Saving Shark Bay (Gathaagudu) Seagrass from Climate Change

This article was originally published on an archived WAMSI website. Some media or links may appear missing or broken. You can use the search function to look for these, or contact info@wamsi.org.au for a specific request.

Two ground-breaking seagrass projects have been awarded Commonwealth funding through the Australian Research Council (ARC) to test the ecosystem resilience of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Shark Bay (Gathaagudu), under a changing ocean climate.

Scientists throughout WA and the world have been rallying to raise the alarm about the demise of this unique environment and popular tourist destination (800 kilometres north of Perth), which has been experiencing environmental changes more rapidly since a marine heatwave in 2011.

A project led by the University of Western Australia (UWA) Professor Gary Kendrick has been awarded $517,000 over three years to continue research to test whether seagrass ecosystems can be safeguarded from climate change impacts by improving genetic connectivity in heatwave affected areas using innovative genetic rescue approaches.

“The project will generate new knowledge on how seagrasses can adapt and survive in situ,” Professor Kendrick said. “We expect to be able to improve conservation, management and restoration practices for seagrass meadows. This should provide significant benefits for long-term resilience of this economically and culturally significant ecosystem.”

Another ARC funded project will test the ecosystem resilience of the Shark Bay World Heritage Site to projected climate change. The research, led by UWA Dr Matthew Fraser, received a $324,000 ARC Linkage grant in addition to $90,000 in cash and $359,400 in-kind from partner organisations: Bush Heritage Australia; and Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions.

“This project will generate new knowledge for marine conservation through analyses of habitat loss on nutrient budgets and productivity in seagrass and stromatolite ecosystems,” Dr Fraser said. “This research will improve our understanding of climate-driven shifts on ecosystem processes in Shark Bay, incorporating science-based evidence for better conservation and management. This will contribute to future-proofing Shark Bay’s World Heritage values, and more broadly demonstrate the consequences of the continued tropicalisation of Australia’s coastline.

Both projects will feed into a comprehensive plan to respond to environmental pressures facing the Shark Bay World Heritage site led by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution.

AMSA Indigenous Workshop Outcomes

This article was originally published on an archived WAMSI website. Some media or links may appear missing or broken. You can use the search function to look for these, or contact info@wamsi.org.au for a specific request.

Promoting collaborative and respectful partnerships for Sea Country research in WA

Some 60 Indigenous and marine science participants at the Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA) Indigenous Workshop held in Fremantle in July this year identified the Kimberley saltwater science guidelines as a potential blueprint for regionalising processes and protocols for research.

The fourth annual Indigenous workshop convened under a partnership between the NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub and the AMSA brought together a representative group to discuss a way forward on developing better ways of working together on sea country.

The WAMSI Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science Project (KISSP), which subsequently led to the development of the Indigenous Saltwater Advisory Group (ISWAG), has been recognised for its success in establishing a pathway for right-way research.

CEO Luke Twomey said the WAMSI science partnership was happy to support the rollout of the KISSP process and is already working with regions where WAMSI is developing science plans.

“We have just completed a three-day workshop with the Malgana people in Gathaagudu (Shark Bay) where the key objective was to understand the science priorities for the Malgana people so their voices could be incorporated into the Shark Bay Science Plan process,” Dr Twomey said. “Part of that process is providing the Traditional Owners with an understanding of what science has already been done on Country, who the science  organisations are and what guidelines have been developed elsewhere. From there the Aboriginal Corporations can develop their own processes and protocols for working with scientists on Country.”

The 2019 AMSA Indigenous Workshop Summary Report is available here.

Shark Bay Priorities Update

Feature image: WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw conducts interviews with members of the community at the Shark Bay rec centre in May

Work for the Shark Bay Priorities Project is well underway. There will be a number of outputs produced by the end of the year, including two publications:

1. Literature and data synthesis

2. WAMSI science plan

A large number of lead scientists (35), both local and international have been formally approached to contribute to the project by providing publications and metadata of their Shark Bay research.

