Kimberley crocodile numbers triple in biggest survey in three decades

Early results from WAMSI’s crocodile survey in Western Australia’s north suggest their numbers have tripled over the last 30 years.


(Video: Croc Watch: ABC Landline)


Kimberley Marine Research Program

Re-defining sediment transport models over coral reefs and seagrass meadows

Novel research within WAMSI’s Dredging Science Node will redefine how current dredged sediment transport models predict key pressure parameters such as sediment deposition rates within ecologically significant marine habitats.

Sediment deposition and subsequent smothering of marine habitats such as corals and seagrasses is one of the mechanisms by which dredging can impact on the environment.

However, according to Professor Ryan Lowe from The University of Western Australia, current sediment transport models are severely lacking in their ability to predict rates of sediment deposition and re-suspension over coral reefs and seagrass meadows with any degree of confidence.

Canopies formed by seagrass meadows impose drag forces that can trap sediment. This is not accounted for in sediment transport models.

“The first step in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process for proponents of new developments is to make predictions on the likely extent, severity and duration of their impacts on the environment,” Professor Lowe said. “To do this for projects involving dredging, proponents use sediment transport models that make predictions of where dredge plumes will go and what impacts they will have when they get there.”

“Current sediment transport models assume that the seafloor is essentially flat and that nothing is growing on it. However, in reality the large roughness, or canopies, formed by coral reefs, seagrass meadows and sponge gardens impose substantial drag forces that will alter turbulent flow structure over very small spatial scales and can trap sediment. As a consequence, current sediment transport models can grossly underestimate the rates of sediment deposition that occur in and around these important habitats.”

Sawhorse instrument frame deployed at Ningaloo Reef with hydrodynamic and sediment transport instrumentation. Photo: Andrew Pomeroy

Professor Lowe and UWA collaborator Dr. Marco Ghisalberti are leading a research program combining field and laboratory techniques to address this problem.

“In the field we are measuring turbulent flow structure and sediment concentrations above and within the coral reef and seagrass meadow canopies,” Professor Lowe said. “These direct measurements are compared with various conventional sediment transport models and highlight the major deficiencies.

“We are also conducting parallel and complementary laboratory experiments. The advantage of laboratory experiments is that we can examine in detail the mechanisms and processes in a controlled setting. We can control the densities and heights of canopies, and factors like whether they are completely submerged or not. In this way we can precisely measure transport rates, near bed turbulence, sheer stress and look at the effect of canopies on transport rates and subsequent deposition,” he explained.

Laboratory experiments of sediment transport through artificial canopies

The ultimate goal of this research is to develop new and improved transport formulations and algorithms that can more accurately predict rates of sediment deposition and the subsequent impacts to seabed communities.

“If we can achieve this, then both the Environmental Protection Authority and project proponents will have greater levels of confidence in the prediction of impacts during the EIA process,” Professor Lowe said. “And this is what the Dredging Science Node is all about.”

The WAMSI Dredging Science Node is made possible through $9.5 million invested by Woodside, Chevron and BHP as environmental offsets. A further $9.5 million has been co-invested by the WAMSI Joint Venture partners, adding significantly more value to this initial industry investment. The node is also supported through critical data provided by Chevron, Woodside and Rio Tinto Iron Ore.


Dredging Science

School’s out on tropical fish nurseries in the Kimberley

It’s an amazing journey for most tropical fish starting out life as larvae floating in the open ocean to making it back to the coast to settle down and live out the rest of their days.

During this process many species undergo rapid and often radical changes in their appearance changing from transparent larvae to the beautiful diversity of shapes and colours we are most familiar with.

Understanding when, where and how many tropical fish settle into different Kimberley habitats will provide an important management tool to help protect essential nursery areas and ensure there are plenty of reproductive adults to resupply following generations.

Alongside the Bardi-Jawi Marine Rangers and Traditional Owners, a WAMSI team from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), CSIRO, Western Australian Museum and Departments of Fisheries and Parks and Wildlife, began surveys of fish recruitment in April.

Diversity of larval fish (and other) forms captured from the open ocean. Image from Robert Cowen Laboratory, University of Miami, USA.

“The first stage was to develop the right technique to do this accurately in the challenging Kimberley environment,” AIMS researcher Martial Depczynski explained.

“We assessed nine different methods among seagrass, coral reef, inter-tidal and mangrove habitats typical of the Kimberley region.

“We found in most cases that different nursery habitats were best quantified using different methods but that one single method was sufficiently efficient, easy, cost-effective and safe to use in all four habitats,” Dr Depczynski said.

Lifecycle of a juvenile reef fish. Fish begin their lives in the open ocean as semi-transparent larvae before recruiting and settling into their juvenile and adult coastal habitat often for the rest of their lives. During recruitment, they undergo metamorphosis losing their larval features to take on their characteristic shape and colouration. Image from Reefkeeping South Africa.

The investigators found that remote underwater video, although new to the task of recording small juvenile fishes, was able to provide robust relative estimates of abundance and diversity in fish nursery habitats and was the best option among the nine methods.

