Our own place in South West Australia is a biodiversity hotspot, meaning it is rich in biodiversity, which is threatened. So this splendid abundance is both a gift and responsibility. In the light of this it is vital that the community who use these natural shared spaces should come to understand the importance of conserving and protecting the natural systems that support the plants and animals that make the very places beloved.
Most people are drawn to nature and long to participate somehow in its beauty and wonder but are not sure how. The temptation to engage in acts of conquest or consumption, like driving over things fast or collecting, catching and killing things, can simply indicate a lack of the tools to engage with nature more creatively or thoughtfully.
Activities that connect members of the public with living things in the environment will offer alternatives to recreational behaviours that are unintentionally destructive. Events like community biodiversity surveys can be an effective way of engaging the public in learning about the natural treasures on their own doorstep.
Artist Angela Rossen (foreground) with explorers, drawing the discoveries (Robyn Benkin)
The University of Western Australia School of the Biological Sciences hosted a community biodiversity survey on the South Cottesloe Beach to do just this. This event, co-presented by the Artist and Educator Angela Rossen, invited participants to log the biota of the beach from the top of the dune to the fringing reefs. Participants were able to view their discoveries under magnification and were assisted in identification by a team of biologists and members of Cottesloe Coastcare Association and Birdlife WA.
Exploring South Cottesloe Beach (Robyn Benkin)
Dune plants, pressed marine plants, local field guide books, microscopes, iScopeStands and sketch pads were all available. For a sparkling autumn morning over 100 people came to discover and record their findings.
Events like this are a way to grow a more nuanced and thoughtful relationship with nature. They also bring research scientists out to the community where they can show the relevance and importance of their work.
https://wamsi.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Web-_0002_tim-marshall-82948-unsplash.jpg12001800adminhttps://wamsi.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/WAMSI-Logo-300x92.pngadmin2017-05-31 09:12:512019-12-03 12:06:50Discovering the living things of the coast
Western Australian scientists say it’s now clear that global ocean warming is catching up with Kimberley coral reefs which, until the extreme marine heatwave of 2016, had been largely spared from major bleaching.
A research project for the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s Kimberley Marine Research Program has found that coral calcification rates have been remarkably stable over the last 100 years with Kimberley corals growing at rates similar to corals from less extreme reef environments.
However, last year’s mass coral bleaching event was the first time that regional-scale bleaching has been documented on inshore Kimberley reefs, leading researchers to confirm that Kimberley corals are vulnerable to marine heatwaves and climate change despite their ability to withstand temperature extremes in the short term.
Most coral reefs in the southern Kimberley had 30-60% bleaching during the first natural bleaching event in summer 2016 but the full extent of coral mortality and recovery is yet to be determined.
Bleached coral communities near Cygnet Bay, Kimberley, in April 2016. (Morane Le Nohaïc)
According to co-researcher, Dr Verena Schoepf from The University of Western Australia, most of the severely bleached corals observed in April near Cygnet Bay in the Kimberley have now died, with the Australian Institute for Marine Science reporting similar findings from Scott Reef.
“Kimberley corals have a remarkable ability to thrive under extreme conditions that many other corals would not survive,” Dr Schoepf said. “However, it is important to understand that even these naturally stress-tolerant corals are still threatened by the increasing frequency of extreme marine heatwaves events associated with climate change.”
Bleached and dead staghorn coral exposed at low tide near Cygnet Bay, Kimberley, in April 2016. (Chris Cornwall)
The researchers found that although Kimberley corals are not immune to bleaching, extreme daily temperature swings enhance the heat stress resistance of intertidal corals. They also found that intertidal corals recovered much better from the natural bleaching event in 2016 than subtidal corals.
“We are now working to understand the physiological and genetic mechanisms underlying the exceptional heat tolerance of Kimberley corals in a collaboration with Curtin and Stanford Universities,” Dr Schoepf said.
Scientists have confirmed that under global warming, stronger swings of climate variability, on top of the warming trend, will enhance the likelihood of marine heatwave risks off the Kimberley coast.
The findings, published in Scientific Reports, are part of a Western Australian Marine Science Institution Kimberley Marine Research Program investigation into how sensitive the coastal marine waters off the Kimberley are to variability and changes in ocean temperature, sea level, and shelf circulations.
Lead researcher, CSIRO’s Dr Ming Feng, along with a team of scientists and students, looked at historical data and numerical modelling and found that over the past six decades, ocean temperatures off the Kimberley coast have been rising at a moderate rate of about 0.05 to 0.1°C per decade, lower in comparison to waters off the southwest coast of Australia.