This information has been supplemented with workshops and a literature search and so far has netted 530 research papers. The information is being synthesised under multiple categories (54) built from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions values and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Ecoystem Based Management process.

There has been considerable engagement with the Shark Bay community with face-to-face interviews (47), workshops and presentations. Approximately 200 stakeholders (including community, Indigenous, industry, managers and researchers) have put forward their values, views and concerns for Shark Bay.

These data will be amalgamated to identify the gaps, prioritise the outcomes and produce a draft science plan for Shark Bay.


Below: a schematic diagram showing the WAMSI process for delivering the Shark Bay science plan.

WAMSI surveys Shark Bay values

A research team, surveying values that are important to the people of Shark Bay, is finding a variety of views are attached to the World Heritage area famous for its marine life and ancient stromatolites, with an economy that largely relies on the success of tourism and fishing industries.

More than 30 members of the community were surveyed last week in this first round of interviews  including representatives from local and state government, fishing and tourism business owners, long-term residents and Indigenous rangers.

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) will continue to conduct interviews over the coming weeks to determine the values, issues and concerns.

WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw said initial indications were that there is a broad range of views across Shark Bay.

“Values held by the people of Shark Bay were varied but some common themes have begun to emerge,” Dr Shaw said.  “There was widespread awareness of the massive seagrass loss from the 2011 marine heatwave and concerns about how that might have affected any changes in the bay. Tourism and fishing were also common themes.

“What we’ll do first is collect the research that’s already been done to look at whether some of the answers can be found in those bodies of work.

“Once we’ve brought together all the existing research, we can identify where there might be gaps in knowledge that relate to the values we’ve identified in our interviews. We’ll then develop a comprehensive science plan for Shark Bay to address those gaps.

“It’s a large and complex strategy to develop a comprehensive plan to respond to environmental pressures facing Shark Bay but it’s an important exercise to complete, especially now with increasing tourism,” Dr Shaw said.

The RAC Monkey Mia Resort recently doubled its capacity from around 600 to 1200 guests per night. It’s estimated that the resort accommodates less than one third of the total number of visitors who enter the national park to see the dolphins.

This week’s Fishing Fiesta will see the return of some 100 recreational fishers and their families to the town of Denham.

Bag limits for some fish species in Shark Bay are higher than tourist destinations further south, making the region an attractive option for recreational fishers throughout the year.

The Shark Bay Stakeholder Values report and gap analysis is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

WAMSI surveys Shark Bay values

This article was originally published on an archived WAMSI website. Some media or links may appear missing or broken. You can use the search function to look for these, or contact info@wamsi.org.au for a specific request.

A research team, surveying values that are important to the people of Shark Bay, is finding a variety of views are attached to the World Heritage area famous for its marine life and ancient stromatolites, with an economy that largely relies on the success of tourism and fishing industries.

More than 30 members of the community were surveyed last week in this first round of interviews  including representatives from local and state government, fishing and tourism business owners, long-term residents and Indigenous rangers.

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) will continue to conduct interviews over the coming weeks to determine the values, issues and concerns.

WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw said initial indications were that there is a broad range of views across Shark Bay.

WAMSI Research Director Jenny Shaw conducts interviews at the Shark Bay Rec Centre 

 

“Values held by the people of Shark Bay were varied but some common themes have begun to emerge,” Dr Shaw said.  “There was widespread awareness of the massive seagrass loss from the 2011 marine heatwave and concerns about how that might have affected any changes in the bay. Tourism and fishing were also common themes.

“What we’ll do first is collect the research that’s already been done to look at whether some of the answers can be found in those bodies of work.

“Once we’ve brought together all the existing research, we can identify where there might be gaps in knowledge that relate to the values we’ve identified in our interviews. We’ll then develop a comprehensive science plan for Shark Bay to address those gaps.

