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.

Snubfin dolphins call Roebuck Bay home

A community of snubfin dolphins has taken up residency in Roebuck Bay, according to a new study investigating the species’ use of the area.

The study, led by Edith Cowan University, confirms the presence of the resident dolphin community in Yawuru Nagulagun (Roebuck Bay) in the northwest of Western Australia and provides the first insights into how they use the area.

Researchers from Edith Cowan University, WA’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, and Yawuru Native Title Prescribed Body Corporate collaboration combined data from multiple contributors to analyse the dolphins’ behavioural patterns.

Australian snubfin dolphins are a species with a limited distribution, vulnerable conservation status, and high cultural value and understanding how they use this area could help inform future management for their long-term conservation.

The researchers reviewed 11 years of data obtained from researchers, rangers and citizen scientists, including through WAMSI’s Kimberley Marine Research program, to determine the ranging patterns and site fidelity of snubfin dolphins in the region.

The combined dataset was more than four and a half times larger than the single largest study completed previously and produced results that could not have been obtained with the data from any single study alone.

Lead author Alexandra D’Cruz from Edith Cowan University, said the results highlighted the importance of Yawuru Sea Country as a high-quality habitat that offered abundant resources, and shelter from predators.

“These important insights contribute new information for the continued conservation and management of snubfin dolphins at the broader species level, as well as more specifically for the local population,” Ms D’Cruz said.

The findings could improve the potential to detect changes in the population and respond to pressures over decadal timeframes.

“For long-living species such as marine mammals, having sufficient data on ranging patterns and space across a broad timescale which is suitable for population management and conservation can be difficult,” she said.

“This approach could be applied to improve conservation management strategies for other cryptic, data deficient, vulnerable, and long-lived species.”

We would like to thank the Traditional Owners of the land and sea on which this study was based on, the Yawuru people. We would also like to thank those involved with the data collection through WAMSI’s Kimberley Marine Research program.

Traditional knowledge verifies key turtle nesting sites

New research merging modern marine science with Traditional ecological knowledge has uncovered key nesting sites for turtles in Western Australia.

Western Australia’s remote Kimberley coastline spans multiple Traditional Owner estates and the findings will contribute towards future co-management plans to conserve turtle populations in the northwest, including continued monitoring for marine turtles.

Led by a team from WA’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), the study ranked marine turtle nesting sites in the region and found the islands off the Kimberley coast had higher nesting usage and fewer terrestrial predators.

Researchers used aerial surveys to assess marine turtle nesting distribution and abundance during summer and winter nesting seasons in Indigenous Protected Areas and newly declared Kimberley Marine Parks.

Images of nesting tracks were then quantified in the lab and Traditional ecological knowledge and ground-based surveys verified the harder-to-detect species (olive ridley or hawksbill turtles) with irregular nesting, low track persistence and non-aggregated nesting in the more remote areas.

The three highest density rookeries were found to be winter flatback turtles at Cape Domett, summer green turtles at the Lacepede Islands and summer flatback turtles at Eighty Mile Beach. Nesting by summer green turtles and winter flatback turtles occurred at a lower density in the North Kimberley offshore islands.

Lead researcher Dr Tony Tucker from DBCA said while the higher-density rookeries provided locations for long-term monitoring using repeated aerial or ground surveys, the sparse or infrequently nesting species required insights gleaned by Traditional ecological knowledge.

“Common and conspicuous nesters are easily detected and ranked, but better-informed co-management requires additional ground surveys or surveys timed with the reproductive peaks of rarer species,” Dr Tucker said.

Dean Mathews of the Indigenous Saltwater Advisory Group (ISWAG) and Dr Scott Whiting, leader of the WAMSI Marine Turtle Project agreed.

“Besides the mainland flatbacks, the collective cultural importance of green turtles to Kimberley Indigenous groups logically identifies the Lacepede Islands as an index rookery for summer green turtles,” Mr Matthews said.

Dr Whiting said the study demonstrated the importance of integrating traditional and western approaches to conserve and manage species populations, particularly in northwest Australia.

“Sharing information for the purpose of joint management is crucial for migratory marine megafauna that traverse multiple management jurisdictions,” Dr Whiting said.

“It’s expected these results will underpin future conservation efforts, including continued monitoring for endangered turtles.”

This research was carried out under WAMSI’s Kimberley Marine Research Program.

Recreational fishers report signs of a changing climate

New research has revealed two out of three recreational fishers perceive climate change to be real and have noticed changes in the types and distributions of fish species over time as they regularly venture out in marine waters.

A team of researchers assessed fisher demographics and fishing behaviour in a boat-based recreational fishery in Western Australia where fishing occurs in both temperate and tropical waters.

Published in ICES Journal of Marine Science, the study found recreational fishers associated changes in species type and distribution with climate change, with more than half attributing climate change to human activity. This recognition was higher amongst metropolitan residents, females and younger respondents.

Lead researcher Karina Ryan from the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, said recreational fishers were well positioned to notice changes to the marine environment over time.

“Fishers are aware of the potential impacts of climate change on fishing experiences through reduced catches of usual species or interactions with transitional species,” Ms Ryan said.

“Their contributions to long-term citizen science programs can provide information across the spatial and temporal time scales required to observe climate change. Adaptive responses can then be proposed to mitigate the effects of climate change and build resilience for the recreational sector.”

Co-author Dr Jenny Shaw from the Western Australian Marine Science Institution, said the study provided a useful baseline to assist in informing future research as well as policy changes that might be required to address climate change impacts.

