Sydney Harbour features more man-made seawall than natural shoreline, put in place to protect surrounding infrastructure. But it wasn't always that way. Looking to replace some of the natural habitat lost to development in the area, scientists are set to install an artificial reef outside the iconic Sydney Opera House as a way of preserving local marine biodiversity.

"Across Sydney Harbour over 50 percent of the shoreline has been replaced by seawalls to protect infrastructure from storms and erosion," says David Booth, a professor of Marine Ecology at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). "We believe that new initiatives, such as the artificial reef that will be trialed at the Opera House, could help restore natural marine habitats and rebalance biodiversity around the harbour."

The project is led by UTS with funding from the state government of New South Wales and builds on previous research, where scientists deployed basic milk crates as artificial reefs in the harbor. This time around, scientists have created specially designed hexagonal-shaped modules, with nine to be hung in waters adjacent to the Sydney Opera House for a period of three years.

"This trial is an important project because research shows seawalls and other man-made structures tend to attract less marine life and native species than natural harbour shores," NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said in announcing the project.

The project begins with a survey of fish populations and diversity around the harbor. The artificial reefs will then be installed early next year and scientists will continue to monitor fish populations looking for any changes that may result. It is hoped that the initiative will not only help out local species, such as leatherjackets, blue groper and seahorses, but offer lessons for marine conservation efforts in a broader sense, while also leading to improved designs for artificial reef structures.

"The end game here is to see if these sorts of simple enhancements can help fish biodiversity," says Booth.

View gallery - 3 images