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.

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.

Mysteries of pristine Kimberley wilderness are being unravelled at last

The natural mysteries of the Kimberley, one of Australia’s last pristine habitats, have been documented like never before thanks to a multi-million-dollar project.

Full story on ABC News by Matt Bamford

New report reveals extent of unique marine ecosystem in the Kimberley

Feature image: (L-R) Yawuru marine ranger Anthony Richardson, Minister for Science Hon. Dave Kelly MLA and DBCA Marine Park Coordinator Chris Nutt release the WAMSI Kimberley Marine Research Program Report in Broome

A new report into Australia’s remote Kimberley region could hold the key to answering global questions about how some ecosystems survive under extreme environmental conditions.

The report, “Strategic Integrated Marine Science for the Kimberley Region”, released today by the Minister for Science Hon. Dave Kelly MLA, is the culmination of five years of research by 200 scientists from 25 organisations working on 23 projects to understand the marine biodiversity and ecology at regional and local scales.

The information has been produced for the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) to support decision making and operational activities for the region and the Greater Kimberly Marine Park network managed by DBCA jointly with Traditional Owners.

The program, managed by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) collaboration of scientists from state, federal, industry and academic institutions, is one of the most comprehensive assessments of Australia’s North West.

WAMSI Science Program Leader Dr Kelly Waples (DBCA) said the report provides valuable information that can be used to predict and manage the likely changes in the future.

“How the Kimberley environment changes over time will be determined by the interaction of economic, ecological and social processes, climate change, human population dynamics and industry,” Dr Waples said. “By understanding how the environment has changed and the ecosystem has adapted over the past 100 years to what it is today, we can better predict the likely response to current and future pressures and how we might mitigate any impacts.”

This physically complex inshore environment supports a diverse range of habitats that include seagrasses and coral reefs, extensive intertidal mudflats and sponge-dominated filter-feeding communities with high levels of biological diversity. The region also supports large and iconic marine fauna including whales, dolphins, dugongs, turtles and estuarine crocodiles.

While aboriginal people have lived in the Kimberley for millennia and retain strong cultural connections to their saltwater country, this coastal and marine environment increasingly supports other activities such as tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, pearling, aquaculture and major port facilities associated with resource industries.

Despite the growth in activity, the research found that anthropogenic impacts remain low compared with other parts of the Western Australian coast and disturbance to much of the Kimberley marine environment is considered to be minor.

However, the study highlights the region is likely to be increasingly affected by a number of pressures including: climate change-related impacts such as coral bleaching; regional development and growth; and increased human access and use.

The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program was funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.

Link to Minister for Science Hon. Dave Kelly MLA media statement

Lesson plans put WAMSI data in schools

Lesson plans taking data from real research projects are now online to provide students with the opportunity to develop their data science skills based on crocodile and whale surveys.

An initiative by Western Australian Marine Science Institution Data Manager Luke Edwards working with Kimberley Marine Research Program project leader Kelly Waples, Education Services Australia’s Richard Martin and Australian Data Science Education Institute’s Dr Linda McIver has produced a series of online educational resources on Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

It provides a resource for teachers to assist them to develop data science skills using engaging real-life datasets.  It also helps teachers deliver the new Digital Technologies curriculum and contributes to the Digital Technologies Hub resources.

“Having data resources available to teachers based on actual research results from the Western Australian marine environment is very rare,” Luke Edwards said. “Using real data provides students with much more motivation to learn data science skills and solve real life problems.”

“We’re also producing some career profiles on our WA scientists to show students the background some of our scientists are from and the pathways they have taken to enter their profession.”

The resource was launched during Data Science Week and is available to primary and secondary teachers to use in their classrooms.

Lesson plans for years 5-6 and 7-8 using datasets on whales and crocodiles are now available to teachers online at Education Australia’s Digital Technologies Hub with lesson plans on dugongs and turtles soon to me made available.

The education resources have some great ideas for assessment in Digital Technologies. Each topic shows a sequence of learning with a summary, brief description, suggested learning activities, supporting resources and assessment ideas.