“The ocean temperatures on the continental shelf off the Kimberley coast are predominantly influenced by the air-sea exchanges, instead of coastal currents,” Dr Feng said.
“Unlike ocean temperatures off the west coast, sea surface temperatures at Scott Reef and off the Kimberley coast are warmer during El Niño events, not La Niña events, despite coastal sea levels tending to be higher during La Niña,” Dr Feng explained. “We believe this is due to weaker Australian monsoons and reduced air-sea heat losses to the atmosphere, as well as reduced cloud coverage which enhances solar radiation.”
Sea surface temperature anomaly composites in austral summer during (left panel) El Niño and (right panel) La Niña events.
A large number of the world’s coral reefs were recently influenced by one of the most severe El Niño events on record that lasted from early-2014 to mid-2016. Dubbed the Godzilla-El Niño, it caused severe coral bleaching worldwide, including in regions previously considered resilient to these effects, such as the tropical reefs in the southeast Indian Ocean.
Over the past 30 years, satellite observations have also revealed that the Kimberley coast appears to experience more frequent extreme hot temperatures during summer.
It is believed that ocean temperatures and marine species off the Kimberley coast are highly sensitive to future climate change. There is, however, a lack of knowledge on interannual and longer term variability in the region.
“Poor historical data coverage, rough topography and strong tidal currents have prevented us from gaining a better understanding of the thermodynamics in the region,” Dr Feng said.
“We believe that tidal mixing is likely to play a key role in regional heat balance and biochemical processes. Surface salinity and ocean stratification off the Kimberley coast are also strongly influenced by climate variability.
“In response to increasing greenhouse gases, extreme El Niño and La Niña events are projected to increase,” Dr Feng said. “Our work shows that under the influence of different flavours of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and modified by Indian Ocean and decadal climate modes (like IOD, MJO, IPO) and local air-sea interactions, the coral bleaching potentials vary across the southeast Indian Ocean, and may occur more frequently in a warming world.”
Dr Feng will be presenting the latest results at a Lunch and Learn information session at the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Kensington, Western Australia on 17 August, 2017. The presentation will be made available online at www.wamsi.org.au/climate-change.
The differences between how government, industry and the general public want to see the Kimberley region developed could be better understood by effectively identifying and mapping social values, according to researchers.
Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is the process of bringing together ocean users to make informed and coordinated decisions about how to use marine resources sustainably. In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Management, researchers from Murdoch University, working on a Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) project, confirmed MSP as an important potential conflict resolution tool for regional planning.
The WAMSI Social Values study collected social data along an extensive coastline in northwestern Australia. It carried out 167 in-depth face-to-face interviews and mapped their values. The majority of people included in the research were tourists (28.4%), Aboriginal people (21.6%) and Kimberley residents (not including Aboriginal people) (10.3%).
Value mapping identified that different locations are important for different values and may be valued for more than one reason. The results identified 17 values associated with the coastline and marine environment with biodiversity, the physical landscape, and Aboriginal culture being most valued.
Hotspot maps based on the frequencies of overlapping mapped polygons for 17 values, where red is high and grey is low. (Moore et al)
The researchers then worked to spatially identify potential for conflict where competing values overlapped and the results were overlaid with the boundaries of nine marine protected areas in the region.
Co-author, Dr Halina Kobryn explained that they discovered three near shore marine protected areas (MPAs) had at least one third of their area exhibiting values identified by more than one group.
“There were two main categories that emerged as having the greatest level of interest by more than one group,” Dr Kobryn said. “Biodiversity – the presence of flora and fauna, especially marine fauna such as whales, as well as reefs, and migratory shorebirds – were mapped in 80% of interviews followed by the physical landscape, mapped in 77% of interviews. The coastal zone with spectacular cliffs plunging into the sea, waterfalls and isolated sandy beaches, and an atmosphere of pristine remoteness, were quintessential elements of this mapped physical value.”
Hotspot maps revealed that the entire coast is valued, in one way or another. Hotspots within MPAs include Montgomery Reef in Camden Sound Marine Park for its physical landscape, Aboriginal culture, and biodiversity, and Horizontal Falls in Horizontal Falls Marine Park for its unique experience. Montgomery Reef has exceptional tidal ranges resulting in water cascading off the Reef. At Horizontal Falls, this same extreme tidal range results in a spectacular ‘horizontal waterfall’ between two islands.
Hypothesized conflict potential based all other values and direct use consumptive values with MPA boundaries added.
