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

National Marine Science Plan supports WA’s ocean research priorities

·       $100 billion benefit to the blue economy
·       Gaps in national ocean observation modelling
·       WA well placed with NMSP and the State’s Blueprint for Marine Science 2050

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution has welcomed the release of the National Marine Science Plan’s key recommendations which sets national priorities for research and importantly addresses the gaps in research capability.

“The National Marine Science Plan gives clear direction on what we, as a nation, need to do to support a sustainable blue economy,” WAMSI CEO Patrick Seares said. “With such enormous marine territories, and the growing activities within them, a national response with national resources, is absolutely critical to underpin regional and project level science and development activities.”

The National Marine Science Plan recommendations include; creating an explicit focus on the blue economy, long term monitoring to help manage State and Commonwealth Marine Reserves; an emphasis on a coordinated national approach to marine studies to establish benchmarks and predict likely changes in Australia’s marine environment.

“Activities such as the nation-building oil and gas industry, ambitions for expanded sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, the expansion of coastal and deep water marine reserves, and coastal development put Western Australia at the forefront of the $100 billion blue economy outlined in the Plan,” Mr Seares said.

“However, our level of understanding about how the ocean works is still catching up with the knowledge needed to identify new opportunities for industry, make operations more efficient, and improve environmental management.

“The Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 for Western Australia, launched in April, outlined in some detail the priority knowledge needed by industry and government off the Western Australian coast. We are already taking the next steps about bringing industry, government and the research sector together to face this challenge.

“The National Marine Science Plan now provides the clear and necessary impetus at the national level to work together more effectively, invest properly in priority gaps, and provide the information that will help us in Western Australia, but also all jurisdictions, “ Mr Seares said.

The NMSP highlights WAMSI among the most effective mechanisms for collaboration created over the last decade: “These need to be sustained as they are fundamental to the implementation of this Plan and the support of our blue economy.” (NMSP p37)

“We welcome the opportunity to continue to develop strategies for collaborative marine research that reflect the long-term vision for the State and Australia,” Mr Seares said.

Marine science in top five State research priorities

Marine science has been recognised in the State Government’s priorities for the advancement and application of science that can help broaden the economy and create a new generation of jobs.

A Science Statement for Western Australia – Growing Western Australia, launched by the Premier and Minister for Science, Hon Colin Barnett MLA, outlines the State’s priorities and opportunities for scientific research.

“The Science Statement reinforces the importance of marine science to enhance environmental protection and improve the productivity of Western Australia’s marine industries,” Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) CEO Patrick Seares said.

The five science priorities in the Science Statement were identified based on areas where Western Australia already has a comparative advantage and an appropriate base of research and industrial capability.

WAMSI, which is delivering two of the largest integrated marine research programs in Australia: the Kimberley Marine Research program and the Dredging Science Node, is identified as key in strengthening partnerships for effective collaboration.

“I’m very pleased that marine science has been acknowledged as essential to Western Australia and that WAMSI’s important part in the research landscape of Western Australia has been so well acknowledged,” Mr Seares said. “Our partners from the research sector, Government and industry should take credit for building a collaboration that is unique across Australia and delivering world class research that is responsible for the support of the marine sciences in this document.”

“The next stage of the Government’s science agenda will be to determine long term strategies in each of these priority areas,” he said.  “As we have recently completed The Blueprint for Marine Science 2050, marine science is ahead of the game and we look forward to working with the Government in shaping future priorities.”

WAMSI is a collaboration of 15 partner organisations that include State, Commonwealth, industry and academic organisations working together to deliver large-scale marine research



Premier launches Blueprint for Marine Science

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution has welcomed the launch of the Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 as an important turning point to support future industry competitiveness and effective management of Western Australia’s marine environment and the Australian economy.

The Blueprint, launched today by WA Premier and Minister for Science Colin Barnett, identifies the key gaps in knowledge that could provide the information needed to improve productivity and deliver sustainable growth in development off Australia’s western coast.

“Industry and government managers have identified that these information gaps need to be bridged through collaborative efforts over the coming decades,” WAMSI CEO Patrick Seares said. “This Blueprint represents a clear way forward for all those involved in our marine environment.”

The Blueprint outlines:

  • Sector Specific Knowledge Needs – more than 100 sector specific knowledge gaps.
  • Baseline Research – priority research.
  • Issue Programs – areas where investigation is needed in the near future for major decisions.
  • Enabling Programs – opportunities for improvement.

At the WAMSI research conference WA Chief Scientist Peter Klinken described the Blueprint as the culmination of, “a process that has been very rigorous and extremely impressive.”