Data Science Week aims to bring together a community of data scientists across Australia to network and discuss trending topics and ideas across domains. This year’s events showcased a range of organisations including the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and WA Data Science Innovation Hub with a focus on women in data science.

The online education resources are based on data produced for four of the 23 projects conducted as part of WAMSI’s Kimberley Marine Research Program.

Building trust among park managers and community through science

Research has shown that the success of marine resource management is influenced by the levels of trust that exists between decision-makers and the rest of society.

In his latest paper, “Building trust among marine protected area managers and community members through scientific research: Insights from the Ningaloo Marine Park, Australia”, published in the journal Marine Policy, lead author Dr Chris Cvitanovic from the Centre for Marine Socioecology at University of Tasmania, says community engagement is critical to management success.

“We wanted to understand what, if any, impact the Ningaloo Marine Research Program had on residents of the region.  To do so we surveyed 125 local residents across Exmouth and Coral Bay, and found that the majority of residents believe that scientific research is important for the management of the marine park, and strongly support government investment in scientific research in the region,” Dr Cvitanovic said.

“More interestingly, the results also suggest that science undertaken through the Ningaloo Research Program has increased the extent to which community members trust local MPA managers and decision-makers, with many community members also suggesting that  this increase in trust has led to improved social and environmental outcomes in the region.”

“The extent to which scientific research can build and maintain trust among MPA managers and community members, however, is dependent on an effective  community engagement and outreach program that is implemented throughout, and following the completion of, the research,” Dr Cvitanovic said. “To this end our study also identified strategies and opportunities to further enhance  trust between community members and marine park managers in the Ningaloo region, for example, via targeted communication and engagement programs that account for different personality ‘types’ and the establishment of new citizen science programs.”

Co-author Dr Kelly Waples fom the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (formerly Parks and Wildlife) said one of the values presented by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution, and captured in the latest paper, has been the initiative and opportunity to go back and evaluate how effective the research program has been with respect to conservation outcomes.

“It has been a very valuable exercise to assess the elements of these large research programs that work well and where we may need to increase our efforts to ensure conservation outcomes for the marine environment and for the community,” Dr Waples said. “It does confirm that government investment in science has been very worthwhile and, given what we have learned, benefits will be improved in future programs.”

The research was funded by the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, the Western Australian Marine Science Institution and the Centre for Marine Socioecology at the University of Tasmania.


Cvitanovic C, van Putten EI, Hobday AJ, Mackay M, Kelly R, McDonald J, Waples K, Barnes P (2018) Building trust among marine protected area managers and community members through scientific research: Insights from the Ningaloo Marine Park, Australia. Marine Policy doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2018.04.010

Kimberley coastline key to monitoring shorebird decline

Researchers looking into the declining number of long-distance shorebirds say, while there is clear evidence that changes in Australian populations are strongly influenced by factors outside of the country, there may also be losses due to habitat pressure in the Kimberley.

A shorebird monitoring project, supported by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution, found some evidence suggesting that local habitat preferences of shorebirds in northwestern Australia have changed in response to human disturbance of roost sites, mangrove incursion on some beaches in northern Roebuck Bay.

The study, led by Danny Rogers and Chris Hassell from the Australasian Wader Studies Group, focussed on the coastlines of Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach.

Organic pollution of groundwater from Broome has contributed to algae blooms in Roebuck Bay, which may have detrimental effects on the food available to shorebirds.

“It is not yet clear whether these problems have only resulted in local relocation of shorebirds, or whether it affects their survival rates and population counts,” Danny Rogers said.

Bottom row: Greater Sand Plovers (Charadrius leschenualtii),
Top row (one mostly hidden): Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris)
At right centre: Red Knot (Calidris canutus)
(Image: Danny Rogers )

Shorebirds carry out long-distance annual migrations between their feeding grounds in the arctic and non-breeding grounds in the southern hemisphere.

