The primary objective of the establishment of benthic reference sites in NSW is to assess the distribution of kelp forests along the east coast of Australia. In order to assess changes in depth distribution, replicate cross-shelf transects are located at sites in the Bateman's Bay Marine Park, at Port Stephens, at the Solitary Islands and off the coast of Sydney.
These locations have been chosen to encompass a broad span of kelp forest on the east coast in NSW and closely parallel the sites selected in temperate WA. Precise locations for dives are determined based on the results of bathymetric surveys, habitat mapping and towed underwater video provided by the NSW Department Primary Industries and the Office of Environment and Heritage. Dive sites are also being coordinated with on-going long term monitoring programs that use Baited Remote Underwater Video systems to assess fish stocks within the marine parks.
Sites at Batemans Bay and Port Stephens were established in November and December 2010 respectively and show a mix of kelp-dominated habitats rocky reefs and urchin barrens. These sites have been surveyed again in 2012 and 2014/15. Sites at the Solitary Islands and Sydney were surveyed in 2013 to establish a more complete coverage of important reefs along the NSW coast.