New University of New South Wales research shows that artificial reefs can increase fish abundance in estuaries with little natural reef.
Researchers installed six man-made reefs per estuary studied and found overall fish abundance increased up to 20 times in each reef across a two-year period.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology recently, was funded by the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust.
The research was a collaboration between UNSW Sydney, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS).
Professor Iain Suthers, of UNSW and SIMS, led the research, while UNSW alumnus Dr Heath Folpp, of NSW DPI Fisheries, was lead author.
Co-author Dr Hayden Schilling, SIMS researcher and Conjoint Associate Lecturer at UNSW, said the study was part of a larger investigation into the use of artificial reefs for recreational fisheries improvement in estuaries along Australia's southeast coast.
"Lake Macquarie, Botany Bay and St Georges Basin were chosen to install the artificial reefs because they had commercial fishing removed in 2002 and are designated specifically as recreational fishing havens," Dr Schilling said.
"Also, these estuaries don't have much natural reef because they are created from sand. So, we wanted to find out what would happen to fish abundance if we installed new reef habitat on bare sand.
"Previous research has been inconclusive about whether artificial reefs increased the amount of fish in an area, or if they simply attracted fish from other areas nearby."
In each estuary, the scientists installed 180 "Mini-Bay Reef Balls" - commercially made concrete domes with holes - divided into six artificial reefs with 30 units each.
Each unit measures 0.7m in diameter and is 0.5m tall, and rests on top of bare sand.
Professor Suthers said artificial reefs were becoming more common around the world and many were tailored to specific locations.