Major Project Outputs

The Annual Research Plans, or ARPs, outline the specific tasks, products, budgets and staff for each research project within each of the Research Themes and Programs of the MTSRF.  The ARPs also outline the key deliverables, or 'project milestones' (e.g. major reports, journal articles, communications products) to be achieved.

An ARP is developed for each operating year of the MTSRF (2006-2010).

Details of this and previous years' outputs from this project are included in each of the Annual Research Plans

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