Vale Dr Barry Wilson (Funeral Notice)

We would like to let members of the marine science community in Western Australia know that Barry Wilson passed away on Monday (12 June). Barry was an extraordinary human being whose contributions to the conservation of our Australian marine ecosystems have been profound.
In 1994, Barry led the landmark “Wilson Report” (A Representative Marine Reserve System for Western Australia. Report of the Marine Parks and Reserves Selection Working Group) when he was head of the Marine Parks and Reserves Authority which created a shift in the way we view our marine resources and paved the way for the Marine Parks that we now have, and are continuing to create in WA. For those of you who are interested, his article “the West Australian Marine Reserves Conservation System” (in Fitzsimons and Wescott (2016) “Big, Bold and Blue“, provides a recent, unique and invaluable perspective on these issues.
His latest major contribution, a book called the “Biogeography of the Australian North West Shelf: Environmental Change and Life’s Response”, is testament to his dedication to understanding our wild and under-studied natural world.
To many of us, Barry had the broadest and deepest knowledge of marine (as well as  terrestrial) ecology out of anyone we have met. We will miss Barry’s ability to grasp the bigger picture and share this so clearly, with childlike enthusiasm and with such great spirit, but we will remember him with much warmth and great respect.

Dr Jim Underwood on behalf of the marine science community of WA


Funeral notice


Twomey takes the helm at WA Marine Science Institution

Former BMT Oceanica Director Dr Luke Twomey has been appointed General Manager and Dr Caroline Ochieng-Erftemeijer has been appointed Research Manager at the 15-member joint venture partnership, the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI).

Dr Twomey will oversee the completion of the current WAMSI science programs, including the $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program and the landmark $19 million Dredging Science partnership, as well as drive planning for the long-term future of WAMSI.

A graduate of Curtin University and the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Dr Twomey has experience across the fields of environmental impact assessment, management, research and teaching in estuarine, nearshore and offshore environments, both in Australia and internationally.

WAMSI Research Manager Dr Caroline Ochieng-Erftemeijer

Dr Ochieng-Erftemeijer, as Research Manager, will work on continuing to roll out Western Australia’s Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 science priorities for decision-makers to help align the research sectors’ response and establish a foundation of willingness across multiple sectors to find ways to be more strategic and more collaborative in marine science.

A marine ecologist with more than 14 years of international experience in ecological marine research, biodiversity conservation and project management, Dr Ochieng-Erftemeijer is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire USA, Imperial College, UK and Egerton University, Kenya.  

Acting Executive Chair Naomi Brown welcomed the appointments as heralding a new chapter in the ten-year WAMSI joint venture partnership.

“We’re pleased to have Dr Twomey join us to lead WAMSI and Western Australia’s marine science priorities to a new level of cooperation and coordination between government, industry, academics and the community,” Ms Brown said. “The blue economy is expected to be worth about $100 billion by 2025 and we need to continue our strong leadership in this space.”      

Both Dr Twomey and Dr Ochieng-Erftemeijer will take up their positions during the week beginning Monday 29 June.

WAMSI Executive Chair
Naomi Brown

Marine strategy to boost WA’s blue economy

Premier and science minister Colin Barnett has launched the Blueprint for Marine Science Initiative, which is the result of high-level collaboration between many sectors engaged in the marine environment.

Full story in the Mandurah Mail

Marine science funding to boost WA’s blue economy

State Government of Western Australia

31/05/2017 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 31/05/2017 15:58








  • ​$1.29 million funding boost for marine science
  • State support to capitalise on opportunities within the blue economy

Science Minister Dave Kelly today announced a $1.29 million funding boost to help develop Western Australia into a global marine science hub.

The McGowan Labor Government has provided these funds to the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) and the Perth Programme Office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

The funding will help WA capitalise on opportunities offered by the Australian blue economy, which utilises oceans’ resources for sustainable economic gain. The blue economy is expected to be worth about $100 billion by 2025.

WAMSI and the UNESCO IOC Perth Programme Office contribute to Perth’s development as a global marine science hub and increase global awareness of the world-class marine science research that takes place in Western Australia.

The State Government is providing WAMSI with $550,000, and the UNESCO IOC Perth Programme Office with $740,000 in funding.

For more information, visit

Comments attributed to Science Minister Dave Kelly:

‘Western Australia’s rich marine biodiversity is a unique and proud part of our State’s identity.

‘That is why the McGowan Labor Government is committed to building WA’s reputation as a global marine science hub.

‘This investment will also support a number of industries that depend on our marine environment, including the oil and gas sector, tourism, and commercial fisheries.’

Minister’s office – 6552 6100


Discovering the living things of the coast

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.

Angela Rossen

Naturally resilient Kimberley coral reefs vulnerable to climate extremes

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.

Results of the final WAMSI report Resilience of Kimberley coral reefs to climate and environmental extremes: past, present and future are due to be published by the end of the year.

Dr Schoepf will be presenting the latest results at a Lunch and Learn information session at the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Kensington, Western Australia on 27 July, 2017.

The latest project update can be found at

Dr Verena Schoepf investigating intertidal coral communities near Cygnet Bay, Kimberley.
(Claire Ross)

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

Climate swings enhance marine heatwave risks off the Kimberley coast

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

Results of the final WAMSI report Knowledge Integration and Predicting Biophysical Response to Climate Change are due to be published later this year.


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

Social values require careful consideration in land use planning

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.

Moore, S.A., G. Brown, H. Kobryn and J. Strickland-Munro. 2017. Identifying conflict potential in a coastal and marine environment using participatory mapping. Journal of Environmental Management 197: 706-718. doi:


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

New framework developed to assess coral resilience to dredging

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 [2016]).

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.”

Babcock R, Gilmour J and Thomson D (2017) Measurement and modelling of key demographic processes in corals of the Dampier Archipelago. Report of Theme 4 – Project 4.7, prepared for the Dredging Science Node, Western Australian Marine Science Institution, Perth, Western Australia, 43pp.

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

Indigenous partners in the Kimberley – a new guide for researchers

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.

The new draft research process is being developed within the WAMSI Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science project (KISSP).

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.



Click here to download a pdf of the presentation slides.

WAMSI KMRP Kimberley Saltwater project page:


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