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: http://www.mixartists.org/immerse.html

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.

Cockburn Sound – home to a surprising diversity of marine species

Scientists have found an unexpectedly diverse assemblage of marine life living on the seafloor in Cockburn Sound.

The species were identified following surveys of benthic communities in soft sediment and naturally occurring hard substrate as part of a research project that seeks to better understand benthic biodiversity and mitigate environmental impacts in the area.

The research team from the Western Australian Museum and Curtin University carried out a series of scuba-based visual surveys along the Kwinana Shelf, an area which had not been surveyed for some time.

At 12 sites sampled across two seasons, the researchers documented more than 2500 individual specimens on belt transects, including the hairy and porcelain crabs, worm snails, hammer oysters, blue ring octopus and the starry octopus, Octopus djinda, along with purple sponge barnacles, a range of urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars, as well as eleven different species of scleractinian coral.

Thirty-five sponge species were identified, of which 21 have not previously been collected from Cockburn Sound.

Every individual animal encountered was identified in-situ or collected for identification in the laboratory. Work on the specimens is ongoing, but currently, more than 200 species across eight major marine invertebrate groups have been identified.

Dr Zoe Richards from the Western Australian Museum and Curtin University said “Derbal Nara (as Cockburn Sound is known to the Noongar people) is a nursery for pink snapper but what people might not realise is that one of the reasons the snapper aggregate and spawn there is because there is a huge variety of food sources in the Bay. Animals such as sponges, soft corals and tunicates form microhabitats for crustaceans, molluscs, worms and many other epifauna animals that the snapper prey upon”.

“The unexpected diversity and abundance of the smaller (<5 cm) marine animals has been critical to document in recent times, as this faunal component is vastly understudied on a global scale, an important aspect of food web ecology and consistently reveals species new to science” – Dr. Lisa Kirkendale, Western Australian Museum

Many of these specimens require genetic sequencing to confirm their identification and this is currently underway through the WA Museum’s Molecular Systematics Unit.

Additionally, the Museum has hosted Murdoch University and Edith Cowan University scientists have worked closely with Museum scientists to assist on site who are assisting with the processing of trawl samples that were collected in another phase of the project, and those samples will be used to assess the ecological values of the benthic community.

This research is being carried out under the WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program that will inform the development of Western Australia’s new container terminal.

Common construction materials trialled for future artificial reef

Researchers from Murdoch University and Edith Cowan University are investigating materials for a future artificial reef in Cockburn Sound that will act as a settling area for local, non-invasive invertebrates.

The experiment, carried out under the WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program, is trialling four common construction materials (PVC, low-carbon concrete, natural limestone and mild steel) to understand which materials might be favoured by native marine species.

The material is cut into tiles and placed on aluminium frames called arrays then suspended in water.

As key stakeholders in Cockburn Sound, Austal Pty Ltd, Fremantle Ports, and CBH Group are facilitating this research by hosting eight of these arrays underneath their jetties, which will remain in place for a year.

Using this study design, the researchers can investigate what materials not only support the most diverse invertebrate community, but also what material may enhance coastal productivity by supporting the greatest number and biomass of invertebrates.

Historically, artificial reefs were first created unintentionally when ships were wrecked, for example Omeo in Coogee, but are now intentionally constructed as a way to enhance coastal aquatic ecosystems.

Early artificial reefs were built from surplus industrial product such as used car tyres and even whitegoods, however these materials were not favoured by reef-building species and sometimes leached harmful chemicals. They can also be exploited by invasive species that colonise areas rapidly and outcompete native fauna for resources.

Dr Sorcha Cronin-O’Reilly from Murdoch University’s Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems and Henry Carrick from Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research note that it was important to determine the structural design and suitability of various materials of artificial reefs to replicate a naturally occurring biotic community.

“We expect many different invertebrates to settle, such as tunicates, sponges, and mussels, with more mobile invertebrates such as predatory sea slugs and marine worms to hide among these colonies.”

“Two weeks after deployment, we could already see some invertebrates had begun to inhabit the materials – showcasing the high demand for prime real estate, even in the ocean!”

As for which material may be most favoured by native invertebrates, it’s time to place your bets.

This research is also locally supported by Italia Stone Pty Ltd, Collie Crete, Plastral Pty Ltd, and CSM Fabrication.

CT scans to shed light on little penguin sensitivity to noise

Researchers at Curtin University are determining the hearing sensitivity of a local penguin species to marine noise pollution.

The results could help determine to which anthropogenic noise frequencies little penguins (‘Fairy Penguin’) are most sensitive in the marine environment, with the aim of improving mitigation of noise pollution on local populations within Western Australia.

Sound pollution from shipping, near-shore construction, and other human activities can interfere with marine animals’ communication and increase stress levels.

Dr Chong Wei, a Forrest Research Fellow from Curtin’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology, is using sophisticated micro-CT imaging technology to create a computer model that can predict the hearing sensitivity of certain marine animals.

Computer simulations will be soon underway, with researchers using this model to study the sound reception process from the environment to the little penguin ear (i.e., outer, middle, and inner ear).

