WA Marine Heatwave Event – The Great 2010/11 La Nina

A major ocean warming [marine heatwave] event occurred along the WA west coast from November 2010 until March 2011 influenced by a very strong La Nina event [opposite to El Nino] that caused masses of tropical water to flow between Indonesia and NW Australia and maintained very high ocean temperatures as it moved south down the west coast of WA. This was the same La Nina event that caused the incredible rain and flooding in eastern Australia during the same period of time.

At the height of the “heatwave”, temperatures of 3.5 deg C over ambient levels were recorded. This provides a major “shock” to the marine environment and caused fish kills and extensive coral bleaching in areas not accustomed to the sudden onset of high temperatures. Tropical fish species ended up much further south than their usual predicted ranges. Graphics depicting the southward migration of this heatwave event can be seen at: http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/docs/pub/Highlights/marine-heatwave.php

In some cases, these are the warmest sea temperatures ever recorded for these regions and they appear to have been influenced by a much stronger than usual Leeuwin Current over summer, associated with the very strong La Nina event. The baseline information collected through SRFME and WAMSI over the last 10 years has allowed marine scientists to begin to quantify the magnitude and significance of the event and also begin to predict the ongoing implications for Western Rock Lobster recruitment, prawns, scallops, finfish etc. It further illustrates the importance of establishing marine scientific baselines and ongoing monitoring. The extent of the coral bleaching has been reported as high as 90% in some parts of the Mid West around places such as Shark Bay. Scientists will now continue to monitor the recovery as the La Nina event continues to break down. Some marine scientists are suggesting the marine heatwave “event” may be a likely indication of what to expect in the future with predicted increased climate variability affecting the marine environment, especially ocean warming, as we move into the future.

See also: http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/docs/media/index.php?0000&mr=803


Photo: DEC Marine Science Monitoring Team evaluating the magnitude of the coral bleaching event in Shark Bay in May 2011

Divers Shark Bay

Shark Bay Marine Science project kicks off

Project name: Shark Bay – Effects of Rising Water Levels on the Faure Sill and Stromatolites

A two year study into the likely effects of climate change and sea level rise on the Faure Sill and Hamelin Pool region of Shark Bay has commenced.

A WAMSI team comprising UWA, Curtin University and CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship received a Commonwealth Caring for our Country grant in late 2010 and began fieldwork in early 2011 following two major flood events over Christmas and New Year. As well as several fieldwork trips now completed, detailed airborne scanner work has been flown mapping the key parts of the Faure Sill and Hamelin Pool at 1-3m resolution on the ground. Work will be ongoing throughout 2011 and 2012.

Kimberley Aboriginal Ranger Marine and Coastal Science Training

Kimberley Aboriginal Ranger Marine and Coastal Science Training

On 14 June 2011, WAMSI was invited to participate in the Annual Indigenous Ranger Training Day held at Middle Lagoon on the Dampier Pennisula, north of Broome. Ranger groups came from throughout the Kimberley region.

The WAMSI CEO, Dr Steve Blake, was invited to present background and technical information on the marine environments along the WA coast with a particular focus on the Kimberley coastal areas. Also covered were: marine science research techniques, satellite tracking techniques, recent whale survey results, marine data management, international whale monitoring networks, migration patterns of humpback whales, the role of Kimberley coast as part of the annual migration, and the potential roles for rangers in both whale monitoring and broader marine science activities around the Kimberley coast. Four training sessions involving 80 Indigenous Rangers and participating Elders were conducted at the Two Moons Whale and Marine Research Base, concluding with Q & A and then a “hands-on” session with parts of a humpback whale skeleton for view. Steve Blake said “WAMSI is delighted to be able to assist with the training activities as part of the highly successful Aboriginal Ranger Programs in the Kimberley region.”

Whale Bones
Whale Bones

Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution welcomes the announcement of the WA State Government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy, see: www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/kimberley-strategy

In 2008 WAMSI released the report: a turning of the tide: science for decisions in the Kimberley-Browse marine region to help highlight the need for a coordinated and integrated approach to establishing the necessary marine and coastal scientific baselines in the Kimberley Browse region. The Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy will go a long way to meeting this need.

WAMSI is looking forward to leading the Marine and Coastal Science components as outlined in the Strategy.

Aerial survey of remote Kimberley reefs, Talbot Bay, WA

An aerial survey of remote Kimberley reefs, Talbot Bay, WA, was undertaken in September 2010. Research was coordinated by WAMSI and the flight was undertaken by Airborne Research Australia.

