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.”

Seeds for Snapper – community spearhead citizen science

An annual program led by leading UWA and WAMSI scientists to address the loss of seagrass in Cockburn Sound, is calling on volunteers to participate in local marine science to help restore the meadows.

Community-based initiative ‘Seeds for Snapper,’ is a collaboration between The University of Western Australia and fishing conservation charity OzFish. United by a common aim to restore extensive loss of seagrass meadows in Cockburn Sound, the partnership has established a long-standing community volunteer base with a passion for seagrass restoration.

Seagrass meadows are an important part of Cockburn Sound’s ecosystem, which also act as a nursery for baby pink snapper, calamari, whiting and blue swimmer crabs.

In October, Seeds for Snapper will scale-up its operations with funding support under the WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program to inform seagrass restoration potential for Western Australia’s future terminal [Link to WAMSI website].

The collection and processing of seagrass fruit for their seeds to restore shallow areas in Cockburn Sound was originally a UWA-based initiative. This involved a small team of experienced researchers and students, led by project co-ordinator Professor Gary Kendrick and Research Officer Rachel Austin from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences.

Following a partnership with OzFish in 2020, a growing community volunteer base was established, with the project expanding to seven days a week during the fruit collection season. A mixture of skilled and beginner divers and onshore volunteers were recruited for the collection of fruit, as well as the onshore preparation, cleaning and counting of fruit and seeds.

“The enthusiasm and passion in our volunteers was incredible and their dedication and commitment. Some volunteers did 15 to 20 dives each, even on their days off. We have big plans for next season.” Rachel Austin, UWA

The project has facilitated a means for volunteers to participate in marine science, particularly for those with a passion for the ocean and seeking to make a difference but lack the qualifications.

Professor Kendrick said “many volunteers want to get involved in research but were unsure how or lacked the appropriate qualifications. Seeds for Snapper has provided them with a unique opportunity.”

In coming years, the team hopes to further equip volunteers with the skills to monitor fruit maturity and density and improve understanding about which sites to target and when.

Last season, more than 1.1 million seagrass fruit were successfully collected over 316 dives by 100 individual divers in Cockburn Sound and Owen Anchorage. This year, the team hope to disperse over one million seeds.

Research Officer Rachel Austin said the plan is to expand and scale up the seeds for snapper project into other areas of seagrass restoration. “Our aims is to be able to restore seagrass on ecologically relevant scales” she said.

To volunteer for the Seeds for Snapper Program visit the OzFish website.

Science Plan to guide $13.5 million investment

One of the largest research programs ever undertaken of Cockburn Sound is underway with the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) and Westport releasing the Science Program for its three-year partnership.

The $13.5million investment in understanding the Cockburn Sound environment will drive a sustainable design, ensure a robust environmental impact assessment process, and improve long-term management of the area.

The research spans nine key themes, which were shaped from 16 workshops involving scientists, key stakeholders, and community representatives. Across the nine themes are 31 research projects, including a series of on-ground trials for restoring seagrass meadows and improving knowledge of the marine biodiversity.

WAMSI CEO Dr Luke Twomey described the Science Program as a significant collaborative science investigation into Cockburn Sound’s unique marine environment.

“The extensive collection of science projects delivered by Western Australian scientists will fill important knowledge gaps about the Sound and provide stakeholders and the community access to new information needed to manage this environment into the future,” Dr Twomey said.

Introducing the Cockburn Sound Science Program Manager

Cockburn Sound Science Program Manager Dr Alan Kendrick is leading the research study to fill knowledge gaps, investigate potential impacts and improve understanding of Cockburn Sound’s ecosystem.

Involvement in large, science-based marine environmental programs has always piqued Alan’s career interests.

In his previous role he oversaw marine conservation science at the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, managing large marine research programs associated with offset funding from the Wheatstone, Pluto and Gorgon gas developments.

During this time, he was also involved with the delivery of WAMSI’s Ningaloo and Kimberley Marine Research Programs.

Alan will now manage a huge collaboration of research effort that will inform environmental assessment of the State’s new container port.

The WAMSI Westport Marine Science Program is a three-year program that will see local scientists deliver about 30 ecological and social research projects designed to support environmental assessment of the new port and the future management of Cockburn Sound.

Alan is looking forward to the challenge of managing the science program and developing knowledge that will help to protect Cockburn Sound’s unique marine environment.

“As the biggest collaborative investigation into the ecosystems of Cockburn Sound that has ever been undertaken, the science program is an incredible venture that will fill important knowledge gaps and deliver the information needed to manage this environment now and into the future,” he said.

Alan hopes the research outcomes resulting from the program will pave the way for future strategic science collaborations across the State.

“The science program is a great example of local scientists carrying out research in our own backyard.”

“It showcases how industry, government and the wider community can access WAMSI’s rich expertise in marine science to inform the sustainable development of how big WA projects are implemented.”

A new life for old infrastructure

Coastal development is expanding rapidly across the state and it is estimated there are now more than 7,400 man-made marine structures, ranging from oil and gas infrastructure to shipwrecks and artificial reefs, in Western Australia.

In coming years, there will be increasing proposals to build new infrastructure in WA’s marine environment and regulatory approval will need to consider the impacts on stakeholders with a vested interest in the future of these structures.

Recreational fishers are an example of a sector that have become increasingly aware of the value of the marine life that has grown on, around and near these structures and are keen to capitalise on the ecosystem benefits to improve fishing experiences.

Recognising the need to better understand these impacts, research, funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and Chevron, assessed the values and benefits associated with these structures, examining stakeholder attitudes towards their installation or removal.

The published report, Enhancing the Understanding of the Value Provided to Fisheries by Man-made Aquatic Structures, is the result of a collaboration of researchers and subject experts across the WAMSI partnership.

Taking into account the hopes, aspirations, and concerns of all stakeholder groups, it suggests future installation of marine man-made structures will need to meet the social and environmental values and expectations of the community.

Lead researcher Professor Euan Harvey from Curtin University, said the work would inform future policy decisions, not only for the decommissioning of built structures in marine environments, but also for the design and installation of new projects.

“Whether it be in the form of new ports, offshore renewable energy, subsea cables and aquaculture facilities, WA is paving the way in delivering future marine infrastructure projects,” Professor Harvey said.

“This report will provide a vital point of reference for regulators, proponents and other stakeholders when considering the social and economic impacts of installation and removal.

“By considering the socioeconomic values of all potential stakeholders during the planning process, it will become increasingly more possible to maximise the social and economic benefits to potential users.”

“The marine structures of the future could be designed with decommissioning and removal in mind.”

WAMSI acknowledges the following authors for their input:

Euan Harvey, Fran Ackermann, Georgie Hill (Curtin), Julian Clifton, Michael Burton, Carmen Elrick-Barr, Johanna Zimmerhackel, Julian Partridge, Paul McLeod (UWA), Stephen Newman, Mark Pagano (DPIRD), Jenny Shaw (WAMSI) and Dianne McLean (AIMS)

Scientists Examine Ways to Return Knowledge to Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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



Jigeedany (dolphin) survey DBCA_Dambimangari_Booklet




Data Science STEM resources in collaboration with Education Services Australia



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) became custodians of the Blueprint in 2018 to continue to action the strategic science priorities, align the research sectors’ response and establish a foundation of willingness across multiple sectors to find ways to be more strategic and more collaborative in marine science.

The WAMSI Partnership:

WAMSI Partners

WAMSI Science Leads to Jobs Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Watch: Gaarragoon Guardians: A Bardi Jawi Rangers’ story

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

Filmed and edited by Sam Frederick