During their non-breeding season, migratory shorebirds are broadly distributed along those parts of the northern Western Australian coast with extensive tidal flats. Especially large concentrations are in Roebuck Bay and the northern 80 kilometres of Eighty Mile Beach.

Of the 41 shorebird species occurring regularly along this coastline, 18 species occur in internationally significant numbers (>1% of the population in the East Asian – Australasian Flyway). In total, more than 635,000 migratory shorebirds depend on the tidal flats of the northwestern Australian coast.

“Given the strong external influences on shorebird numbers in Australia, it is clear that Australian-based monitoring serves an important purpose as a barometer of shorebird populations throughout the East Asian – Australasian Flyway,” Danny Rogers said. “As the most important non-breeding region for shorebirds in Australia, Kimberley coastline monitoring is a very important part of this monitoring effort.”


Evaluating the impacts of local and international pressures on migratory shorebirds in Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach_WAMSI KMRP project 1.2.6 Report_Rogers et al 2017_Final

WAMSI Project Page: www.wamsi.org.au/pressures-migratory-shorebirds

The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.


Kimberley Marine Research Program

Where to find WAMSI science data

Data from the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s WAMSI-2 projects (2012-2018) is discoverable and available for reuse.

WAMSI Data Manager, Luke Edwards from the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, manages the collection and storage of data from the programs including:

WAMSI Dredging Science Node

Kimberley Marine Research Program

Wheatsone sawfish offsets project

“One of the great legacies of the WAMSI science is that the data is made discoverable for ongoing and future research,” Luke Edwards said. “Data is made public after the default 18 month embargo period to enable researchers to publish.”

For example, KMRP project 1.3.1 on Reef Growth and Maintenance has data publicly available now.  The link to the metadata record is http://catalogue.aodn.org.au/geonetwork/srv/eng/metadata.show?uuid=7ab491d2-9507-428c-aed1-091d2aaed521.

Within the metadata, there are links to the Pawsey Data Portal, where it is held.

As well as the Pawsey Data Portal, data is stored in the CSIRO Data Access Portal (DAP) and AIMS Data Centre.

Data discovery and access starts via the AODN catalogue – http://catalogue.aodn.org.au/geonetwork/.  To see all WAMSI 2 projects, type WAMSI 2 into the “Title” search box.

Other discovery pathways are being developed including via the WA Open Data catalogue – https://catalogue.data.wa.gov.au/group/wamsi.

Other WA Government marine data is available here – https://catalogue.data.wa.gov.au/group/0-wa-marine-map.



Sawfish Project Kimberley Marine Research Program Dredging Science

Sediment timeline reveals climate change influence on Kimberley

By: Jo Myers, CSIRO

The remote Kimberley coast of northwestern Australia is one of the few marine environments on earth largely unaffected by human use. However, the region is undergoing increasing economic importance as a destination for tourism and significant coastal developments associated with oil and gas exploration.

A team of researchers, which included scientists from CSIRO, Edith Cowan University, La Rochelle University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, collected sediment cores from three coastal locations in the Kimberley region, to provide an indication of the level of variability and change in water quality over the last 100 years.

The study locations of Koolama Bay (King George River), Cygnet Bay and Roebuck Bay in the southern, central and northern Kimberley were selected as each offered a different perspective in comparison of levels of human use or natural environmental variability.

Collecting sediment cores at Cygnet Bay (CSIRO)

The team found that for the Kimberley in general, climate change, in particular temperature increases have had, and may continue to have, a significant influence on phytoplankton biomass.

Analysis of cores from the Broome site lent general support to other studies which have indicated increased nutrient pollution levels in Roebuck Bay.

At Cygnet Bay, where pearl farming has occurred since the 1960s, there were small but detectable, gradual changes in the environment evident over the long term.

Sediment cores indicated increased nutrient pollution levels in Roebuck Bay.

The project also undertook a pilot study using the King George River cores, which indicated that coastal sediment cores could reveal long-term patterns of bush fires in different catchments in the Kimberley.