“It’s a large and complex strategy to develop a comprehensive plan to respond to environmental pressures facing Shark Bay but it’s an important exercise to complete, especially now with increasing tourism,” Dr Shaw said.

 

Shark Bay Fish Factory

 

The RAC Monkey Mia Resort recently doubled its capacity from around 600 to 1200 guests per night. It’s estimated that the resort accommodates less than one third of the total number of visitors who enter the national park to see the dolphins.

This week’s Fishing Fiesta will see the return of some 100 recreational fishers and their families to the town of Denham.

Bag limits for some fish species in Shark Bay are higher than tourist destinations further south, making the region an attractive option for recreational fishers throughout the year.

The Shark Bay Stakeholder Values report and gap analysis is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

 

Links to related stories on Shark Bay:

Stakeholder engagement to deliver science plan for Shark Bay (WAMSI, February 2019)

Shark Bay: A World Heritage Site at catastrophic risk (The Conversation, Feb 2019)

Growing movement to highlight Shark Bay climate risks (WAMSI, September 2018)

Adapting to ecosystem change in the Shark Bay World Heritage site (WAMSI, June 2018)

Adapting to ecosystem change in the Shark Bay World Heritage Site (Workshop presentations, June 2018)

Shark Bay seagrass loss during ocean heatwave released up to 9m tonnes of CO2, scientists say (ABC, March 2018)

Will Shark Bays seagrass survive big floods? (ECOS – 2011)

Calls for stakeholder engagement to deliver Shark Bay science plan

A comprehensive plan to respond to environmental pressures facing the Shark Bay World Heritage site is being led by WAMSI.

Scientist throughout WA and the world have been rallying to raise the alarm about the demise of the unique environment and popular tourist destination (800 kilometres north of Perth), which has been experiencing environmental changes more rapidly since a marine heatwave in 2011.

Famous for its abundant marine life including dolphins, dugongs, marine turtles and its rare, ancient stromatolites, the Shark Bay economy also relies on the success of its commercial fishing industry.

WAMSI has announced the start of its review of stakeholder views and science priorities that will determine the best approach for delivering a coordinated response now and into the future.

The stakeholder engagement, led by WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw, will take in the views of represented individuals and groups from state and Commonwealth governments, research organisations, fishers, tourism, conservation, Indigenous and other community stakeholders.

“What we’re trying to understand is the stakeholder issues and opportunities for the Shark Bay area,” Jenny said. “We’ll also conduct a review of the existing knowledge and identify the gaps from the feedback we get from stakeholders. These issues will then be prioritised before we develop a comprehensive Science Plan.”

Dr Shaw authored: Decommissioning offshore infrastructure: a review of stakeholder views and science priorities, in 2018 under WA’s Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 priorities. The WAMSI decommissioning report synthesised more than 900 issues, opportunities and concerns down to 30 questions that could be addressed through scientific research. The review has been identified as a key resource for oil and gas research.

If you are interested in being a part of the initial scoping study you’re invited to get in contact with Jenny via info@wamsi.org.au.

Shark Bay: A World Heritage Site at catastrophic risk

By : Matthew FraserUniversity of Western AustraliaAna SequeiraUniversity of Western AustraliaBrendan Paul BurnsUNSWDiana WalkerUniversity of Western AustraliaJon C. DayJames Cook University, and Scott HeronJames Cook University

The devastating bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017 rightly captured the world’s attention. But what’s less widely known is that another World Heritage-listed marine ecosystem in Australia, Shark Bay, was also recently devastated by extreme temperatures, when a brutal marine heatwave struck off Western Australia in 2011.

A 2018 workshop convened by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee classified Shark Bay as being in the highest category of vulnerability to future climate change. And yet relatively little media attention and research funding has been paid to this World Heritage Site that is on the precipice.

Shark Bay, in WA’s Gascoyne region, is one of 49 marine World Heritage Sites globally, but one of only four of these sites that meets all four natural criteria for World Heritage listing. The marine ecosystem supports the local economy through tourism and fisheries benefits.

