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)

Scientists Examine Ways to Return Knowledge to Country

Returning science knowledge to Traditional Owners on Country has been identified as an important consideration for researchers working in all regions of Australia.

In a recent review of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science Project processes and protocols for working on Country, WAMSI Science Coordinator Dr Kelly Waples from the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) found improving communication was a strong theme raised by the Indigenous saltwater groups, Healthy Country Managers and scientists, particularly during the initial introduction, project proposal and the return of information to the community stages.

“Much of the feedback from our survey interviews revolved around developing some communication tools and examples of good communication to assist researchers in not only delivering their results back to the community, but also to include Indigenous perspectives and cultural insights to make them more relevant to the Traditional Owners,” Dr Waples said.

In 2019 WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw began the process of developing a science plan for Gathaagudu (Shark Bay), the traditional country of three Aboriginal language groups: Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta.

It quickly became apparent that the traditional custodians of Gathaagudu had little knowledge of the large amount of science that had been conducted in the region since 1954, and it was something they wanted to understand.

“Generations of Malgana people attended a three-day workshop where we presented them with large-scale maps, graphs and illustrations that represented the work from more than 700 publications,” Dr Shaw said. “It was quite an emotional realisation I think, that so much research had been done without their knowledge.”

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), led by Dr Katherine Cure, have also sought to address a call from senior Indigenous leaders and rangers to communicate the findings from their sea country monitoring program in a way that is accessible to all generations and diverse levels of numeracy and literacy.

In 2020/2021 the AIMS scientists visited the Bardi Jawi community at One Arm Point in the state’s North West, where they have established a long-term monitoring program with the Bardi Jawi Rangers. Using results from the monitoring program, the researchers trialled six different communication products during a-week-long workshop in various settings and with several audiences including school students, Elders and the wider community.

The pros and cons for Story Maps (ArcGIS), report cards, PowerPoint presentations, videos, posters and an environmental science art workshop with AIMS Artist-in-Residence Angela Rossen were all discussed.

Dr Cure says, among the lessons learned, large printed maps with graphical representations of research results presented to small groups for focused interactions worked well. Also, while online ArcGIS Story Maps were more dynamic and visually attractive than PowerPoint presentations, they rely on internet connection; since download speeds in most remote communities is an issue, this needs to be considered.

“We managed to share results of three years of monitoring in several formats with school children, rangers and Elders, and gained some valuable insights,” Dr. Cure said. “We found that while the Rangers can deal with more complex science outputs than Elders or children, it is important to know your audience and discuss reporting outputs and formats with partners in advance. Also, we found that a diverse range of communication materials are needed, including printed maps, graphs, infographics and videos.”

Identifying and referring to species in local language and relating results back to Healthy Country Management plans where possible has also been identified as an important consideration for scientists.

The full summary of the AIMS investigation into sharing monitoring results across generations of Traditional Owners on Sea country can be found here:  

CLOSING THE CIRCLE Sharing monitoring results across generations of Traditional Owners in Sea Country_ Graphical Summary_ Cure et al. AIMS

 

COMMUNICATION EXAMPLES

POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS

INFOGRAPHICS 

Above: WAMSI Recruitment and Herbivory infographic of findings for juvenille fish RUV: Different types of fish live in different habitats during different seasons. (Cure et. al.)

POSTERS

BOOKLET

Jigeedany (dolphin) survey DBCA_Dambimangari_Booklet

STORY MAPS

VIDEOS

EDUCATION RESOURCES

Data Science STEM resources in collaboration with Education Services Australia

GRAPHICS

RELATED LINKS

The Blueprint for Marine Science – how far have we come in five years?

In 2015 an ambitious plan to drive the priorities for marine research in Western Australia led by industry and government heavyweights delivered the Blueprint for Marine Science to 2050 strategy. Five years into the journey a member of the then Premier’s roundtable for Marine Science and Austral Fisheries CEO David Carter says in some areas the pace is picking up with lightening speed.

The comprehensive industry, government and community consultation process culminating in the Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 Report identified the areas where knowledge gaps will undermine effective management, streamlined regulation and development of marine industries.

One of Australia’s largest integrated commercial fishing companies, Austral Fisheries, operates in an environment which is seeing the effects of climate change first hand and is committed to sustainability based on science.

“The 2016 marine heatwave event wiped out 7000 hectares of seagrass in the Gulf of Carpentaria, it also raised concerns about toothfish catch rates and stock assessment and saw us look at a  multidisciplinary approach to determine the Patagonian toothfish response to environmental variables by bringing together a range of expertise, data and historical evidence to find out what was going on,” David Carter said. “It’s been an interesting and useful project that speaks to the sort of changes we are facing and focuses our need to respond.”