Introducing the Cockburn Sound Science Program Manager

Cockburn Sound Science Program Manager Dr Alan Kendrick is leading the research study to fill knowledge gaps, investigate potential impacts and improve understanding of Cockburn Sound’s ecosystem.

Involvement in large, science-based marine environmental programs has always piqued Alan’s career interests.

In his previous role he oversaw marine conservation science at the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, managing large marine research programs associated with offset funding from the Wheatstone, Pluto and Gorgon gas developments.

During this time, he was also involved with the delivery of WAMSI’s Ningaloo and Kimberley Marine Research Programs.

Alan will now manage a huge collaboration of research effort that will inform environmental assessment of the State’s new container port.

The WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program is a three-year program that will see local scientists deliver about 30 ecological and social research projects designed to support environmental assessment of the new port and the future management of Cockburn Sound.

Alan is looking forward to the challenge of managing the science program and developing knowledge that will help to protect Cockburn Sound’s unique marine environment.

“As the biggest collaborative investigation into the ecosystems of Cockburn Sound that has ever been undertaken, the science program is an incredible venture that will fill important knowledge gaps and deliver the information needed to manage this environment now and into the future,” he said.

Alan hopes the research outcomes resulting from the program will pave the way for future strategic science collaborations across the State.

“The science program is a great example of local scientists carrying out research in our own backyard.”

“It showcases how industry, government and the wider community can access WAMSI’s rich expertise in marine science to inform the sustainable development of how big WA projects are implemented.”

A new life for old infrastructure

Coastal development is expanding rapidly across the state and it is estimated there are now more than 7,400 man-made marine structures, ranging from oil and gas infrastructure to shipwrecks and artificial reefs, in Western Australia.

In coming years, there will be increasing proposals to build new infrastructure in WA’s marine environment and regulatory approval will need to consider the impacts on stakeholders with a vested interest in the future of these structures.

Recreational fishers are an example of a sector that have become increasingly aware of the value of the marine life that has grown on, around and near these structures and are keen to capitalise on the ecosystem benefits to improve fishing experiences.

Recognising the need to better understand these impacts, research, funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and Chevron, assessed the values and benefits associated with these structures, examining stakeholder attitudes towards their installation or removal.

The published report, Enhancing the Understanding of the Value Provided to Fisheries by Man-made Aquatic Structures, is the result of a collaboration of researchers and subject experts across the WAMSI partnership.

Taking into account the hopes, aspirations, and concerns of all stakeholder groups, it suggests future installation of marine man-made structures will need to meet the social and environmental values and expectations of the community.

Lead researcher Professor Euan Harvey from Curtin University, said the work would inform future policy decisions, not only for the decommissioning of built structures in marine environments, but also for the design and installation of new projects.

“Whether it be in the form of new ports, offshore renewable energy, subsea cables and aquaculture facilities, WA is paving the way in delivering future marine infrastructure projects,” Professor Harvey said.

“This report will provide a vital point of reference for regulators, proponents and other stakeholders when considering the social and economic impacts of installation and removal.

“By considering the socioeconomic values of all potential stakeholders during the planning process, it will become increasingly more possible to maximise the social and economic benefits to potential users.”

“The marine structures of the future could be designed with decommissioning and removal in mind.”

WAMSI acknowledges the following authors for their input:

Euan Harvey, Fran Ackermann, Georgie Hill (Curtin), Julian Clifton, Michael Burton, Carmen Elrick-Barr, Johanna Zimmerhackel, Julian Partridge, Paul McLeod (UWA), Stephen Newman, Mark Pagano (DPIRD), Jenny Shaw (WAMSI) and Dianne McLean (AIMS)

Setting a new industry gold standard

Proponents of future infrastructure projects involving large-scale dredging will be encouraged to comply with new scientific guidelines in order to carry out their activities.

The Environmental Protection Authority’s Technical Guidance for the Environmental Impact Assessment of Marine Dredging Proposals has been revised and updated to include key scientific findings from WAMSI’s Dredging Science Node (DSN).

The revised technical guidance will improve the ability for industry to predict and manage the impacts of large-scale dredging on projects in Western Australia.

Dredging is a critical component of WA’s infrastructure and essential to the export of commodities, however until recently, there had been considerable uncertainty about the scale and intensity of potential impacts on the state’s marine environment.

This uncertainty has often meant lengthy delays in the approval and regulatory processes, amounting to significant costs for the proponents and the state, as well as costly monitoring and management regimes.

The guidance describes a framework that recognises this uncertainty and provides for the clear and consistent presentation of predicted dredging effects on benthic habitats caused by removal, light reduction or burial at the sites of dredging and disposal.

Science Lead Dr Ross Jones from AIMS, said the research outputs from the DSN represented a monumental change in the available information for dredging across the state and would greatly improve consideration of environmental impacts.

“The DSN significantly increased understanding of dredging pressures on marine benthic communities and the key findings, relating to tolerance thresholds of benthic organisms to dredging pressures and critical life cycle windows where organisms are likely to be more sensitive to those pressures, have been incorporated,” Dr Jones said.

Environmental Protection Authority Chairman Professor Matthew Tonts, said the DSN was an example of a demand-driven, science-regulator-industry collaborative approach to research that has been directly applied to improve the social, environmental and financial outcomes of major marine dredging activities.

“The revised Technical Guidance will be a valuable tool in the assessment and management of dredging programs in WA,” Professor Tonts said.

The Technical Guidance is complemented by the Guidelines on dredge plume modelling for environmental impact assessment, published by WAMSI.

It’s expected that the delivery of outcomes from the DSN, could be repeated in other important and emerging issues in marine science in WA, such as the fate of hydrocarbons in oil spills, aquaculture and sustainable fisheries management.