“Different noise sources have different characteristics, such as frequency. We want to know to which frequencies the penguins are most sensitive, and match these to known sounds in the marine environment – both human-made and natural,” said Dr Wei.

Little data currently exists on any penguin species’ sensitivity to sound, however insights from other diving bird species show a response to underwater noise.

Dr Wei said “Determining the noise sensitivity thresholds for endangered species and understudied species like little penguins is instrumental in determining which frequency of sound is most harmful and which anthropogenic noise may affect penguin populations and habitat.

“This will ensure improved conservation and mitigation strategies for the species.”

Weather station installed at Cockburn Sound

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have installed a meteorological station at Cockburn Sound in the Cockburn Cement loading jetty to detect a range of atmospheric conditions that influence Cockburn Sound.

The weather station will be deployed for 12 months and measure wind speed and direction, air temperature, humidity, air pressure, solar radiation, precipitation and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) at five-minute intervals.

This data will inform the analysis and interpretation of field measurements undertaken by different projects that include hydrodynamics and ecology.

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 socialvalues@wamsi.org.au.

Art and ocean science come together to inspire unique exhibition

A new initiative connecting art and marine science will see a group of south-west artists create a series of contemporary artworks inspired by Western Australia’s unique marine environment.

This exciting collaboration between scientists and artists will lead to the aquatic-themed public art exhibition ‘Immerse’ exploring issues about the marine environment early next year.

MIX Artists Inc is a group of contemporary artists in the Great Southern region of Western Australia who work in a wide range of media including sculpture, installation, painting, photography, textiles, and digital media.

WAMSI is connecting the artists with researchers across the partnership to help inform their art practice and provide information on the biodiversity of the South Coast marine environment.

The approach challenges them to use their creative skills to conceptualise and communicate marine science in a unique way.

Earlier this year, WAMSI’s Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw presented an overview on the extent of research being carried out in the South Coast region, featuring content from researchers across the WAMSI partnership. The artists later joined the UWA Ecology Fieldwork trip to sample research in action.

The exhibition will document the artists’ process, including the interaction between artists and scientists over the course of the year.

Opportunities for the artists to pursue their learning about the marine environment will continue through fieldwork trips, talks by scientists, provided resources and other activities and their own research.

WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw, said the collaboration was a great opportunity to move science into the community.

“Often scientists are very skilled at research and know so much about a particular topic but have difficulty moving that knowledge into the wider community.” Dr Jenny Shaw, WAMSI

“The creatives are exceptionally skilled at doing exactly that.  We are thrilled that this talented group of Albany Artists has decided to ‘immerse’ themselves in marine science and create an exhibition for the whole community to enjoy and perhaps learn more about some of the amazing things in their local marine environment.”

MIX Artist Chair Annette Davis said the engagement with the scientists to date had been incredibly enlightening.

“Looking down the microscope, watching underwater videos, meeting two groups of students as they came in off the water, watching the informative and amusing presentations and hearing the students answer penetrating questions about their methodologies – it was all very interesting and stimulating and has contributed to our considerations about the exhibition and the curatorial approach,” Ms Davis said.

The artists are continuing to connect with scientists during the investigative phase of their research.

The exhibition will take place in Albany and run from 20 January – 25 February 2023.

New trial to future-proof Western Australia’s seagrass meadows 

An innovative trial to test the limits of seagrass under different dredging scenarios is underway that could make seagrass meadows more resilient to environmental pressures.

The findings could help to future proof seagrass meadows across Western Australia.

Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Marine Ecosystem Research has established a new state-of-the-art facility to assess the effect of global change pressures on the temperate seagrasses that are found in Cockburn Sound.

The research is being carried out under the WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program to inform the environmental impact assessment for WA’s future terminal. A series of tank experiments will simulate a range of dredging pressures, including sediment quality and increased water temperature, with the initial three-month trial examining the effects of sediment burial on seagrass.

The researchers are using healthy adult seagrass plants collected from Cockburn Sound and transplanted into plots containing locally sourced sediment from the site and left for a week to acclimatise to the new tank conditions.

The seagrass are subjected to a range of sediment burial levels from 0–16 centimetres depth, to simulate potential dredging pressures from the port development close to the dredge site and spoil disposal area.

WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program theme leader Associate Professor Kathryn McMahon, said it was incredibly exciting to be able to carry out the research in a facility that bridged the gap between the laboratory and the real world.

“We are taking a two-pronged approach. Firstly, to generate knowledge that will assist environmental impact assessment, and secondly to develop strategies to build resilience of seagrass meadows into the future by looking for seagrass species or populations that may be more resilient to ocean warming and heatwaves.” Associate Professor Kathryn McMahon, ECU

Monitoring is currently underway to assess the health of the seagrass under these different burial conditions through examining key physiological indicators such as plant growth rate and photosynthetic performance.

Research Associate Nicole Said advised future tank and field experiments would target the combined effect of temperature, light reduction, and organic matter expected to gain valuable insight into the tolerance limits and thresholds for seagrass.

“We will commence the field experiments during spring this year using underwater structures to simulate different dredging and port development scenarios in Cockburn Sound.”