It’s estimated the world will need to feed nine billion people by 2050. David Carter says there are going to be some choices and trade-offs to make and the solutions lie around getting the science right for that but also communicating with those communities that are going to be impacted.

“Just being able to focus on the way we are heading really puts into perspective the challenges ahead,” David said. “Not just locally but globally, as the demands on our marine environment become greater we come to realise the shear enormity of the challenge. It’s therefore critically important that we harness the best and brightest minds to come up with answers to questions that haven’t even been asked yet, and as part of that it’s critical that we bring communities and all stakeholders along.”

One of the strong recommendations to come out of the Blueprint report was the need to improve access to existing data and in 2020 the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) and WAMSI, launched the Index of Marine Surveys for Assessments (IMSA) for the systematic capture and sharing of marine data created as part of an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Each year IMSA is estimated to capture and consolidate more than $50 million worth of industry data collected to support assessments under the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (the EP Act).

According to David Carter it’s a shift in attitude that needed to happen.

“It’s terrific to learn now there is an onus on the need to share data,” he said. “Oil and gas are starting to provide these baseline environmental assessments. I think it’s got to count as one of the major leaps forward.”

The ocean industries are immensley valuable and if as a society and as an economy we want to continue to grow David Carter believes the Western Australian Marine Science Institution has helped to crystalise the focus on the foundation of a long-term collaboration between all sectors operating in the marine environment.

“I believe we are heading in the right direction,” David Carter said. “Greater connections have been made across science and industry as a result of the work of WAMSI and its partners. Talks have been generated around oil platform decommissioning and you can see the pace of discussion around ocean energy transformation is accelerating at light speed. We are talking to Austal Ships and engineers about future fuels to see if we can run a ship on renewable energy but we have still got a way to go.

“We have all the ingredients in this state to become a global powerhouse, to show what’s possible and we have endless renewable energy potential. We have these engineers in oil and gas ready to be rechallenged in renewable fuels – so they know about oil and gas and they are interested, committed and passionate about what’s possible.

“As we reflect with gratitude on the contribution that fossil fuels have made to our standard of living, we also understand that this chapter is closed and that we have a new chapter to write that is equally exciting and challenging and filled with opportunity.”

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) became custodians of the Blueprint in 2018 to continue to action the strategic science priorities, 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.

The WAMSI Partnership:

WAMSI Partners

WAMSI Science Leads to Jobs Growth

Perth-based environmental and oceanographic consultancy, O2 Marine attributes Western Australian Marine Science Institution dredging science as a key factor that contributed to its rapid organic growth and business success.

When O2 Marine began in 2014 with just two scientists and some big ideas to fill a gap in the niche areas of marine environmental monitoring and assessment advice, the timing couldn’t have been better.

By 2017 the results from the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s (WAMSI’s) five-years of research into environmental pressures, response and ecological sensitivity from dredging operations off the Pilbara coast, including ground-breaking experiments in the lab, had begun to hit the desk of the State’s environmental regulators.

The new understanding of environmental effects and windows of opportunity provided a significant improvement in the certainty around environmental management of dredging operations in Western Australia.

At the time, O2 Marine was working with Onslow Marine Support Base Pty. Ltd. on a ~1M cubic metre dredging proposal to allow offshore vessels to access the newly constructed Beadon Creek Maritime Facility.

O2 Marine Managing Director, Chris Lane says the WAMSI research was directly applicable to some of the benthic communities and habitats the project could potentially impact.

“The Environmental Protection Authority encouraged us to incorporate the WAMSI dredging science into the assessment,” Chris Lane said. “In doing so, we were able to use real data from Chevron’s Wheatstone project to predict the impacts and experimental laboratory data to define an appropriate monitoring and management approach. As a result, the Onslow Marine Support Base received the fastest regulatory approval for a dredging project of that size ever achieved in W.A.. We effectively halved the assessment approval timeframe from 12-18 months down to six months.”

Chris Lane attributes the opportunity to leverage the WAMSI research as a significant catalyst which effectively put O2 Marine on the map.

“Being able to leverage that science made clients sit up and take notice of what could be achieved by a West Australian small business,” Chris said. “Off the back of this client recognition and with a lot of hard work, O2 Marine has created nearly 40 new jobs, expanded our service offering to include metocean and hydrographic services and achieved annual revenue growth of over 90% per annum. Having that science readily available made it a lot easier to assist our clients in fast-tracking environmental approvals. It was the trigger for us to grow and get that market share.”

