Project to predict and manage marine heatwave threats

Scientific experts from around Australia will work together on a major new UN-endorsed research project that aims to better forecast and respond to extreme marine heatwaves, as warnings mount that the devastating events will become more frequent and severe.

Lead scientist Professor Nicole Jones, from The University of Western Australia, said the project would uncover new data as well as gather historical information.

“These marine heatwaves have had a serious ecological and economic impact on the state in recent decades including the loss of coral, kelp and seagrass,” Professor Jones said.

“We have seen an impact on fisheries and there are also long-term changes to the function of the various ecosystems.”

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution will manage the project, ‘Advancing predictions of Western Australian marine heatwaves and impacts on marine ecosystems’ with funding from the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation. The project was recently endorsed as part of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030.

The multi-disciplinary project team of 26 includes researchers in oceanography, marine ecology, atmospheric science and data science.

“Our key aim is to develop tools to efficiently create seasonal forecasts of ocean temperature and the associated habitat response to marine heatwave events for the coastal ocean. This information can be used to manage responses to future marine heatwave events,” Professor Jones said.

The project also aims to identify areas most at risk from marine heatwaves and those that are more likely to be resilient.

WAMSI Chief Executive Officer Dr Luke Twomey said the four-year project was an important one for WA.

“This will help the WA Government agencies make management decisions for the marine environment threatened by marine heatwaves,” Dr Twomey said.

Project scientists come from organisations including Bureau of Meteorology, Curtin University, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, and UWA.

The project is also funded by the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre Strategic Infrastructure Investment Fund, the Jock Clough Marine Foundation and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.


Beach walkers invited to help penguin research

A Western Australian Marine Science Institution project led by a scientist from The University of Western Australia is inviting people to help penguin research while getting fit.

Dr Belinda Cannell, from UWA’s Oceans Institute, said the project at Cockburn Sound was seeking volunteers who regularly walk at the beach to record any Little Penguins they find deceased.

She said her research over the past 30 years had shown many people were keen to help scientists and the community better understand the species.

“This will be the second year in a row the project has run, although volunteers also helped with similar research from 2007 to 2009,” Dr Cannell said.

“The feedback is people generally love to have an excuse to be out there doing some exercise, enjoying the environment and helping with important scientific research.”

Volunteers will be asked to walk a section of the Cockburn Sound foreshore, which has been divided into one-kilometre lengths, at least once a week for about a year.

Volunteers took part in more than 300 surveys last year but did not record any dead penguins.

Dr Cannell said the volunteer program was open to all members of the public, from citizen scientists and community groups, to corporate organisations and ocean lovers.

“If we find dead penguins we want to know what caused their deaths and see if there is a seasonal pattern,” Dr Cannell said.

“And importantly we want to identify strategies to protect the species.”

People who are interested in volunteering for the Little Penguin research project can email Dr Cannell here.

Science influences art in a marine-inspired exhibition

An art exhibition that fuses scientific knowledge with creative inspiration is set to open later this month in Albany.

Immerse will feature artworks by 20 MIX Artists from the Great Southern that showcase a unique art-science collaboration between contemporary artists and marine scientists working in the region.

The waters of the south coast and around Albany are well known for their unique diversity of plants and animals, as well as their productivity, and the works will convey important marine science knowledge and current research from the region to a broad audience.

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution coordinated opportunities for the MIX Artists to learn from marine scientists, through talks and presentations, provision of resources and engagement with marine science students from The University of Western Australia during a field trip. The artists also followed up with ongoing self-research and observation of their environment.

Dr Jenny Shaw, WAMSI Research Director, said it had been particularly interesting to observe how the artists were interpreting their local marine environment.

“It’s been a great opportunity to move science into the community and also see different interpretations of marine research topics,” Dr Jenny Shaw, WAMSI

“The scientists benefit from explaining their work to different audiences and the interest from the artists has been incredibly high, contributing to a shared appreciation for the marine environment.”

The interaction between artists and scientists and the resulting creative process has been well documented and will enable the exhibition audience to learn more about the art-science collaboration.

MIX Artist coordinator Annette Davis said the collaboration had given the MIX Artists fantastic insight into another world and engagement with the scientists have been fundamental as to how the artworks had developed.

“Responding with intuition, curiosity, and imagination, the artists have interpreted their findings through chosen materials and techniques and created individual artworks to help move this understanding into the wider community,” Ms Davis said.

