Vale Professor Lindsay Collins

We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Lindsay Collins.

Lindsay has been involved with WAMSI since its inception in 2006. A leading geomorphologist with the Applied Sedimentology and Marine Geoscience Group, Department of Geology at Curtin University, he was a valued friend and project leader on both the Ningaloo Research Program in collaboration with CSIRO and the WA Museum, WAMSI’s Caring for our Country Project – Shark Bay and the current Kimberley Marine Research Program.

Lindsay was one of life’s true gentlemen and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his dedication and lasting contribution to marine science.

He shared his passion for geomorphology supervising some 50 Honours, Masters and PhD geoscience students over his more than 40 years of research and teaching during which time he earned the respect of his colleagues as a highly cited scientist and an expert in his field.

Lindsay Collins could always be relied on to produce high quality, successful and valuable collaborative projects. Just this year we were fortunate to have him present his latest project for us on Kimberley Reef Growth and Maintenance at the WAMSI Conference in March.

Lindsay’s wise guidance about science, but also people, has always been highly valued by WAMSI. His engaging personality and honest opinion were a great asset to the marine science community as a whole.

On behalf of all of us at the Western Australian Marine Science Institution and its partners I offer our sincere condolences to his family, and his many colleagues.

Patrick Seares

The funeral for Professor Lindsay Collins will take place next Friday, 11th September at 2.30 at Karrakatta Cemetery, followed by a wake at Cottesloe Beach Hotel at 4.30pm.

Lindsay Collins and Premier Colin Barnett at the 2015 WAMSI Conference


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.

The big comeback: it’s time to declare victory for Australian humpback whale conservation

Written by: Michelle Bejder, , and for The Conversation

When it comes to conservation, good news is pretty thin on the ground – and the ocean, for that matter. We have grown much more used to hearing about marine species that face extinction, decline or negative impacts than about those that are thriving. But if we are to avoid getting demoralised, conservation biology needs victories to celebrate.

So here’s one: the remarkable recovery of humpback whales that breed in Australian waters. Our review of the available data, published today in Marine Policy, suggests that humpback whale populations in Australian waters have recovered to the extent that we should consider downlisting them from the official list of threatened species.

The humpback whale should be a cause for optimism and hope. It’s an important counterbalance to the seemingly relentless communication of marine conservation problems with little in the way of good news. We hope this kind of optimism will convince politicians and the public that conservation problems can indeed be solved, and to stay dedicated to making that happen.

Turning the tide

Australia has one of the highest rates of species extinction in the world. But despite this, the past decade has seen rare examples of animals that are rebounding and thriving.

Humpback whales are one such example. They are listed as “vulnerable” on Australia’s official list of threatened species, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

But our review, led by Michelle Bejder of BMT Oceanica and based on the best available scientific data, suggests that humpback whales no longer need to be on the EPBC Act’s Threatened Species list. Both the east and west Australia populations of humpback whales have recovered substantially from the damage done in the commercial whaling era (roughly from 1912 to 1972).

As of 2012, Australia’s east coast humpback population was at 63% of the pre-whaling-era level. The west coast population had bounced back to 90%. Australian humpback whale populations are increasing at remarkable rates: 9% a year for the west coast population and 10% a year for the east coast – the fastest documented increases worldwide.

A recent global assessment of humpback whales suggested that nine populations from around the world (including the east and west Australian populations) are no longer at risk of extinction. This is to be expected when exploitation through commercial whaling is replaced with conservation legislation (both in Australia and worldwide). Though we don’t quite fully understand the biological forces driving this extraordinary population increase, it’s fair to say that the removal of the dominant negative human pressure has been a huge factor.

On the rise: humpback whale populations are rebounding at a startling rate. Ari S. Friedlaender (under NMFS permit), Author provided
Click to enlarge

We believe that conservation biologists have a responsibility to protect species that are in peril by providing a sound, scientific basis for effective management. It therefore follows that we also have a responsibility to present information on recovering populations. The listing of threatened species under the EPBC Act is a dynamic process that is periodically assessed to determine the most appropriate management actions – so if species no longer needs to be on the list we should say so.

The future challenge will be to protect a marine environment that contains growing humpback whale populations and to develop alternative approaches to ecological sustainability. The history of environmental protection is based on saving depleted species, with very little guidance on how to manage recovering and recovered ones.

If humpback whales are downlisted from the threatened species list, the EPBC Act would still protect them from significant impacts because migratory species are deemed under the Act to be nationally significant. Beyond Australia, the International Whaling Commission manages the global moratorium on commercial whaling, which is essential for the humpback whales’ recovery to continue.

Management efforts must now balance the need to ensure humpback whale growth and recovery within a marine environment that is also expanding with industrial and exploration activities. There will be increases in interactions with ocean users, including acoustic disturbance from noise, collisions with vessels, entanglements in fishing gear, habitat destruction from coastal development, and interactions with the whale-watching industry. It will be vital to gain public support to help maintain the growth and recovery of Australian humpback whales and prevent future population declines.

