Art and ocean science come together to inspire unique exhibition

A new initiative connecting art and marine science will see a group of south-west artists create a series of contemporary artworks inspired by Western Australia’s unique marine environment.

This exciting collaboration between scientists and artists will lead to the aquatic-themed public art exhibition ‘Immerse’ exploring issues about the marine environment early next year.

MIX Artists Inc is a group of contemporary artists in the Great Southern region of Western Australia who work in a wide range of media including sculpture, installation, painting, photography, textiles, and digital media.

WAMSI is connecting the artists with researchers across the partnership to help inform their art practice and provide information on the biodiversity of the South Coast marine environment.

The approach challenges them to use their creative skills to conceptualise and communicate marine science in a unique way.

Earlier this year, WAMSI’s Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw presented an overview on the extent of research being carried out in the South Coast region, featuring content from researchers across the WAMSI partnership. The artists later joined the UWA Ecology Fieldwork trip to sample research in action.

The exhibition will document the artists’ process, including the interaction between artists and scientists over the course of the year.

Opportunities for the artists to pursue their learning about the marine environment will continue through fieldwork trips, talks by scientists, provided resources and other activities and their own research.

WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw, said the collaboration was a great opportunity to move science into the community.

“Often scientists are very skilled at research and know so much about a particular topic but have difficulty moving that knowledge into the wider community.” Dr Jenny Shaw, WAMSI

“The creatives are exceptionally skilled at doing exactly that.  We are thrilled that this talented group of Albany Artists has decided to ‘immerse’ themselves in marine science and create an exhibition for the whole community to enjoy and perhaps learn more about some of the amazing things in their local marine environment.”

MIX Artist Chair Annette Davis said the engagement with the scientists to date had been incredibly enlightening.

“Looking down the microscope, watching underwater videos, meeting two groups of students as they came in off the water, watching the informative and amusing presentations and hearing the students answer penetrating questions about their methodologies – it was all very interesting and stimulating and has contributed to our considerations about the exhibition and the curatorial approach,” Ms Davis said.

The artists are continuing to connect with scientists during the investigative phase of their research.

The exhibition will take place in Albany and run from 20 January – 25 February 2023.

New trial to future-proof Western Australia’s seagrass meadows 

An innovative trial to test the limits of seagrass under different dredging scenarios is underway that could make seagrass meadows more resilient to environmental pressures.

The findings could help to future proof seagrass meadows across Western Australia.

Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Marine Ecosystem Research has established a new state-of-the-art facility to assess the effect of global change pressures on the temperate seagrasses that are found in Cockburn Sound.

The research is being carried out under the WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program to inform the environmental impact assessment for WA’s future terminal. A series of tank experiments will simulate a range of dredging pressures, including sediment quality and increased water temperature, with the initial three-month trial examining the effects of sediment burial on seagrass.

The researchers are using healthy adult seagrass plants collected from Cockburn Sound and transplanted into plots containing locally sourced sediment from the site and left for a week to acclimatise to the new tank conditions.

The seagrass are subjected to a range of sediment burial levels from 0–16 centimetres depth, to simulate potential dredging pressures from the port development close to the dredge site and spoil disposal area.

WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program theme leader Associate Professor Kathryn McMahon, said it was incredibly exciting to be able to carry out the research in a facility that bridged the gap between the laboratory and the real world.

“We are taking a two-pronged approach. Firstly, to generate knowledge that will assist environmental impact assessment, and secondly to develop strategies to build resilience of seagrass meadows into the future by looking for seagrass species or populations that may be more resilient to ocean warming and heatwaves.” Associate Professor Kathryn McMahon, ECU

Monitoring is currently underway to assess the health of the seagrass under these different burial conditions through examining key physiological indicators such as plant growth rate and photosynthetic performance.

Research Associate Nicole Said advised future tank and field experiments would target the combined effect of temperature, light reduction, and organic matter expected to gain valuable insight into the tolerance limits and thresholds for seagrass.

“We will commence the field experiments during spring this year using underwater structures to simulate different dredging and port development scenarios in Cockburn Sound.”

Seeds for Snapper – community spearhead citizen science

An annual program led by leading UWA and WAMSI scientists to address the loss of seagrass in Cockburn Sound, is calling on volunteers to participate in local marine science to help restore the meadows.

Community-based initiative ‘Seeds for Snapper,’ is a collaboration between The University of Western Australia and fishing conservation charity OzFish. United by a common aim to restore extensive loss of seagrass meadows in Cockburn Sound, the partnership has established a long-standing community volunteer base with a passion for seagrass restoration.

Seagrass meadows are an important part of Cockburn Sound’s ecosystem, which also act as a nursery for baby pink snapper, calamari, whiting and blue swimmer crabs.

In October, Seeds for Snapper will scale-up its operations with funding support under the WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program to inform seagrass restoration potential for Western Australia’s future terminal [Link to WAMSI website].

The collection and processing of seagrass fruit for their seeds to restore shallow areas in Cockburn Sound was originally a UWA-based initiative. This involved a small team of experienced researchers and students, led by project co-ordinator Professor Gary Kendrick and Research Officer Rachel Austin from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences.

Following a partnership with OzFish in 2020, a growing community volunteer base was established, with the project expanding to seven days a week during the fruit collection season. A mixture of skilled and beginner divers and onshore volunteers were recruited for the collection of fruit, as well as the onshore preparation, cleaning and counting of fruit and seeds.

“The enthusiasm and passion in our volunteers was incredible and their dedication and commitment. Some volunteers did 15 to 20 dives each, even on their days off. We have big plans for next season.” Rachel Austin, UWA

The project has facilitated a means for volunteers to participate in marine science, particularly for those with a passion for the ocean and seeking to make a difference but lack the qualifications.

Professor Kendrick said “many volunteers want to get involved in research but were unsure how or lacked the appropriate qualifications. Seeds for Snapper has provided them with a unique opportunity.”

In coming years, the team hopes to further equip volunteers with the skills to monitor fruit maturity and density and improve understanding about which sites to target and when.

Last season, more than 1.1 million seagrass fruit were successfully collected over 316 dives by 100 individual divers in Cockburn Sound and Owen Anchorage. This year, the team hope to disperse over one million seeds.

Research Officer Rachel Austin said the plan is to expand and scale up the seeds for snapper project into other areas of seagrass restoration. “Our aims is to be able to restore seagrass on ecologically relevant scales” she said.

To volunteer for the Seeds for Snapper Program visit the OzFish website.

Science Plan to guide $13.5 million investment

One of the largest research programs ever undertaken of Cockburn Sound is underway with the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) and Westport releasing the Science Program for its three-year partnership.

The $13.5million investment in understanding the Cockburn Sound environment will drive a sustainable design, ensure a robust environmental impact assessment process, and improve long-term management of the area.

The research spans nine key themes, which were shaped from 16 workshops involving scientists, key stakeholders, and community representatives. Across the nine themes are 31 research projects, including a series of on-ground trials for restoring seagrass meadows and improving knowledge of the marine biodiversity.

WAMSI CEO Dr Luke Twomey described the Science Program as a significant collaborative science investigation into Cockburn Sound’s unique marine environment.

“The extensive collection of science projects delivered by Western Australian scientists will fill important knowledge gaps about the Sound and provide stakeholders and the community access to new information needed to manage this environment into the future,” Dr Twomey said.