Topics that have inspired the artworks centre around the finely balanced coastal environment and the impact of structural change, such as the threats of plastic pollution and rising sea levels, but also include an emphasis on restoration methods to protect the marine environment.

The pursuit of marine science has inspired some artists.  Catherine Higham has used seagrass and seaweed, on a structure made from willow and bamboo, to make a large-scale listening horn to listen to underwater life.   Another artist used the shapes of scuba diving equipment and scientific data to create a ‘newly discovered’ sea creature, named Scubadeepus data-analyticae, in homage to marine scientists.

Christine Baker’s work, titled Micro Plastic Menu, was inspired by a talk on microplastic contamination in the ocean by UWA’s Dr Harriet Paterson and how it can potentially be transferred through marine food chains.

Immerse will run at the Albany Town Hall from Friday 21 January until Saturday 25 February.   Artists and scientists will talk about the process of this project at a special free event titled Dive In on Saturday 4 February in the Town Hall auditorium.

After being shown in Albany, the exhibition will tour to the Collie Art Gallery, where it will run from 6 May to 11 June.

More information is available here:

A new blueprint for Western Australian marine research

A new report to guide Western Australia’s coastal research priorities and initiatives signals a renewed focus for statewide marine science.

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) today launched the Blueprint Refresh 2022-2027, identifying opportunities for marine science to improve the sustainable use and management of WA’s coastal and estuarine marine environments.

Developed with advice from WA marine stakeholders, the result is a snapshot of the existing and emerging marine science needs of WA’s marine industries, managers, regulators and the wider community, shaped by changes and advances over the last five years to the marine landscape.

Promoting collaboration across all sectors, WAMSI has identified six major science themes and knowledge gaps to focus marine science investment and activities in Western Australia over the next five years.

WAMSI CEO Dr Luke Twomey said WA’s coastal and estuarine ecosystems were under increasing pressure from cumulative impacts associated with population growth, economic activity, and climate change.

“Strong direction backed by good science is needed to manage these pressures into the future,” Dr Twomey said.

“The Blueprint Refresh is a snapshot based on our collective knowledge, best available information and vision for Western Australian marine science and is aimed at better understanding the needs of the sectors that interact with WA’s marine environments.” Dr Luke Twomey, WAMSI CEO

“It provides the contemporary view to refresh the scientific knowledge required to head into the future and contribute to discussions that will drive change to strategy, practice, and policy across industry, government, and in the community.

Three focus areas emerged from the collective stakeholder input – Traditional Owner participation, accessible data and social engagement – that were considered central to the delivery of any marine science program.

“This Blueprint Refresh provides decision-makers and the community with a clearer understanding of the direction for future blue economic activity in Western Australia, which in-turn provides our marine scientists with the intelligence necessary to focus their future research endeavours,” Dr Twomey said.

Survey to assess value of recreational activities in Cockburn Sound

A new project aims to identify the non-fishing activities in Cockburn Sound to assess the recreational use of the bay and the values it provides.

The University of Western Australia and Murdoch University are working with the Western Australian Marine Science Institution and the Westport Program on the two-year project to better understand how the area is accessed and used, provide economic valuation for key recreational sites, and help inform future development plans.

Dr Milena Kim, from UWA’s School of Agriculture and Environment, said Cockburn Sound was the most heavily used bay in Western Australia.

“It hosts a huge range of activities and is highly valued by many different users, including for many types of recreational activity,” Dr Kim said.

“While recreational fishing is an extremely important and well-known activity in Cockburn Sound, less is known about how and why the bay is used for other types of recreational activity.”

The research team is using an online mapping survey technique that asks the public to provide information about how and where they use the bay for recreation and the values people associate with the activities.

The survey will help inform future development by providing key data on recreational activity use, values, and spatial conflicts and how these may be influenced by further development in the bay.

Anyone who uses Cockburn Sound for recreational activities can participate. To take part click here or for more information contact

Libby Howitt Appointed to WAMSI Board

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution has welcomed Principal Environment Advisor – Offshore at Santos Energy Ltd. Ms Libby Howitt to its board.

Ms Howitt brings skills in science and evidence-based decision making in environmental impact assessment and management, as applied to a range of marine activities including exploration, development and decommissioning activities of the oil and gas industry.

Ms Howitt has a research background in marine ecology and a working history of applying marine science to the assessment of human activities in the marine environment. She has dealt extensively with the challenges of exploring, developing, operating and decommissioning offshore petroleum facilities in proximity to environmentally sensitive areas whilst engaging with a broad range of stakeholders and regulatory authorities.