Ocean optimism

The recovered humpback whale population could bring a positive shift in scientific research throughout Australia. If Australian humpback whales are removed from the list of threatened species, one of the most beneficial consequences could be the reprioritisation of research and funding to support other species that are at a greater risk.

Hopefully, other animal species such as the threatened blue whale, the understudied Australian snubfin and Australian humpback dolphins might get the same chance of scientific scrutiny that has been afforded to humpback whales.

For the first time in more than a generation, Australia’s iconic humpback whales have become a symbol of both hope and optimism for marine conservation, providing a unique opportunity to celebrate successful scientific and management actions that protect marine species. Optimism in conservation biology (which even has its own social media hashtag, #OceanOptimism) is essential to encourage politicians and the public to solve conservation problems.

Around the world, many marine mammal populations remain in peril, and conservation biologists should not detract from these cases. But we should still highlight the successes, as they provide hope that ongoing conservation actions can prevail. Ultimately, inspirational examples such as humpback whales can motivate people to use ocean resources wisely and to take sustainable and effective actions to safeguard marine wildlife for the future.

Related links:

Embracing conservation success of recovering humpback whale populations: Evaluating the case for downlisting their conservation status in Australia, Marine Policy review

Attention whale watchers: scientists want your snaps


New marine facility at Waterman’s Bay to put WA in the lead

Life and the environment in and around the Waterman’s Bay shoreline on Perth’s northern beaches will soon be available to explore in real-time with an ambitious project to couple observations from the seafloor, sea surface and the atmosphere, and link scientists with the public and industry.

Project coordinator Dr Jeff Hansen from The University of Western Australia’s Ocean’s Institute and School of Earth and Environment has a penchant for the physical side of life, surf zone currents and sediment transport, but he believes the new Waterman’s Bay Nearshore Observatory could be used to explore much more, from conducting experiments relating to marine chemistry to monitoring marine life and collecting long-term records of ocean properties.

Dr Hansen said the location of the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) Waterman’s Bay Facility directly on the water’s edge presents a tremendous opportunity to study and monitor the surrounding ocean.

“The building provides a unique platform from which we can collect a vast range of observations in real-time” he said. 

A key element of the observatory is that all data, real-time and archived, will be made available free online. In addition to providing data relevant to individual scientists, the observatory will supply information needed to make decisions relating to marine safety, coastal zone management, and marine resource management, as well as providing data to the public for recreational and educational purposes.

“We’re trying to cast a broad net and invite industry partners who may have a range of applications for the observatory infrastructure” Dr Hansen said. “We want to design the observatory infrastructure to be as flexible as possible to meet the requirements of a wide variety of users for many years to come.”  

The project, a major new initiative proposed by the UWA Oceans Institute and the IOMRC partners, will provide a new undersea observatory facility to be used for fundamental oceanographic research, monitoring the physical, chemical, and biological process occurring in Perth’s metropolitan coastal waters, and for marine technology development and trials.

It will include a range of infrastructure and instrumentation that will enable remote control of instruments and monitoring of data streams. The observations delivered by the facility will provide a detailed view of the coastal ocean, unrivalled elsewhere in Australia, while supplying a diversity of data relevant to science, marine safety, coastal management, industry, and to the public.

The project has been planned in two stages: in Phase 1 the roof of the newly refurbished Waterman’s Bay facility will be equipped with a weather station and seaward-directed video camera to provide continuous images of sea state and hourly georeferenced shorelines of the adjacent beach. These observations will be coupled with wave, water level and temperature measurements collected by a submerged sensor about 150 metres off the beach connected by a cable running into the building.

Phase 2 (subject to funding) is the installation of an eight kilometre fibre optic and power cable from the facility out to a depth of 25 metres that will support more than 100 underwater instruments  in addition to a directional wave buoy that will provide real time observations of sea state. 

Bathymetric chart of the Waterman’s Bay Marine Centre facility region, showing the proposed locations of the Observatory undersea nodes (red starts) and buoy (yellow circle), and approximate cable-run (dashed line).

“The most ambitious part of the project is getting the cable from the building to eight kilometres offshore ” Dr Hansen said. 

Prior to coming to UWA, Dr Hansen worked in the US including at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“A lot of other marine laboratories around the world have undersea observatories and they have proven to be an extremely powerful resource for community engagement and research,” he said.

Interested parties, from all sectors and organisations, are invited to contact Jeff Hansen at the UWA Oceans Institute with expressions of interest in this initiative.

“By providing information about envisaged usage, we will be able to design the infrastructure to meet the requirements of the maximum number of stakeholders,” Dr Hansen said.

The project anticipates that access to the Waterman’s Bay Facility for the installation of the weather station and video camera will be possible in the coming months. The Phase 1 undersea instrumentation is expected to be up and running by early next year.