(Moore et al)
Hotspots were also found outside the MPAs, especially along the Dampier Peninsula for recreation, fishing, social interaction and Aboriginal culture. The Buccaneer Archipelago, to the southwest of Camden Sound, was the other obvious hotspot outside of MPAs, identified for a number of values.
“The high interest area on the west coast of the Dampier Peninsula was the site of a proposed gas facility,” Dr Kobryn said. “We also found that two of the three smallest MPAs closest to the population centres of Broome and Derby had more than three quarters of their area of interest for more than one value.”
“Overall our research confirmed results from similar studies in other countries where the potential for differences between groups over development in these waters are likely to be driven by values placed on the interference between biological values such as biodiversity and consumptive values such as commercial fishing ,” Dr Kobryn said.
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Results from a new dredging study in Western Australia’s Dampier Archipelago provide, for the first time, a framework for assessing likely impacts of dredging on coral populations, and for evaluating the timeframes and likelihood of population recovery from impacts.
In April 2014 and March 2015 studies of coral populations were undertaken at Enderby and West Lewis Islands in the Dampier Archipelago, outside the central Port of Dampier and largely unaffected by shipping or other port related activities.
The corals investigated in this study were Acropora millepora, Turbinaria mesenterina and massive Porites spp. (mainly P. lobata and P. lutea) because they were among the most common coral taxa on reefs of the Pilbara, and on many reefs globally.
Sampling locations in the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia. Replicate sites with a permanent transects were established within each location at Enderby Island and West Lewis Island (Babcock et al 2017)
For each species, populations were carefully measured, mapped and tagged, then re-located and measured again one year later in order to compile measurements of colony growth, mortality and recruitment. In total 737 colonies were tagged and relocated.
Tagged colonies of Acropora millepora, Turbinaria mesenterina and Porites spp. Each colony in the study was tagged and measured, then re-located and remeasured after 12 months to establish rates of growth and mortality (Babcock et al 2017)
Coral recruit, A. millepora. All recruits (colonies less than 2cm diameter) within census transects were recorded, to establish rates of recruitment. (Babcock et al 2017)
A. millepora is fast growing and one of the more common Acropora species of the region. Turbinaria mesenterina has a vase-like growth form and is characteristic of inshore reefs in the Pilbara region, such as those commonly affected by development. Massive Porites spp. are encrusting to hemispherical, and slow growing to more than several metres in diameter. Because of their large size and life history strategy, they resist environmental disturbances such as severe cyclone impacts and provide important physical structure to reefs.
Three general disturbance scenarios were simulated, using the models:
i. size dependent mortality of the largest colonies (e.g. due to a cyclone);
ii. severe reductions in recruitment (e.g. due to an extended dredging campaign); and
iii. chronic reductions in recruitment (e.g. due to a shift in underlying environmental conditions).
More specific scenarios were also simulated to evaluate what levels of disturbance (general mortality combined with recruitment failure) could be sustained while still allowing recovery of populations to pre-impact levels within five years, consistent with the definition of the Zone of Moderate Impact in the Environmental Protection Authority’s impact zonation scheme (see Technical Guidance: Environmental Impact Assessment of Marine Dredging Proposals EPA ).
Acropora millepora showed the most rapid recovery from mortality that affected adult colonies, while recovery was slower in T. mesenterina and slowest in Porites spp.
A. millepora however, was most affected by failure of recruitment, or sustained depression of recruitment rates. Recruitment rates did affect Turbinaria and Porites populations but the effects on adult numbers took much longer to manifest and their influence on population maintenance were smaller than in A. millepora.
Lead CSIRO researcher Dr Russ Babcock said modelling of coral populations under a range of scenarios representing likely impacts from dredging showed that, under a best case scenario, recovery within five years was only likely when impacts on live cover of A. millepora and T. mesenterina were less than 15 per cent.
“The results from the simulated impact events present a ‘best case’ scenario in that they represent a single impact,” Dr Babcock said. “In reality, there will usually be a range of impacts affecting individual corals, coral cover, and rates of recruitment, such as cyclones and/or coral bleaching that could affect communities within a decade.”
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.
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Advice from two dozen researchers with on-ground Kimberley experience has been integrated with input from around one hundred saltwater Traditional Owners and Indigenous Rangers to develop a protocol for researchers to engage and partner with Traditional Owners on Country.
Gina Lincoln from Mosaic Environmental Consultancy, recently gave an overview of the main process product being developed – ‘Collaborative Science on Kimberley Saltwater Country – A Guide for Researchers’, to a diverse group of managers, scientists and consultants at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre in Perth.