Around 100,000 tourists visit Shark Bay each year to interact with turtles, dugongs and dolphins, or to visit the world’s most extensive population of stromatolites – stump-shaped colonies of microbes that date back billions of years, almost to the dawn of life on Earth.

Commercial and recreational fishing is also extremely important for the local economy. The combined Shark Bay invertebrate fishery (crabs, prawns and scallops) is the second most valuable commercial fishery in Western Australia.

Under threat

However, this iconic and valuable marine ecosystem is under serious threat. Shark Bay is especially vulnerable to future climate change, given that the temperate seagrass that underpins the entire ecosystem is already living at the upper edge of its tolerable temperature range. These seagrasses provide vital habitat for fish and marine mammals, and help the stromatolites survive by regulating the water salinity.

Stromatolites are a living window to the past. Matthew Fraser

Shark Bay received the highest rating of vulnerability using the recently developed Climate Change Vulnerability Index, created to provide a method for assessing climate change impacts across all World Heritage Sites.

In particular, extreme marine heat events were classified as very likely and predicted to have catastrophic consequences in Shark Bay. By contrast, the capacity to adapt to marine heat events was rated very low, showing the challenges Shark Bay faces in the coming decades.

The region is also threatened by increasingly frequent and intense storms, and warming air temperatures.

To understand the potential impacts of climatic change on Shark Bay, we can look back to the effects of the most recent marine heatwave in the area. In 2011 Shark Bay was hit by a catastrophic marine heatwave that destroyed 900 square kilometres of seagrass – 36% of the total coverage.

This in turn harmed endangered species such as turtles, contributed to the temporary closure of the commercial crab and scallop fisheries, and released between 2 million and 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – equivalent to the annual emissions from 800,000 homes.

Read more: Climate change threatens Western Australia’s iconic Shark Bay

Some aspects of Shark Bay’s ecosystem have never been the same since. Many areas previously covered with large, temperate seagrasses are now bare, or have been colonised by small, tropical seagrasses, which do not provide the same habitat for animals. This mirrors the transition seen on bleached coral reefs, which are taken over by turf algae. We may be witnessing the beginning of Shark Bay’s transition from a sub-tropical to a tropical marine ecosystem.

This shift would jeopardise Shark Bay’s World Heritage values. Although stromatolites have survived for almost the entire history of life on Earth, they are still vulnerable to rapid environmental change. Monitoring changes in the microbial makeup of these communities could even serve as a canary in the coalmine for global ecosystem changes.

The neglected bay?

Despite Shark Bay’s significance, and the seriousness of the threats it faces, it has received less media and funding attention than many other high-profile Australian ecosystems. Since 2011, the Australian Research Council has funded 115 research projects on the Great Barrier Reef, and just nine for Shark Bay.

Coral reefs rightly receive a lot of attention, particularly given the growing appreciation that climate change threatens the Great Barrier Reef and other corals around the world.

The World Heritage Committee has recognised that local efforts alone are no longer enough to save coral reefs, but this logic can be extended to other vulnerable marine ecosystems – including the World Heritage values of Shark Bay.

Safeguarding Shark Bay from climate change requires a coordinated research and management effort from government, local industry, academic institutions, not-for-profits and local Indigenous groups – before any irreversible ecosystem tipping points are reached. The need for such a strategic effort was obvious as long ago as the 2011 heatwave, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Read more: Marine heatwaves are getting hotter, lasting longer and doing more damage

Due to the significant Aboriginal heritage in Shark Bay, including three language groups (Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta), it will be vital to incorporate Indigenous knowledge, so as to understand the potential social impacts.

And of course, any on-the-ground actions to protect Shark Bay need to be accompanied by dramatic reductions in greenhouse emissions. Without this, Shark Bay will be one of the many marine ecosystems to fundamentally change within our lifetimes.