Libby has previously held positions with the University of Sydney, the Australian Museum and The Ecology Lab. She sits on the National Decommissioning Research Initiative, APPEA Marine Environment Science Working Groups, APPEA Seismic Working Group and NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub.

“On behalf of the partnership, I’d like to welcome Libby to the WAMSI board and look forward to her contribution in support of its vision to be the trusted independent facilitator, broker and advocate for marine science research that builds environmental, social and economic value for Western Australians,” WAMSI Chair Dr Paul Vogel AM said.

WA Marine Scientists Zoom into Schools

Some of the world’s leading marine scientists will share their expertise with WA high school students this term to help Year 12s achieve their best in their final year of study.

Following on from the success of the 2020 Zoom into School series, Western Australian-based researchers from Curtin University, The University of Western Australia (UWA), Murdoch University, Edith Cowan University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions managing Parks and Wildlife research have offered their expertise to students studying marine and maritime subjects.

Led by WA secondary school marine science teachers in partnership with the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI), students will have unprecedented access to pitch questions about final year subjects to the top scientists in their field of research.

Coordinator and Sacred Heart College marine science teacher John Ryan described it as: “a terrific opportunity for all Year 12 Marine and Maritime students to learn from the scientists who are at the forefront of research on these subjects.”

Each week, scientists will present on one of the subjects in the high school curriculum followed by a question-and-answer session. The sessions will be recorded and made available online.

Speakers for the 2021 series include:

  1. (7 May) Phytoplankton from Space: Professor David Antoine, Head of the remote sensing and satellite research group (RSSRG) at Curtin University.
  2. (14 May) Ecotourism, reasons for rules and the ethical management of human interactions with whale sharks, dolphins and whales: Gemma Francis, Conservation Operations Officer- Whale Sharks (Exmouth region), Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
  3. (18 June) Types of Marine Pollutants: Associate Professor Kathryn McMahon, School of Science & Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research, Course Coordinator Marine and Freshwater Biology, Edith Cowan University
  4. (25 June) Artificial Reefs: Dr James Tweedley, Senior lecturer in Animal Biology in the College of Science, Health, Engineering & Education at Murdoch University and Leader of the Fish and Fisheries theme in the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems in the Harry Butler Institute at Murdoch University.
  5. (30 July) Citizen science. Charlotte Birkmanis, PhD candidate, UWA Marine biologist, Shark scientist.
  6. (9 August) Characteristics of coral communities: Dr Marji Puotinen, Spatial – Ecological Data Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Curtin University Head of Remote Sensing and Satellite Research Group, Professor David Antoine said scientists were happy to be able to help final year students to understand how marine science is helping to solve current world challenges.

“I hope we can help to inspire these students to think outside-the-box and consider the possibilities if they pursue a career in marine science,” Professor Antoine said.

All the presentations will be made available on the WAMSI YouTube Channel HERE.

2021 presentations now online:

Australian voyage to reveal climate change effects in Indian Ocean – One Ten East log

One Ten East Logs from the IIOE-2 voyage aboard RV Investigator will be posted on the WAMSI website during the month long voyage.

Around 60 years ago, marine scientists aboard ships from 14 countries combined their efforts to explore the largest unknown area of earth, the deep waters and seabed of the Indian Ocean. This expedition generated a wealth of information and formed the basis of our scientific understanding about the Indian Ocean basin. So why do we need to do it all again?

An Australian voyage retracing part of the historic first International Indian Ocean Expedition expects to reveal the effects of climate change on the physics, chemistry and biology of the waters of the southeast Indian Ocean.

Professor Lynnath Beckley from Murdoch University is the Chief Investigator on this voyage of the second International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE2) which sets sail on Tuesday May 14th from Fremantle, Western Australia.

Forty marine scientists and technicians from 18 institutions will spend 32 days at sea on the CSIRO Marine National Facility research vessel Investigator, sampling along the 110°E longitudinal meridian in the deep ocean, approximately 500-600 km offshore of the continent.

Professor Beckley said retracing the journey would provide a unique snapshot into how much the ocean and marine life had changed over time.

“There is published scientific evidence that, in the past five decades, there has been surface water warming of over one degree Celsius in the south-east Indian Ocean” Professor Beckley said.

“There are also indications that the deepest, coldest waters in the ocean, those that are formed around Antarctica, are rapidly warming and freshening. These changed waters are moving towards the Indian Ocean and will have huge ramifications for global ocean circulation patterns.