Mrs Lincoln explained that the guide is being created to address shortfalls in the existing process and to provide some consistency to researchers embarking on Kimberley coastal and marine research projects.
“The draft Guide walks land and sea researchers through the process of undertaking research projects on country with Indigenous Kimberley saltwater people,” Mrs Lincoln said. “It explains the requirements of identifying the appropriate native title holders, engaging Traditional Owners and planning respectful research around natural & cultural resource management. The Guide is also a database of information, helping researchers learn about the people and Country and resources that may be available to support them as they plan for remote research.”
Proposed Kimberley Collaborative Research Cycle 17.02
The KISSP group described feedback from attendees at the presentation as positive, with useful insights being collected from a range of stakeholders.
“It was a clear and helpful presentation – and I like the draft document a lot, because of the combination of well-structured common sense for working with Aboriginal land managers and practical information about specific organisations,” one reviewer said.
The process presented within the Guide is open for review by science stakeholders until May 9th. The final draft will be considered for endorsement by the Indigenous governance body in each of the seven participating Kimberley saltwater communities over the following few months.
The guide for researchers is one of several KISSP products in development that will be made available to the science community before the end of the year.
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Scientists are working on the final stage of developing models that could estimate the likely effect of changes in population, tourism and climate in the Kimberley to better predict what the future may look like.
By the end of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s Kimberley Marine Research Program (KMRP), a staggering 25 research projects will have generated new information about the bio-physical, ecological and social processes affecting the Kimberley marine environment and the main causes of change.
Condensing all this information into a unified picture to better understand the complex interactions to guide conservation decisions is an international team of researchers from CSIRO and ALCES (based in Canada).
Led by CSIRO’s Dr Fabio Boschetti, the team has been building a modelling tool which uses the best available information on the likely future of the region.
Simplified, spatially explicit, conceptual model of the working of the Kimberley system, including land, coastal and marine processes
“In general, model predictions are more reliable than the ones we (experts included) may produce without models,” Dr Boschetti said. “Of course, models will not accurately predict what will happen to the system. Rather, they are designed to say something physically and ecologically meaningful about what may happen to the system, should it undergo specific pressures.”
“They are tools which allow us to integrate the available knowledge, include the state-of-the-art understanding of social, economic and ecological processes and account for uncertainty and missing information. We can use them to explore what may happen to the Kimberley region to the year 2050 depending on how the Kimberley system works, what events may occur, and what we do and how we react to these events. Hypothetical or conditional questions, like “if this event occurs, then what may the future look like?’ can be asked. This forces us to focus on the events and conditions which may affect it,” Dr Boschetti said.
Modelling approach based on asking what may happen to the Kimberley region if specific events (scenarios) occur and specific initiatives (management strategies) are adopted
The two computer models are being used in this project to integrate existing knowledge about the Kimberley system to provide an estimation of the likely impacts of different stressors on the land (ALCES) and marine (Ecopath with Ecosim – EwE) environments.
The EwE model is being used to characterise the impact of fishing, tourism, other human uses and climate change on the Kimberley marine ecosystem as well as how different management options, such as controls on fishing effort and spatial closures, can affect the overall impact.
Based on available information on likely future land use in the Kimberley (e.g. mining, energy, aquaculture, crops, livestock, settlements, tourism, transportation) ALCES can simulate how land based processes affect the marine environment via sediment and pollution flows, infrastructure and localised human pressure.
“We do not know precisely how the Kimberley system works, but we have a few working hypothesis that represent a snapshot of how we believe the system is and works now,” Dr Boschetti explained.
“A future is an estimation of what the system may look like several years down the track, according to the model,” Dr Boschetti said. “It is the answer to the question ‘If a specific scenario occurs and we implement a specific management strategy and the system works according to our current knowledge, then how will the system likely respond?”
Determining future outcomes is the final stage of the project to be delivered by October 2017.
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While unusually warm sea temperatures in the Kimberley region threaten to cause further coral bleaching between April and May, researchers have joined with the Bardi-Jawi Land and Sea Rangers to provide the first detailed look into the process of fish and coral replenishment and the importance of marine plants in the ecosystem.
By the end of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s Kimberley Marine Research Program (KMRP) project a team of researchers from five separate institutions will have answered some important questions about this unique environment such as: When do young corals and fish move from the open ocean back into shallow coastal waters? Where do they go? Are there important “nursery” habitats or areas that need protection? Who is responsible for eating the majority of plant material? How much do they eat?
Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), CSIRO, Department of Parks and Wildlife WA (Parks and Wildlife), The University of Western Australia (UWA), Department of Fisheries (DoF) and Western Australian Museum (WA Museum) are working in partnership with the Bardi Jawi Land and Sea Rangers, Traditional Owners (TO’s) and the Kimberley Marine Research Station to provide the first quantitative estimates of coral and fish recruitment and herbivory in the Cygnet Bay / Sunday Island group of the southern Kimberley region.
Study area(Kimberley region)
The core goal of the project is not only to provide primary information on these processes but a blueprint on the appropriate techniques needed to continue to learn what is ‘normal’ in this environment.
“This is one of the first studies in which recruitment has been measured during each month of the year, rather than focusing on one or two months following predicted periods of coral spawning,” AIMS Coral Researcher Dr James Gilmour said. “We have therefore captured periods of spawning outside of those predicted, and also the recruitment of ‘brooded’ larvae – those produced following the fertilisation and development of larvae within the coral’s polyp.
“Initial results indicate that patterns of reproduction at the inshore Kimberley reefs are similar to those offshore, but with more recruitment occurring in some winter and summer months. This is a likely consequence of spawning by some corals, such as the massive Porites bommies, outside of the mass-spawning period in autumn, and also indicates that brooding corals that release larvae throughout much of the year are a significant component of the Kimberley reefs.
“The effect of the mass-bleaching was obvious, dramatically reducing rates of coral recruitment below those expected. These data also provide a useful baseline with which to assess the recovery of coral recruitment in coming years,” Dr Gilmour said.
Isopora (left) and Porites (right) coral recruits on terracotta settlement plates. (AIMS)
Project leader Dr Martial Depczynski (AIMS) looked at fish recuitment and found generally, recruitment was stronger during the wet season, consistent with other Western Australian ecosystems.
“Although this seasonal pattern was consistent among habitats, each habitat consisted of a unique assemblage of fishes which also varied widely in abundance,” Dr Depczynski said.
“Mangroves uniquely provided a nursery habitat for some very important species such as the snappers Mangrove jack (Lutjanus argentimaculatus – Maarrarn) and Moses perch (Lutjanus russellii).
“Similarly for seagrasses, the Golden-lined rabbitfish (Siganus lineatus – Barrbal) that provide an important source of food were found almost exclusively in seagrass habitats,” Dr Depczynski said.
The research team recorded rates of grazing on seagrass that were higher in the southern Kimberley than anywhere else in the world.
“Average consumption of the seagrass Thalassia hemprichii, otherwise known as turtlegrass, actually outstripped growth in some areas, demonstrating how important seagrass is as a food source,” CSIRO’s Dr Mat Vanderklift said.
Grazed turtle grass (Thalassia hemprichii). Turtle grass is a fast grower but in some places grazing by herbivores exceeded estimates of production. (Mat Vanderklift, CSIRO)
“What we’ve been able to confirm so far is that differences in species groups vary greatly between habitats meaning that all habitat types in at least the southern Kimberley are equally important,” Dr Depczynski said.
“Also, fish diversity overall was surprisingly low and well below expectations considering its closer proximity to the equator and global centre of fish diversity prompting further questions about the influence of the Kimberley’s unique characteristics and how they affect recruitment processes,” Dr Depczynski said.
Graphical representation summarizing findings from juvenile fish stereo RUV surveys during the wet (top panel) and dry (bottom panel) seasons across five habitat types (mangrove, seagrass, algae, coral and inter-tidal pools; separated by dashed lines). Habitats portrayed from left to right follow a typical Kimberley habitat profile from inter-tidal mangroves to adjacent seagrass meadows and algal fields to elevated rocky inter-tidal pools and submerged coral reefs. Colour shades in the background of each habitat represent groupings based on observed statistical differences in fish assemblages among habitats (brown-mangroves, green-seagrass, and pink- algae, coral and inter-tidal pools). Each fish diagram represents a different juvenile species; key to right shows scientific and Bardi Jawi names. Only the ten most abundant and highly influential species distinguishing between fish assemblages are presented. The number of fish in each panel is equivalent to the average number of juvenile fish per RUV replicate (e.g. MaxN = 5 in mangrove habitat during the wet season).
https://wamsi.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Web-_0002_tim-marshall-82948-unsplash.jpg12001800adminhttps://wamsi.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/WAMSI-Logo-300x92.pngadmin2017-05-01 14:22:112021-01-22 17:05:36Northwest Australia reveals its unique marine ecosystem