WA Marine Heatwave Event – The Great 2010/11 La Nina

A major ocean warming [marine heatwave] event occurred along the WA west coast from November 2010 until March 2011 influenced by a very strong La Nina event [opposite to El Nino] that caused masses of tropical water to flow between Indonesia and NW Australia and maintained very high ocean temperatures as it moved south down the west coast of WA. This was the same La Nina event that caused the incredible rain and flooding in eastern Australia during the same period of time.

At the height of the “heatwave”, temperatures of 3.5 deg C over ambient levels were recorded. This provides a major “shock” to the marine environment and caused fish kills and extensive coral bleaching in areas not accustomed to the sudden onset of high temperatures. Tropical fish species ended up much further south than their usual predicted ranges. Graphics depicting the southward migration of this heatwave event can be seen at: http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/docs/pub/Highlights/marine-heatwave.php

In some cases, these are the warmest sea temperatures ever recorded for these regions and they appear to have been influenced by a much stronger than usual Leeuwin Current over summer, associated with the very strong La Nina event. The baseline information collected through SRFME and WAMSI over the last 10 years has allowed marine scientists to begin to quantify the magnitude and significance of the event and also begin to predict the ongoing implications for Western Rock Lobster recruitment, prawns, scallops, finfish etc. It further illustrates the importance of establishing marine scientific baselines and ongoing monitoring. The extent of the coral bleaching has been reported as high as 90% in some parts of the Mid West around places such as Shark Bay. Scientists will now continue to monitor the recovery as the La Nina event continues to break down. Some marine scientists are suggesting the marine heatwave “event” may be a likely indication of what to expect in the future with predicted increased climate variability affecting the marine environment, especially ocean warming, as we move into the future.

See also: http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/docs/media/index.php?0000&mr=803


Photo: DEC Marine Science Monitoring Team evaluating the magnitude of the coral bleaching event in Shark Bay in May 2011

Divers Shark Bay

Shark Bay Marine Science project kicks off

Project name: Shark Bay – Effects of Rising Water Levels on the Faure Sill and Stromatolites

A two year study into the likely effects of climate change and sea level rise on the Faure Sill and Hamelin Pool region of Shark Bay has commenced.

A WAMSI team comprising UWA, Curtin University and CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship received a Commonwealth Caring for our Country grant in late 2010 and began fieldwork in early 2011 following two major flood events over Christmas and New Year. As well as several fieldwork trips now completed, detailed airborne scanner work has been flown mapping the key parts of the Faure Sill and Hamelin Pool at 1-3m resolution on the ground. Work will be ongoing throughout 2011 and 2012.

Kimberley Aboriginal Ranger Marine and Coastal Science Training

Kimberley Aboriginal Ranger Marine and Coastal Science Training

On 14 June 2011, WAMSI was invited to participate in the Annual Indigenous Ranger Training Day held at Middle Lagoon on the Dampier Pennisula, north of Broome. Ranger groups came from throughout the Kimberley region.

The WAMSI CEO, Dr Steve Blake, was invited to present background and technical information on the marine environments along the WA coast with a particular focus on the Kimberley coastal areas. Also covered were: marine science research techniques, satellite tracking techniques, recent whale survey results, marine data management, international whale monitoring networks, migration patterns of humpback whales, the role of Kimberley coast as part of the annual migration, and the potential roles for rangers in both whale monitoring and broader marine science activities around the Kimberley coast. Four training sessions involving 80 Indigenous Rangers and participating Elders were conducted at the Two Moons Whale and Marine Research Base, concluding with Q & A and then a “hands-on” session with parts of a humpback whale skeleton for view. Steve Blake said “WAMSI is delighted to be able to assist with the training activities as part of the highly successful Aboriginal Ranger Programs in the Kimberley region.”

Whale Bones
Whale Bones

Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution welcomes the announcement of the WA State Government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy, see: www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/kimberley-strategy

In 2008 WAMSI released the report: a turning of the tide: science for decisions in the Kimberley-Browse marine region to help highlight the need for a coordinated and integrated approach to establishing the necessary marine and coastal scientific baselines in the Kimberley Browse region. The Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy will go a long way to meeting this need.

WAMSI is looking forward to leading the Marine and Coastal Science components as outlined in the Strategy.