Decommissioned oil rigs off Australia’s coastline could become hubs for marine-based businesses such as coral harvesting for aquariums, a fish expert argues.

Professor David Booth, of the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and University of Technology, Sydney, says there are up to 60 oil rigs in Australian waters that are due to be decommissioned in the next decade. Most are in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

Booth was last year involved in Federal Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources (DITR) talks on the decommissioning of oil rigs. It is due to release a paper in the next two months.

Booth says the options for decommissioning oil rigs include: leaving them intact and in place; towing them away for dismantling; removing the platform and using explosives to topple the remaining shell; and removing the platform and leaving the remaining shell in place.

In the last two cases, the shell of the oil rig forms an artificial reef, which could benefit the marine environment. “There is no easy answer … you can’t just say take them all away,” he says.

Booth says, for example, the removal and towing of the rig to Singapore or India for dismantling could have a negative impact on the environment due to the carbon cost of towing the rig and the risk of oil spills. “If you did all the sums it might not be an environmentally friendly thing to do,” he says.