Matthew Fraser, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Western AustraliaAna Sequeira, ARC DECRA Fellow, University of Western AustraliaBrendan Paul Burns, Senior Lecturer, UNSWDiana Walker, Emeritus Professor, University of Western AustraliaJon C. Day, PSM, Post-career PhD candidate, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, and Scott Heron, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Stakeholder engagement to deliver science plan for Shark Bay

This article was originally published on an archived WAMSI website. Some media or links may appear missing or broken. You can use the search function to look for these, or contact info@wamsi.org.au for a specific request.

A comprehensive plan to respond to environmental pressures facing the Shark Bay World Heritage site is being led by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI).

Scientist throughout WA and the world have been rallying to raise the alarm about the demise of the unique environment and popular tourist destination (800 kilometres north of Perth), which has been experiencing environmental changes more rapidly since a marine heatwave in 2011.

Famous for its abundant marine life including dolphins, dugongs, marine turtles and its rare, ancient stromatolites, the Shark Bay economy also relies on the success of its commercial fishing industry.

WAMSI has announced the start of its review of stakeholder views and science priorities that will determine the best approach for delivering a coordinated response now and into the future.

The stakeholder engagement, led by WAMSI Research Director Dr Jenny Shaw, will take in the views of represented individuals and groups from state and Commonwealth governments, research oganisations, fishers, tourism, conservation, Indigenous and other community stakeholders.

“What we’re trying to understand is the stakeholder issues and opportunities for the Shark Bay area,” Jenny said. “We’ll also conduct a review of the existing knowledge and identify the gaps from the feedback we get from stakeholders. These issues will then be prioritised before we develop a comprehensive Science Plan.”

An international research team at Shark Bay in 2018. (Image: Joan Costa)

 

Dr Shaw authored: Decommissioning offshore infrastructure: a review of stakeholder views and science priorities, in 2018 under WA’s Blueprint for Marine Science 2050 priorities. The WAMSI decommissioning report synthesised more than 900 issues, opportunities and concerns down to 30 questions that could be addressed through scientific research. The review has been identified as a key resource for oil and gas research.

 

Links to related stories on Shark Bay:

Shark Bay: A World Heritage Site at catastrophic risk (The Conversation, Feb 2019)

Growing movement to highlight Shark Bay climate risks (WAMSI, September 2018)

Adapting to ecosystem change in the Shark Bay World Heritage site (WAMSI, June 2018)

Adapting to ecosystem change in the Shark Bay World Heritage Site (Workshop presentations, June 2018)

Shark Bay seagrass loss during ocean heatwave released up to 9m tonnes of CO2, scientists say (ABC, March 2018)

Will Shark Bays seagrass survive big floods? (ECOS – 2011)

Growing movement to highlight Shark Bay climate risks

Researchers are calling for an urgent response to mitigate the threats to the Shark Bay World Heritage site from the effects of a changing climate.

The results from a workshop, including 70 science and industry experts, has identified a critical need for management actions to prepare and respond to events like the 2010-11 marine heatwave that devastated seagrasses in the area.

Shark Bay is unique globally for its natural values, including stromatolites, extensive seagrasses that have constructed sills and banks over thousands of years resulting in restricted exchange with the ocean, unique and abundant marine megafauna, including one-eighth of the world’s population of dugongs, large populations of sharks and turtles, and one of the longest studied populations of dolphins in the world.

The loss of 23 per cent of seagrass cover in the bay (860 km2), as a result of the marine heatwave of 2010-2011, had a flow on effect to mega herbivores, fish, tourism and the aquaculture and fisheries dependent of the ecosystem. Events such as marine heatwaves are predicted to increase with global warming.

The workshop, held at Perth’s Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre in June, identified gaps in knowledge needed to support management of the Shark Bay World Heritage Site. It listed actions to bridge the gaps in knowledge and formed a list of suggestions on how best to proceed.