“This expedition will provide some of the first ecological data about the oceanic food web in several of Australia’s recently established south-west and north-west marine parks, which extend out to the edge of Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.”

The researchers will investigate the whole oceanic ecosystem including physical processes, bio-geochemistry, nitrogen sources, microbes, primary production, zooplankton, mesopelagic fishes, food webs and whales.

“Essentially, our multi-disciplinary team will be investigating everything we can from physics to fish with some whales on the side!” Professor Beckley said.

“Technology has advanced significantly since the first expedition and we now have the opportunity to discover how microbes contribute to the functioning of the Indian Ocean, which was not able to be studied last time because the genomics techniques were not yet developed”.

“We will also be checking the accuracy of satellite remote sensing of ocean colour by measuring levels of chlorophyll and other pigments in the water column. This will help us evaluate production by algae and carbon sequestering on an ocean basin scale.”

A team of scientists and postgraduate students from seven Australian universities – Murdoch University, Curtin University, University of Tasmania, University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie University, University of New South Wales and University of Western Australia – will accompany Professor Beckley on the 2019 expedition. Researchers from the University of Auckland, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Spanish National Research Council, Alfred Wegener Institute, NOAA, CSIRO, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Centre for Whale Research (WA) Inc.and the Australian Department of Defence will also be conducting research on board the voyage.

The voyage is a major part of Australia’s contribution to the UNESCO-led IIOE-2 mission and Australia’s Marine National Facility.

The voyage embarked on 14 May from Fremantle and returns on 14 June. More information on the second International Indian Ocean Expedition can be found at

Thermally tolerant Kimberley corals are not immune to bleaching

Scientists have conducted the first peer reviewed test to find out if Kimberley coral reefs are resistant to coral bleaching because of their natural ability to adapt to the high temperatures off the northwest coast of Australia, and found they are nonetheless highly susceptible to heat stress and bleaching.

Coral bleaching happens when sea temperatures rise, causing the breakdown of the symbiosis between coral and their zooxanthellae (the microscopic plants which gives coral most of its colour), which can be fatal for the coral.

The study was carried out in partnership with the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s (WAMSI) Kimberley Marine Research Program and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at The University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute.

Lead author Dr Verena Schoepf said the researchers were surprised to find that corals around the Kimberley region in far north Western Australia are just as sensitive to heat stress and bleaching as their counterparts from less extreme environments elsewhere.

“We found that exceeding the maximum monthly summer temperatures by one degree Centigrade for only a few days is enough to induce coral bleaching,” Dr Schoepf said.

“We were surprised because under normal conditions, Kimberley corals can tolerate short-term temperature extremes and regular exposure to air without obvious signs of stress.”

The Kimberley region has the largest tropical tides in the world reaching up to 10 metres, creating naturally extreme and highly dynamic coastal habitats that corals from more typical reefs could not survive.

“Unfortunately the fact that Kimberley corals are not immune to bleaching suggests that corals living in naturally extreme temperature environments are just as threatened by climate change as corals elsewhere,” Dr Schoepf said.

“We found that both branching and massive corals exposed at low tide coped better with heat stress than corals from deeper water,” co-author Professor Malcolm McCulloch from the Coral CoE said. “However this doesn’t mean that they are immune to bleaching.”

The research also found that massive corals had a better chance of surviving and recovering from bleaching than branching corals.

The current strong El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific puts many coral reefs at risk of severe bleaching, and recent weather predictions show that the Kimberley region might be particularly affected in 2016.

“With the third global bleaching event underway, it has never been more urgent to understand the limits of coral thermal tolerance in corals,” Professor McCulloch said.

Co-authors on the study also included Dr Michael Stat from the Trace and Environmental DNA (TrEnD) Laboratory at Curtin University and Dr James Falter from the Coral CoE at The University of Western Australia.

Schoepf, Verena, Michael Stat, James L. Falter, and Malcolm T. McCulloch. 2015. “Limits To The Thermal Tolerance Of Corals Adapted To A Highly Fluctuating, Naturally Extreme Temperature Environment”. Scientific Reports 5 (1). doi:10.1038/srep17639.

Dr Verena Schoepf – (+61 8) 6488 3644
Professor Malcolm McCulloch – (+61 8) 6488 1921
Aleta Johnston – WAMSI Communications (+618) 6488 4574 / 0431 514 677