“Now that the correct methodology has been developed, our next trip in October, which will run in conjunction with a team investigating the same recruitment process in corals, will concentrate on getting a solid data set together to answer questions such as; what nursery habitats are important to what fish species, are there hotspots of fish recruitment activity and what is the strength of fish recruitment in dry versus wet seasons,” Dr Depczynski said.

“We will continue to work in with the Bardi-Jawi Marine Rangers and the Traditional Owners on the Cape Leveque – Sunday Island – Cygnet Bay area to better understand the processes that govern fish recruitment processes in this area.

“The main aim and best possible outcome from this WAMSI project is to have definitive quantitative data on fish and coral nursery areas which identify nursery hotspots and can feed into both State and Indigenous management plans such as the next Bardi-Jawi Indigenous Area Management Plan.

Remote underwater video unit deployed to record newly recruited fishes in an intertidal rock pool during low spring tides on Sunday Island.

The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley. 



Kimberley Marine Research Program

National Marine Science Plan Q & A with Chair John Gunn

Chair of National Marine Science Committee John Gunn talks about the importance of having a national plan, what it means for Western Australia and how partners in industry, government and consulting will be involved.

1.       Why is it so important to have a National Plan for Marine Science?

There are a number of drivers that lead to development of the Plan. Two of the high level ones are:

The Australian Government has recently announced, through the Commonwealth Science Council its new “Science and Research Priorities” (SRP) ( These include an explicit focus on marine science, and a requirement that we have a clear plan for how we will deliver on the priorities. The intent of the SRPs is to ensure that investment from the Australian government in science is going to the most important areas. The Plan aligns well with the SRPs, and provides a clear articulation of how the 2300 strong marine science community can work together to meet a set of grand challenges.

Second, marine science is “big science”. It requires significant investment in research vessels, high end observing and experimental infrastructure, regional-to-national scale modelling frameworks etc. As we are (and I suspect always will be)  resource constrained, it makes sense that the marine science community  work together/collaborate at regional and national levels. The Plan sets out a number of recommendations where we can work towards developing national programs that will flow down to regional/state and local scale applications. This model of working extends beyond the research community into end-users. There are many benefits –  to industry, governments and community – of working at scale and across the public-private spectrum, and there is a loud call to all involved in the blue economy to collaborate and co-invest in building our national knowledge base.

By taking a collaborative, long-term, national approach to prioritising marine science in Australia, as we have in the National Marine Science Plan 2015-2025: Driving the development of Australia’s blue economy, we not only get the best investment returns for Australia’s $47 billion per annum blue economy and avoid duplication of effort, we also ensure that our people and infrastructure are focused on solving the highest priority challenges facing our ocean environments.

After all, Australia has the third largest marine jurisdiction of any nation on Earth – 13.86 million square kilometres – and we have a search-and-rescue area of 52.8 million square kilometres which is over a tenth of the Earth’s surface, giving us all the more reason to prioritise our marine science efforts.

2.       What are the highlights of the NMSP and why do you believe they are so important?

The Plan begins with a vision for what 2025 will look like if the Plan recommendations are realised. This includes helping Australia’s blue economy to reach its $100 million per annum potential, aiding efficient and effective decision-making by government, non-government organisations and industries, ensuring sustainable use of our iconic reef, marine park and Antarctic systems, improving operational safety on our waters, understanding how best to mitigate the impact of climate variability and change, discovering new opportunities and environments, and ensuring that users of our marine estate increasingly work together. This is our ambition for the Plan.

The development of this Plan has also highlighted to me the passion and commitment of our community, with over 500 marine scientists and their stakeholders volunteering their time to assist in the development of the Plan. These stakeholders helped to develop robust science plans (or white papers) for eight ‘grand challenge’ areas facing our marine estate: marine sovereignty and security; energy security; food security; biodiversity conservation and ecosystem health; climate variability and change; urban coastal environments; optimal resource allocation and infrastructure. These white papers are available at and underpin the science proposed in the Plan.

By having such a collaborative approach – complemented by a two day Symposium in November 2014 and extensive consultation on our early drafts of the Plan – I can say with confidence that this Plan owned by the broad marine science community whether they be from academia, government, industry or the community.

Another highlight for me is the discipline we’ve used to arrive at the recommendations and investment priorities identified in the Plan.  This document brings together the needs of each of these eight  grant challenge areas, looks at the commonalities and differences, considers skills, infrastructure and relationships needs, and brings these requirements together a set of eight recommendations:

  1. Create an explicit focus on the blue economy throughout the marine science system
  2. Establish and support a National Marine Baselines and Long-term Monitoring Program, to develop a comprehensive assessment of our estate, and to help manage Commonwealth and State Marine Reserves
  3. Facilitate coordinated national studies on marine system processes and resilience to enable understanding of development (urban, industrial and coastal) and climate change impacts in our marine estate
  4. Create a National Oceanographic Modelling System to supply the accurate, detailed knowledge and predictions of ocean state that defence, industry and government need
  5. Develop a dedicated and coordinated science program to support decision-making by policymakers and marine industry
  6. Sustain and expand the Integrated Marine Observing System to support critical climate change and coastal systems research, including coverage of key estuarine systems
  7. Develop marine science research training that is more quantitative, cross-disciplinary and congruent with the needs of industry and government
  8. Fund national research vessels for full use

3.       What does the NMSP mean for WA?

As WA has estuaries, coastal development, marine reserves, a fisheries industry, marine biodiversity, energy security, increased shipping activities and a need to adapt to the impact of climate variation and make evidence-based decisions about the sustainable development of its waters, it faces many of the same challenges the rest of Australia does. Ergo, WA benefits from national-scale research efforts as they flow through to the state and local government jurisdictions.

