Encrusting sponge found in Kimberley coral reefs

The coral-killing sponge Terpios hoshinota has been detected in the Kimberley for the first time by scientists from the Western Australian Museum.

Terpios hoshinota is commonly referred to as ‘black disease’ because of its colour and because it overgrows both live and dead coral. It has been reported in many areas of the Indo-Pacific, including the Great Barrier Reef, but has not previously been found in Western Australian waters.

The sponge was detected during fieldwork in 2016 by the WA Museum’s Dr Jane Fromont, Dr Zoe Richards and Dr Nerida Wilson, with assistance from the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation and the Uunguu Rangers. Their research has now been published on open access scientific journal platform MDPI.

Dr Fromont said the Kimberley region of the State has some of the least impacted coral reefs globally.

“We report for the first time the presence of Terpios hoshinota in the eastern Indian Ocean on Kimberley inshore coral reefs,” Dr Fromont said.

“It is important to note that while there has been no outbreak event by Terpios hoshinota in the Kimberley, our observations of its presence suggest monitoring may be required to reduce the possibility of it spreading undetected. Terpios hoshinota is visually striking, and we encourage regional management authorities to include it in their reef health surveys.”

Dr Fromont said while the causes of Terpios hoshinota overgrowing corals remain unclear, the ability of the species to spread over coral reefs and cause coral death is concerning.

Where possible, small fragments of gray-black coral-encrusting sponge should be collected for expert identification at the WA Museum.

A copy of the research paper can be found at https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/10/184

Photo courtesy Dr Zoe Richards.

WAMSI Bulletin December 2019

Bush Telegraph: Landscope Guest Column

When I first started as CEO of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI), over two years ago, we were well on our way to delivering two of the biggest collaborative science projects ever undertaken in Western Australia. One looking into environmental thresholds for dredging and the other creating the first-ever picture of the Kimberley marine environment, how it has changed over time, where it is now, and how it might change in the future. Combined, these two projects represent the collaborative efforts of more than 300 scientists from 50 organisations over five years.

The result has been an invaluable amount of new knowledge that has seen us, as a society, jump decades ahead in our ability to understand how best to manage this precious resource.

But collaboration of this scale comes with its challenges, and it’s a testament to the will of the WAMSI partnership and all those involved, including the Traditional Owners, that we have successfully achieved what we set out to do.

The experience has strengthened many new and ongoing science collaborations for the benefit of our environment and ‘right-way science’ that respects, learns and works with Traditional Owners is becoming the new norm.

Collaboration is imperative in the current economic and environmental climate. The simple fact is that to be able to achieve a sustainable future, we need to work more cost effectively, faster and smarter than ever before. When we’re talking about the marine environment and the ‘blue economy’, we’re talking about understanding large-scale issues, and that can’t be done without collaboration.

We all have our different motivations for what we are trying to achieve, both organisationally and individually, but our shared vision is to successfully manage our marine environment for the future.  To quote Charles Darwin: “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”


This article is republished from Landscope under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Malgana People Add Their Voice to Science Priorities For Shark Bay

Generations of Malgana people from Gatharragudu (Shark Bay) have come together to start the process of understanding the decades of research that has been carried out in the World Heritage site and to develop priorities for the future.

Supported by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) partnership, the historic meeting between Malgana Elders, the Malgana Land and Sea Management Reference Group, Malgana rangers from both the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions, and the Malgana Land and Sea Management Program, has brought together western science and Aboriginal knowledge to contribute to a science plan.

“We’re working to ensure that Malgana voices are included in the science plan for the area,” WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw said. “This has been an important step in returning a large body of research back to Country so the Traditional Owners can make an informed assessment about their priorities for science.”

Above: UWA seagrass scientist Matt Fraser talks about some of the research on Gatharragudu (Shark Bay)


Scientists have been raising concerns about the need to monitor and understand changes in Shark Bay since a marine heatwave in 2011 wiped out 900 square kilometres of seagrass – 36% of the total coverage. This in turn has had an impact on the whole ecosystem.

A 2018 workshop convened by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee classified the area as being in the highest category of vulnerability to future climate change.

The Federal Court of Australia formally recognised the Malgana people as native title holders in December 2018.

The Malgana Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) acknowledged that a combination of western science and traditional ecological knowledge is important to help manage any future changes.