Australia’s Blue Economy will inject $100 billion to the national economy over the coming decades. Activities such as the nation-building oil and gas industry, rapidly increasing shipping in the northwest, ambitions for expanded sustainable fisheries, the expansion of coastal and deep water marine reserves, rapid coastal development in the southwest as well as expanding regional port infrastructure are all effecting WA’s marine environment.

The Blueprint recommendations are the culmination of comprehensive consultation focusing on the end users of research from business, industry, government and community groups brought together by an independent steering group led by renowned scientist Emeritus Professor Alistar Robertson.

Link to The Blueprint or Marine Science 2050

Link to Premier’s media statement 



Industry and science focus on WA marine research

Industry and marine research leaders presented the latest issues and findings affecting the future of Western Australian marine environment at the WAMSI research conference 2015 (Monday 30 March-1 April) launched by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier and Minister for State Development and Science, Hon. Donna Faragher MLC.

Among the keynote speakers;

  • Paul Vogel (EPA Chairman) – Science, knowledge and managing risk through environmental impact assessment;

  • Shaun Gregory (Woodside Energy, Senior Vice President Science and Technology) – An industry perspective on strategic marine science;

  • Michael Marnane (Chevron) – Applying lessons learnt from Gorgon to the Chevron Wheatstone dredging program;

  • Wayne Young (Pilbara Ports Authority) – Ports perspective of dredging in the Pilbara;

  • Tom Hatton (Marine Parks and Reserves Authority of Western Australia) – The future of WA’s Kimberley Marine Parks

  • Brett Moloney (Department of Fisheries WA) – With a new Fisheries Act likely, the needs of management for robust and timely research.

  • Peter Klinken (WA Chief Scientist) – WA’s research focus; and

  • Patrick Seares (WAMSI CEO) An overview of research progress, future direction and initiatives to improve collaboration on information.

    Over the course of the three day conference, lead researchers and industry representatives who are working on WAMSI’s 50 research projects under the Kimberley Marine Research Program and the Dredging Science Node also provided latest updates on their research.

Link to full schedule, abstracts and audio of presentations 

Link to Premier’s media statement  



Research Conference 2015

Marine Science Research Station in Kimberley up for WA Science Award

The first and only marine research station in the remote Kimberley region has been named a finalist for a WA Science Award, under the Science Engagement Initiative of the Year category, the winner of which will be announced at an awards ceremony on the evening of Thursday 11 October.

The Kimberley Marine Research Station (KMRS) was established in 2009 as a unique collaboration between Australia’s oldest pearl farm, Cygnet Bay Pearls and the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) to help solve some of the logistical issues with working in such a vast and remote region.

The Kimberley Marine Research Station acts as a “foothold” into the Kimberley for marine scientists, providing vital infrastructure, logistical support and local knowledge to enable the scientists to work safely and cost effectively. Traditionally, the remoteness, lack of infrastructure, and extremes of climate, has meant that it was difficult and costly to undertake marine research here.

Located at Cygnet Bay on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome, the fully operational research station provides on-site research support including accommodation, catering, vessel charter, transport and logistical assistance, aquaculture and marine laboratory facilities and qualified and experienced local staff to assist research teams.

“We are very honoured to be considered among the finalists for this award and look forward to opportunities to continue to profile and promote marine research in the region,” said James Brown, General Manager of Cygnet Bay Pearls.

This unique public-private partnership between WAMSI and Cygnet Bay Pearls has already fostered collaborations and achievements. Earlier this year, scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science working with the KRMS team observed near-shore coral spawning in the Kimberley for the first time.

Dr Steve Blake, WAMSI CEO said, “The Kimberley Marine Research Station is truly unique and has allowed greater collaboration and sharing of local knowledge to further science in this dynamic, biologically and culturally rich region.

“Mr Brown’s leadership and vision has been truly remarkable. I congratulate all that he and his Cygnet Bay Pearls team, have already achieved in establishing the KMRS as the most cost-effective platform for research in the Kimberley region moving forward. The short-listing of the KMRS for the WA Science Award is extremely well deserved.”

Considered one of the planet’s last great marine wilderness areas alongside the polar Arctic and Antarctic, the Kimberley falls within the remaining 3.7% of the world’s oceans least impacted by humans.

The WA Science Awards were established in 2002 to honour and reward the outstanding achievements of WA’s science and innovation community. The winners of the Awards will be announced on Thursday 11 October at the WA Science Awards Gala Dinner.

Photo: James Brown (General Manager, Cygnet Bay Pearls) and Ali McCarthy (Research Officer) out on the water at the Kimberley Marine Research Station