Yuan Z, Liu D, Keesing, J K, Zhao M, Guo S, Peng Y, Zhang H (2018) Paleoecological evidence for decadal increase in phytoplankton biomass off northwestern Australia in response to climate change. Ecology and Evolution doi:10.1002/ece3.3836

The project report Sediment Records in the Kimberley_WAMSI KMRP Report 2.2.9_Keesing et al 2017_FINAL is available at www.wamsi.org.au/sediment-record

The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.


Kimberley Marine Research Program

Kimberley moves on integrating Traditional Knowledge and science

A three-year project that has broken down barriers to communication between Traditional Owners and scientists working on Country in the Kimberley was recognised as a significant step forward by members of the working group at the 2017 WAMSI Research Conference.

The Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science Project (KISSP) worked with Rangers from seven Kimberley Indigenous Native Title Saltwater groups as well as 103 Traditional Owners to develop protocols and guidelines that recognise how Traditional Knowledge can engage with and complement modern research and science.

The KISSP project made significant progress into delivering three key objectives:

  1. Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and management practices into Kimberley marine conservation management.
  2. Developing standard and agreed community protocols.
  3. Developing a framework and protocols for standardising data collection, storage and monitoring, including the development of a pilot training package.

“If you think about CSIRO, AIMS and the Parks and Wildlife Service, there is a lot of marine research being undertaken in the Kimberley, and Traditional Owners just want to be respected and have some idea about it, know who is on their Country and what involvement the community will have in the research,” Project Leader Dean Mathews (Yawuru) explained.

Charles Darwin University and CSIRO researcher and working group member Beau Austin said there were a lot of practical, implied benefits from getting the collaboration between western scientists and Traditional Owners to work.

“For example, Indigenous Knowledge holders can see changes, threats and connections between things that scientists might not see and this can contribute to informing policy and decision making that can lead to better decisions, better policy and better management,” Dr Austin said.

Albert Wiggan, representing the Nyul Nyul people from the Dampier Peninsular north of Broome, described the two-year journey with the project as an, “opportunity to discover the potential and productive tools that can come from a relationship between science and Traditional Knowledge.”

Albert Wiggan, Deputy Project leader presenting the KISSP program out comes at the 2017 WAMSI Research Conference. Albert is a traditional Bardi, Nyul Nyul, and Kija man from the Kimberley who has been working as a Nyul Nyul Ranger for the last five years.

“It is important that we, as Indigenous people who are still connected with our land, develop the skills and capacity to work alongside science, so that we best look after the environment not just for ourselves but for everybody into the future,” Mr Wiggan said.

A six step approach to entering into collaborative research has been developed by Gina Lincoln from Mosaic Environmental Consultancy as part of the project outcomes. It addresses current shortfalls and provides consistency for researchers embarking on Kimberley coastal and marine research projects.

Six step approach to entering into collaborative research developed by Gina Lincoln from Mosaic Environmental Consultancy

“The key around this is the products that are coming out of the project and how they get taken up or implemented into management, especially around joint management with Traditional Owners in the Kimberley,” Mr Mathews said. “We also want to build capacity within the groups so, when a researcher leaves their research, they leave a legacy of their work, such as tools or methodologies so groups can continue monitoring the change in their Country over time.”

“At the end of the day we are working towards a common objective,” Mr Mathews said. “There’s policy and legislation, but if you look at our goal it’s about protecting and managing Country. We believe the group has developed strong momentum and that it is a model that will work.”

(L-R) WAMSI Kimberley Marine Research Program Node Leader Stuart Field (DBCA), KISSP Project Leader Dean Matthews (Senior Project leader Yawuru for the last 5 years working closely with the state in developing the Yawuru conservation estate plans and the Yawuru Marine Park Plan), Manager Land and Sea Unit at Nyamba Buru Yawuru Julie Melbourne, Rebecca Dobbs (UWA), Beau Austin (CDU/CSIRO) and WAMSI Kimberley Science coordinator Kelly Waples (DBCA).


KISSP Project page: www.wamsi.org.au/Indigenous-knowledge

The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.


Kimberley Marine Research Program