A good example of this combined national and state benefit is the expansion of Integrated Monitoring Observing System (IMOS) (currently with a regional node in WA) as one of the Plan’s recommendations. This will broaden IMOS’ current scope to support critical climate change and coastal systems research.

4.       How does this complement the Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 (released in April)?

In many ways WA has been the trail blazer for marine science prioritisation – with the development of the Blueprint for Marine Science 2050. The Blueprint dovetails nicely with the objectives and recommendations of the National Marine Science Plan. The findings of the Blueprint were considered during the Plan’s development (albeit recognising that it focusing on the needs of WA and WA’s immediate ocean environment) many of the lead authors being involved in both documents. And of course it helps that I sit on WAMSI Board that oversaw the development of the Blueprint.

By directly referencing the Blueprint and work of WAMSI in the National Marine Science Plan, the Plan can now work as a high-level vehicle for industry, the public and the international community to understand where Australia is coming together to prioritise its research efforts and how these efforts will help our oceans to continue to thrive.

5.       How will the broader science sector including industry, government and consulting be involved in the NMSP as it rolls out?

We’ve tried to ensure that our wider stakeholder groups have been closely involved in the development of the Plan, both through the white paper/science plan process, and through membership on the National Marine Science Committee (NMSC) – a consortium of 23 research institutes, universities, government departments and science groups with an interest in marine science which I chair and who have led the development of this Plan.

The Plan’s ambition is to ensure that current marine science funding gains greater traction by increasing the focus and coordination of existing science and research capability. The NMSC is beginning the Plan’s implementation by scoping Australia’s current capacity to deliver under each of the recommendations.

However in the Plan it is recognised that given the breadth of challenges and beneficiaries, additional future investment to realise the Plan’s vision must come from a broad base including different levels of government, private industry and the community. The aspirations of this decadal plan will not be realised with ‘business as usual’ marine science.

The Plan has been designed to prioritise and coordinate marine science over the next decade and includes the following investment priorities: a National Blue Economy Innovation Fund; National Marine Research Infrastructure; a National Baselines and Monitoring Program; a National Integrated Marine Experimental Facility; a National Ocean Modelling Program; and a Marine Science Capability Development Fund.

These investments will help us to build and operate essential research infrastructure, form collaborative science and research centres for priority interdisciplinary science, and support the next generation of marine science graduates.

More information about the National Marine Science Plan can be found at:

John Gunn, National Marine Science Committee (NMSC) Chair and CEO AIMS, with The Hon Karen Andrews, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science, and The Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry and Science at the launch.


National Marine Science Plan supports WA’s ocean research priorities

·       $100 billion benefit to the blue economy
·       Gaps in national ocean observation modelling
·       WA well placed with NMSP and the State’s Blueprint for Marine Science 2050

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution has welcomed the release of the National Marine Science Plan’s key recommendations which sets national priorities for research and importantly addresses the gaps in research capability.

“The National Marine Science Plan gives clear direction on what we, as a nation, need to do to support a sustainable blue economy,” WAMSI CEO Patrick Seares said. “With such enormous marine territories, and the growing activities within them, a national response with national resources, is absolutely critical to underpin regional and project level science and development activities.”

The National Marine Science Plan recommendations include; creating an explicit focus on the blue economy, long term monitoring to help manage State and Commonwealth Marine Reserves; an emphasis on a coordinated national approach to marine studies to establish benchmarks and predict likely changes in Australia’s marine environment.

“Activities such as the nation-building oil and gas industry, ambitions for expanded sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, the expansion of coastal and deep water marine reserves, and coastal development put Western Australia at the forefront of the $100 billion blue economy outlined in the Plan,” Mr Seares said.

“However, our level of understanding about how the ocean works is still catching up with the knowledge needed to identify new opportunities for industry, make operations more efficient, and improve environmental management.

“The Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 for Western Australia, launched in April, outlined in some detail the priority knowledge needed by industry and government off the Western Australian coast. We are already taking the next steps about bringing industry, government and the research sector together to face this challenge.

“The National Marine Science Plan now provides the clear and necessary impetus at the national level to work together more effectively, invest properly in priority gaps, and provide the information that will help us in Western Australia, but also all jurisdictions, “ Mr Seares said.

The NMSP highlights WAMSI among the most effective mechanisms for collaboration created over the last decade: “These need to be sustained as they are fundamental to the implementation of this Plan and the support of our blue economy.” (NMSP p37)

“We welcome the opportunity to continue to develop strategies for collaborative marine research that reflect the long-term vision for the State and Australia,” Mr Seares said.