In February of 2018 the EPA confirmed that the Onslow Marine Support Base had been recommended for approval. In a statement issued by the EPA, Deputy Chariman Robert Harvey said:

“The proponent incorporated contemporary and locally relevant dredging science from the Western Australian Marine Science Institution into its predictions and proposed management of the project’s impacts. This means we had a high level of confidence during the assessment.

“The use of the latest dredging science, as well as the conditions identified by the EPA, including the implementation of a Dredging and Spoil Disposal Management Plan, means the proposal can be managed in an environmentally acceptable way,” the statement read.

The WAMSI Dredging Science Node was made possible through $9.5 million invested by Woodside, Chevron and BHP as environmental offsets. A further $9.5 million was co-invested by the WAMSI Joint Venture partners. The Node was also supported through critical data provided by Chevron, Woodside and Rio Tinto Iron Ore.

Gaarragoon Guardians- A Bardi Jawi Rangers’ Story Wins a Best Film Award at the 2021 Mud and Saltwater Film Fest

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution is proud to announce that its film collaboration with the Bardi Jawi Rangers and the Australian Institute of Marine Science has won a best film award at the 2021 Mud and Saltwater Short Film Fest.

The annual short film festival, held in Broome and Cygnet Bay, aims to inspire film makers to explore, respect, enjoy and protect remarkable Roebuck Bay and the Kimberley region. The festival showcases the best short films made by professional and amateur filmmakers about this truly remarkable part of the world.

Bardi Jawi Senior Cultural Ranger Kevin George holds the award for best film in the Kimberley Calling category at the Mud and Saltwater Short Film Fest with (Back Row L-R) Tamara Moore, Henarlia Rex, Phillip McCarthy, Mathilda Lipscombe (Front Row L-R) Natasha George, Kevin George, Johalia Davey.

Our short documentary film Gaarragoon Guardians: A Bardi Jawi Rangers’ Story, tells the story of two-way learning between scientists and the Bardi Jawi Rangers who have been monitoring the fish and coral reef to manage the health of sea country on the Dampier Peninsula.

This two-way learning started 10 years ago with the WAMSI Kimberley Marine Research Program (2012-2018) to develop an understanding of how fish, coral and seagrasses sustain the health of the Kimberley marine ecosystem.

When researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science returned to Country with some of the results, they found the rangers had a few questions of their own that they wanted answered.

A monitoring program was developed and what we have filmed is a field trip with the Bardi Jawi Rangers and the Australian Institute of Marine Science monitoring partnership in August 2020.

The rangers tell their story of working with scientists to monitor the health of their sea country.

 

Watch: Bardi Jawi Healthy Country Coordinator Daniel Oades and Bardi Jawi Ranger Azton Howard introduce the Gaarragoon Guardians video

 

Watch: Gaarragoon Guardians: A Bardi Jawi Rangers’ story

This is a Western Australian Marine Science Institution and Australian Institute of Marine Science production in collaboration with the Bardi Jawi Rangers and the Kimberley Land Council.

Filmed and edited by Sam Frederick

Student and Early Career Researcher support for Biodiversity Conference

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution is offering a number of registrations and awards for marine science students and Early Career Researchers at The Biodiversity Conference 2021 in Perth.

This conference is bringing together researchers and practitioners across academia, government, industry and community to share scientific knowledge, biodiversity informatics and best practice in biodiversity conservation.

WAMSI Grants

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution is offering grants for a limited number of students and Early Career Researchers to cover the registration costs of this Conference. Your poster or presentation must be accepted to be eligible for this grant. Marine Science research submissions are welcome for poster, five-minute speed talk or 15-minute presentations and must be relevant to one of the six themes.

Theme 1: Indigenous Stewardship

Theme 2: Our Biodiversity Assets

Theme 3: Trends and Conditions

Theme 4: Threats and Their Impact

Theme 5: Restoration and Conservation

Theme 6: Technology and Innovation

WAMSI Awards

WAMSI is also offering cash awards for Students and Early Career Researchers for the best poster, five-minute speed talk or 15-minute presentation.

WAMSI CEO Dr Luke Twomey said WAMSI was interested in attracting emerging marine science leaders to join the collective Western Australian based expertise to benefit the forward thinking around biodiversity conservation across the state.

“With such an amazing pool of emerging talent in marine science in Western Australia, we would like to encourage students and Early Career Researchers to register to share your knowledge for the benefit of best practice in biodiversity conservation,” Dr Twomey said.

The conference is jointly supported and run by all five WA Universities, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, The Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute and eLife.

For more information head to the Conference website at: https://biodiversity2021.com.