Coral embryos make next-gen mucous cocoons

By Gerard Ricardo, UWA

The phenomenon we call ‘coral spawning’ actually involves five primary early life-history stages, from the release of the egg-sperm bundle, fertilisation, embryogenesis, larval development until finally settlement – each with their own challenges to the impacts of sediment.

The development of the coral embryo occurs on the water’s surface and lasts about 36 hours from the point of fertilisation until the larvae become free-swimming. During this time, the embryos are part of a coral spawn slick, a buoyant slurry of sperm, fertilised and decomposing unfertilised eggs…it gives a smell that takes a while to get used to.

When we exposed the embryos to suspended sediment, we noticed an interesting response that took us a bit by surprise. The embryos cocooned themselves in a mucous sac which sunk to the bottom of the chamber. Within the confines of safety, the embryo maintained development until ciliation (fine-like hairs used for swimming). When the larvae were moved to clean sediment-free water, the larvae could be seen rotating within the cocoon and eventually would rupture and emerge from it – hardly a beautiful butterfly but amazing nonetheless.

Scanning electron micrographs of the mucous cocoon. Coloured backscatter image of an embryo with part of the mucous cocoon removed (left). Orange = sediment, purple = embryo and mucus. Inset A) Mucous web observed under secondary electron mode B) Sediment grains observed under backscatter electron mode.

Once ciliated, the larvae seem to pretty capable of deflecting sediment grains with their new energy-efficient brooms, but while they are embryos, mucous cocooning maybe the only mechanism they have to protect against abrasive and sticky sediment grains. Overall, early-life stages of corals can be very sensitive to sediment, but for these two development stages, mucous cocooning and cilia beating bring a welcome reprieve.

The progression of the coral embryos through the cocoon formation stage



Ricardo GF, Jones RJ, Clode PL, Negri AP (2016) Mucous Secretion and Cilia Beating Defend Developing Coral Larvae from Suspended Sediments. PLoS ONE 11(9): e0162743. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0162743


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

Lost coastline found in WA Department of Transport

Over the years government agencies, and industry for that matter, amass a huge amount of survey information in the process of completing individual projects. It’s information that invariably never sees the light of day again. But one project team working with the Department of Transport (DoT), Fremantle has brought together an extraordinary online picture of how the Western Australian coastline has changed over the last 140 years.

The Managing Coastal Vulnerability Project (MCV) project manager Ralph Talbot-Smith and his team have spent the last 18 months organising some of the Department’s maritime spatial information into coherent and cohesive datasets that work for researchers, managers and the general public.

Lost coastline: Jurien Bay Coastline Movements 1875-2000

“What we’re finding is everything is related to everything,” Mr Talbot-Smith said. “The coastline changes a huge amount over a short period of time.  Although some records date back to 1875, the majority start from the 1940s and even from then you can still see changes in the undulating coastline, some places a lot greater than others.

“The coastline changes but probably the habitat changes as well. So a change in seagrass beds may be related to coastline changes but unless we have this in data available we can’t make those comparisons. The Department of Transport has opened up this door and people are starting see the importance and the potential.

Coastline Movements 1941-2009 along Geographe Bay Road, Busselton

“The biggest dataset was the Hydrographic Bathymetric data which took six months to convert 1000 DoT surveys to a standard horizontal datum. Then we converted all surveys from individual chart datum’s to AHD and retained survey metadata before loading it into the Bathymetric Information System (BIS), which is software supplied by ESRI,” Mr Talbot-Smith said.

There are seven data sets that have been compiled over the last 18 months. Now the MCV project team is moving on to do the same job at the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.

“We’ve tried to future proof the data so that if systems change, the transfer of information is going to be easy,” Mr Talbot-Smith said. “We have also provided detailed documentation and training to the data custodians on the procedures to update and maintain the datasets.”

Ralph Talbot-Smith is now advocating for a central information hub for Coastal & Marine habitats to be established at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre where agencies can have:

  • Individual datasets that can be updated as sampling is expanded.
  • Access to other participants’ data and linked to video and photos in the same hub.
  • Stored data collected by Lidar or multibeam with reflectance and backscatter information.
  • The ability to eventually consolidate combined habitat determinations.

“It’s an idea that, in this resource poor economic climate, makes a lot of sense,” Mr Talbot-Smith said. “It also follows along the Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 direction for a central knowledge hub. I believe it could advance the amount of habitat information and provide 10-times what we have now for Western Australia.”

Hydrographic-Bathymetric Survey

MCV is administered by the Western Australian Land Information System (WALIS) Marine Group as part of the WA Government’s $23-million Location Information Strategy (LIS).  One of the key elements of the LIS is to facilitate access to spatial data through the State’s Shared Location Information Platform (SLIP) with a view that improved information access and simplified distribution is a key component to providing better decision making for the benefit of all West Australians.

Further information:

WAMSI Presentation: Managing Coastal Vulnerability (MCV) Project DoT Fremantle – Marine Data Available Online:  PowerPoint presentation presented by Ralph Talbot-Smith 20th July 2015