Above: Malgana DBCA ranger Cody Oakley with Land and Sea Management Program ranger Pat Oakley and Malgana Elders Gloria Boddington and Ada Fosser Above: (L-R) Malgana DBCA Ranger Klaas Liezenga, DBCA Marine Park Coordinator Luke Skinner, Malgana Land and Sea Management Reference Group member Maxine Hansen, DPIRD research scientist Alastair Harry, WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw, Malgana Land and Sea Management Reference Group member Nick Pedrocchi and DBCA Principal Research Scientist Dr Kelly Waples.


Guidelines developed through WAMSI’s Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science Project were also presented at the workshop to support the MAC in developing processes and protocols for scientists working on Country.

“This workshop has been a rewarding experience for us as researchers making the cultural shift toward right-way science with Traditional Owners on Malgana Country,” Dr Shaw said. “This is such a unique part of the world, it needs our coordinated and collaborative efforts in order to manage it for future generations.”

The WAMSI Shark Bay Science Plan will be released in 2020.

Above: (Back L-R) Malgana Elders Tom Poland and Johnny Oxenham, DBCA Rangers Klaas Liezenga, Kieran Cross and Cody Oakley with (Front L-R) Malgana Elders, Gloria Boddington, Ada Fosser and Kathy Oakley


Wannga Barraja Wirriya Malgana Ngurra Gatharragudu Gantharri Yajella (Talking about land and sea on our Malgana home, Two Waters, with our Elders and friends)

AMSA Indigenous Workshop Outcomes

Promoting collaborative and respectful partnerships for Sea Country research in WA

Some 60 Indigenous and marine science participants at the Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA) Indigenous Workshop held in Fremantle in July this year identified the Kimberley saltwater science guidelines as a potential blueprint for regionalising processes and protocols for research.

The fourth annual Indigenous workshop convened under a partnership between the NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub and the AMSA brought together a representative group to discuss a way forward on developing better ways of working together on sea country.

The WAMSI Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science Project (KISSP), which subsequently led to the development of the Indigenous Saltwater Advisory Group (ISWAG), has been recognised for its success in establishing a pathway for right-way research.

CEO Luke Twomey said the WAMSI science partnership was happy to support the rollout of the KISSP process and is already working with regions where WAMSI is developing science plans.

“We have just completed a three-day workshop with the Malgana people in Gathaagudu (Shark Bay) where the key objective was to understand the science priorities for the Malgana people so their voices could be incorporated into the Shark Bay Science Plan process,” Dr Twomey said. “Part of that process is providing the Traditional Owners with an understanding of what science has already been done on Country, who the science  organisations are and what guidelines have been developed elsewhere. From there the Aboriginal Corporations can develop their own processes and protocols for working with scientists on Country.”

The 2019 AMSA Indigenous Workshop Summary Report is available here.

Support Grows for Digital Environmental Impact Assessment Transformation

An ambitious project to harness the vast amounts of environmental data being produced in Western Australia that will ultimately improve outcomes for the state has received strong support from the meeting of Environment Ministers with the Commonwealth. 

The meeting of Federal Government, State and Territory ministers on November 8 discussed critical environmental issues including Digital Transformation of Environmental Assessments.

In a statement posted by the Meeting of Environment Ministers the Ministers agreed: to work together to digitally transform environmental assessment systems, providing greater access to shared environmental data, less duplication and greater transparency.

The agreement goes on to state: Delays within the current system are a costly frustration to both proponents and environmental groups and have already been identified as a key area to address within the review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act under Professor Graeme Samuel.

Professor Samuel is leading a review of Australia’s environmental law to tackle green tape and deliver greater certainty to business groups, farmers and environmental organisations.

If successful, Western Australia’s Digital Transformation of Environmental Assessments project being led by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) and its terrestrial counterpart, the Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute (WABSI), in conjunction with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) and the WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), will transform the systems for environmental impact assessments.

A report released this month by the project Working Group lists a number of recommendations under two broad catergories: Streamlining Current Environmental Impact Assessments and Developing a Shared Analytic Framework for the Environment (SAFE).

In the report, which uses the Westport freight strategy as a case study, Dr Tom Hatton, EPA Chair and Chair of the Digital Environmental Impact Assessment Working Group describes the project as: “timely given current policy drivers to reform environmental assessment and approval systems”.

“There is an imminent explosion in the volume and variety of data that will help our understanding of the natural environment and biodiversity,” Dr Hatton said. “This includes genetics, species traits, species interactions, population ecologies, and more. With appropriate resourcing, we can establish the systems and skills that will allow us to take advantage of these developments as they occur over the next decade.”


