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Fish populations could be significantly damaged by the dredging of seabed sediment, with new research finding that larvae development is hindered by murky water.

The study, conducted at James Cook University, raises fresh concerns over dredging work to expand several ports located near the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers studied the larval development of clownfish in tanks at the university. The fish larvae were subjected to varying degrees of sediment – from 15 milligrams per litre up to 45 milligrams per litre – to see how the silt affected their progress.

The research discovered that larvae raised in even only slightly increased sediment took far longer to develop into juvenile fish. The development time increased from around 11 days to up to 22 days – doubling the time the fish took to reach juvenile status.