To view the resulting video, please click: http://www.vimeo.com/19011651

Aerial survey of remote Kimberley reefs, Talbot Bay, WA

An aerial survey of remote Kimberley reefs, Talbot Bay, WA, was undertaken in September 2010. Research was coordinated by WAMSI and the flight was undertaken by Airborne Research Australia.

To view the resulting video, please click: http://www.vimeo.com/19011651

Kimberley research high priority

Independent scientific studies in the beautiful and remote Kimberley marine region have been identified as a priority by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s Board.

The Kimberley is a region of intense natural beauty where few formal, long-term marine baseline studies have been instigated.

The first indications of the latest exploratory research are predicting that there will be many hundreds of new marine species discovered from the shallow waters of the continental shelf out to the deep ocean. Initial information has shown that some reefs have new sponge and coral species on them.

A long remote coast, three thousand islands at low tide, thousands of reefs and sponge gardens, numerous atolls and sweeping mangroves distinguish the region. Most have not been seen, recorded, catalogued or analysed by scientists.

Massive 11-metre tides driven by the elliptical pull of the moon occur in the Kimberley.

All of this has historically been largely hidden from public view and general awareness.

The Kimberley has been out of sight and out of mind for most people but its proposed new whale sanctuary and other iconic features are now attracting the attention of the world.

“We hope that the future of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s (WAMSI’s) research will be largely concentrated in the Kimberley-Browse marine region,” Dr Steve Blake, WAMSI’s Chief Executive Officer, said.

“Sadly, we know more about the surface of Mars than we know about the Kimberley underwater world.”

WAMSI, through its 15 partners, has 250 scientists working on 87 research projects along the 13,500-kilometre WA coastline. Most of the work to date has been between Exmouth and Rockingham.

Topics which will be of great human benefit – biotechnology, identifying new marine species, sustainable fisheries, biodiversity, coral ecology and the effects of climate change – are being studied.

A focus on the offshore Kimberley region has been promoted by WAMSI since 2008 when it released an open report calling for more research in the Kimberley. A turning of the tide: science for decisions in the Kimberley-Browse marine region was written by Professor Mike Wood and Dr Des Mills and presented to the State Government by WAMSI.

“It’s rare for leaders to face decisions about the future as complex as those involving the cultural, environmental, economic and social values in this region,” Dr Peter Rogers, Chairman of the WAMSI Board, said.

“Scientific information should be the lifeblood of one of the last great wild and rugged marine region on earth – a region where natural gas processing, tourism, fishing, infrastructure and port developments will need to co-exist.

“The absence of independent regional marine and coastal research could ultimately be to the detriment of the environmental, economic, social and cultural values of the region.

“It will be most marked in the Kimberley-Browse marine region which historically has very limited fundamental marine biodiversity and other baseline data.”

He said WAMSI – which began in 2006 – had put in a Major Research Institutes funding application to the State Government for the second stage of WAMSI.  Another research organisation linked to WAMSI, the Integrated Marine Observing System, had also put in a funding application and, if successful, would use the funds for ocean monitoring using state-of-the-art instruments in the Kimberley offshore region.

“Results from WAMSI’s work in the past four years are already being used by decision makers tackling the questions of coastal developments, industry requirements, fishing, Indigenous heritage and conservation,” he said.

“It will hopefully augur well for the proposed next stage of research in the Kimberley offshore region.

“We’ve accomplished much more than a single agency could ever do alone by providing holistic results from research teams based in universities, government agencies and private industry. I think that that’s something which the community can be proud of.”

WAMSI’s partners are the WA Department of Environment and Conservation, the WA Department of Fisheries, the WA Department of Industry and Resources, The University of WA, Murdoch University, Edith Cowan University, Curtin University of Technology, the Chemistry Centre, the WA Global Ocean Observing System and the WA Museum. Federal partners include CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Bureau of Meteorology, and foundation industry partners are Woodside Energy Limited and BHP Billiton Petroleum.


The Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) showed a small documentary, Under Kimberley Waters, to the Kimberley Society’s September meeting.

Chairman of the WAMSI Board, Dr Peter Rogers, gave a presentation about the work of WAMSI and what it hoped to achieve in future research.

Kimberley Marine Research Program Strategy Released

The Kimberley Marine Research Program Strategy has recently been released by the WAMSI Board as a mechanism to inform the development of a Kimberley Marine Research Program Science Plan, as a result of the recent announcement by State Government within the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy. The contact for the science plan development is the acting Node Leader, Dr Chris Simpson, from the DEC Marine Science Division.

Attached files: 

PDF iconKimberley Marine Research Program Strategy.pdf