Digital Transformation Pathway


Uncovering the Secrets of Saltwater Country

A $30 million, five-year research project has seen more than 200 scientists from 25 organisations work with Traditional Owners and Indigenous rangers from seven saltwater country groups, across 23 projects, to gain a better understanding of the unique marine ecosystem of Western Australia’s Kimberley region. This work will help inform a compromise between protecting one of the world’s few remaining near-pristine coastal and marine environments, while supporting the region’s social and economic development. It could also help answer some global questions about environments that live on the edge of extreme conditions.

Click here to read the full story by Kelly Waples and Aleta Johnston in Landscope

Seafood Industry Hall of Fame honour for WAMSI Research Director

Feature Image: Worthy recipients of this year’s 2019 National Seafood Awards. Left to right: Jim Mendolia, Dr. Jenny Shaw, Alex Ogg, Greg Jenkins and Justine Arnold (Photo: Courtesy WAFIC)

Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) Research Director, Dr Jenny Shaw, has been recognised at the 2019 National Seafood Industry Awards for her long-standing commitment to fisheries in Australia.

Jenny was inducted into the National Seafood Industry Hall of Fame in Melbourne at Australia’s biggest biennial celebration of the seafood industry, along with fellow Western Australians Greg Jenkins and Jim Mendolia, and Dawn Jordan from Tasmania.

The WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) Chief Executive Officer Alex Ogg said that the awards were a well-deserved acknowledgement to showcase and reflect on the achievements throughout Australia’s seafood industry, and an incredible success for WA’s contributions at a national scale.

“Jenny, Greg and Jim have all been pivotal in the development of WA’s seafood industry. Jenny has a long history with the seafood industry having occupied roles in fisheries and marine related areas for her entire working career,” Mr Ogg said.

“As an industry body, we recognise the importance of acknowledging those individuals and organisations who make a substantial contribution to benefiting  and promoting our industry, and these winners are certainly worthy of this recognition. We are incredibly proud of their achievements,” Mr Ogg concluded.

WAMSI CEO Dr Luke Twomey congratulated Jenny saying her knowledge of fisheries, the respect she has in the industry and her strong leadership skills were a tremendous asset to the Institution.

“Jenny has been actively involved in a lifetime of change in fisheries and marine areas within the government and private sectors in Australia and internationally,” Dr Twomey said. “She is a great asset to marine science in Western Australia and WAMSI as we forge ahead with identifying regional science priorities and developing protocals and processes for Indigenous engagement with scientists on Country.”

Jenny was a founding member and inaugural Director of the Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community. She has been a mentor for a number of highly successful women in the industry and has always been available both formally and informally for strategic advice, technical knowledge and confidence building. She is one of only four life members of the organisation and last year was inducted onto their Honour Role and has been instrumental in helping the development of a similar organisation in Ireland.

As an accomplished speaker at State, National and International Conferences and workshops, Jenny has been able to increase the visibility of the seafood industry on a large stage. Recently she was a speaker and panel member at the World Seafood Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland addressing the invisibility of women in the seafood industry and the consequences from often-unintended policy impacts.

Dr Shaw said it was an honour to be inducted into the National Seafood Industry Hall of Fame.

“It’s a great honour to receive this recognition and I’m particularly proud of the fact that this year the industry inducted two women, myself and Dawn Jordan, to the Hall of Fame,” Jenny said. “As Research Director at WAMSI I remain a strong advocate for commercial fishers and the value of a well-managed, well-researched commercial fishing industry with strong and diverse fisher voices as part of decision making.”

Click here to view the full WAFIC media release and list of winners

WAMSI Bulletin September 2019

Shark Bay Priorities Update

Feature image: WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw conducts interviews with members of the community at the Shark Bay rec centre in May

Work for the Shark Bay Priorities Project is well underway. There will be a number of outputs produced by the end of the year, including two publications:

1. Literature and data synthesis

2. WAMSI science plan

A large number of lead scientists (35), both local and international have been formally approached to contribute to the project by providing publications and metadata of their Shark Bay research.

This information has been supplemented with workshops and a literature search and so far has netted 530 research papers. The information is being synthesised under multiple categories (54) built from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions values and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Ecoystem Based Management process.

There has been considerable engagement with the Shark Bay community with face-to-face interviews (47), workshops and presentations. Approximately 200 stakeholders (including community, Indigenous, industry, managers and researchers) have put forward their values, views and concerns for Shark Bay.

These data will be amalgamated to identify the gaps, prioritise the outcomes and produce a draft science plan for Shark Bay.

Below: a schematic diagram showing the WAMSI process for delivering the Shark Bay science plan.