Workshop organiser Professor Gary Kendrick, from The University of Western Australia, said the actions outlined by the group were consistent.

“Overall, it is clear we need to establish a shared vision for a collaborative approach to address the priority areas to support integrated management decisions,” Professor Kendrick said.

Western Australian Marine Science Institution CEO Dr Luke Twomey supported the group’s suggestion to assess the social and economic benefits and priorities of fishing and tourism.

“For this process to have real impact, we need a better understanding of the stakeholder needs to identify the most socially and economically important aspects of this World Heritage site,” Dr Twomey said. “Once we’ve narrowed down the focus, we can develop the science plan needed to fill those gaps in knowledge that will support sustainable management and use of the region.”

“Most importantly we need to make sure that the research can be transferred into outcomes of economic, environmental and social benefit,” Dr Twomey said.

The outcomes of the June workshop will be fed in to a broader climate change workshop being held in Denham (17-19 September) to determine how susceptible the World Heritage site is to climate change, and if anything can be done to manage the effects.

The September workshop, organised by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee and hosted by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, aims to develop a vulnerability index that will lead to a climate change adaptation plan.

Adapting to ecosystem change in the Shark Bay World Heritage Site

Five years after a report into the Shark Bay World Heritage site recommended a coordinated collaborative approach was vital to understand changes in the ecosystem, more than 70 science and industry experts have joined forces to examine the threats and prioritise the research needed to save its status.

Shark Bay, located midway along the coast of Western Australia, occupies about 2.2 million hectares of marine and terrestrial reserves, featuring more than 30 islands, the largest (4,800 km2) and richest segrass beds in the world, five species of endangered mammals, as well as stromatolites. It is one of only 30 places on the World Heritage List of 1073, to satisfy all four natural criteria including:

To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

A federal Governmnent report in 2009 titled the Implications of climate change for Australia’s World Heritage properties: a preliminary assessment, highlighted the uncertainties for Shark Bay created by the effect of climate change on the Leeuwin Current. Among its predictions was that increased sea temperatures could see tropical marine life move south and a greater likelihood of predation in the area by tiger sharks.

A marine heatwave in 2011 is now know to have caused a 20 per cent loss of seagrass habitat, equivalent to a loss of 1,000 km2 of meadows. Birth rates in dolphins dropped; crab, oyster and other fisheries were negatively affected. All this, while projected tourism numbers are fell well short of their mark.

In response, a workshop and resulting publication, focused on Shark Bay, recommended a coordinated multi-institutional and multi-discipline approach to research (Kendrick et al. 2012). However, five years on there is little evidence of such a coordinated approach to research.

This month, Professor Gary Kendrick from The University of Western Australia made another call to turn attention toward the potential demise of the unique World Heritage area and the response by more than 70 state, national and international experts was immediate.

“Given the changes that have already occurred and the scale of predicted further changes, a better understanding of the drivers of environmental changes on productivity is a critical step in being able to predict the ecological resilience of Shark Bay,” Professor Kendrick said. “We need to adopt appropriate management strategies to minimise the impacts of environmental variations on natural resources and the industries that depend on them.”

The expert workshop identified priority knowledge gaps and whether something could be done to address them. It assessed the importance of each gap by comparing the consequences of either ‘taking action’ to ‘doing nothing’.

More than 70 Shark Bay science, industry and community stakeholders break into groups to come up with science priorities. (WAMSI)

“It was a great day of brainstorming,” Professor Kendrick said. “Overall, there was consensus on concern over the ecosystem changes in Shark Bay but there was no consensus on how to resolve it.”

Professor Kendrick is now working to collate the workshop responses and identify the top science priorities in a white paper to the state government.

The expert workshop ‘Adapting to ecosystem change in the Shark Bay World Heritage site’ identified concern over ecosystem change but no consensus on how to resolve it. UWA Professor Gary Kendrick will now identify the top priorities for science in a white paper. (WAMSI)

Workshop presentations slides are available HERE