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

How hair dye is helping conservation of WA’s sea lion population

An innovative new project is using human hair dye on Australian sea lions at Carnac and Seal Islands off the coast of Perth to track and learn about the local population.

Edith Cowan University (ECU) are jointly leading the project with Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) marine researchers, in collaboration with Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).

The Australian sea lion (ASL) project forms part of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) Westport Marine Science Program.

“The hair dye marks are temporary and completely safe, just like hair colour on a human, but for a period of about two months it allows us to identify each sea lion and monitor how often they move amongst the six haul-out islands, such as Carnac Island and Seal Island.

“This project also enables monitoring of the total numbers that occur in the Perth metropolitan area when the animals are at their peak numbers, which is anticipated to be around December or January,” ECU Associate Professor Chandra Salgado Kent said.

The marking method, which has been applied to other species of seals and sea lions elsewhere, is non-invasive and does not harm the animals in anyway.

It only takes a matter of minutes, less than an appointment to the hairdresser!

“A layer of dye is spread on numbers with foam material on them, and the numbers are mounted on a plate attached to a long pole, we then press the plate onto the sea lions back or side.

The poles allow us to keep our distance to create minimal disruption to the sea lions,” Associate Professor Salgado Kent explained.

Tracking via satellite

The use of satellite tags is also being deployed by the expert team, that includes DBCA, ECU and ANU researchers, DBCA and Werribee Open Range Zoo wildlife veterinarians and DBCA and DPIRD marine rangers and wildlife officers.

“We are trying to better understand how many sea lions use the area and where they may be foraging,” DBCA’s Kelly Waples explained.

“To do this we will be putting satellite tracking devices on a small number of sea lions.  These tags are a small package that is unobtrusively glued to the fur on their back just behind their shoulders and will be retrieved from the sea lions in a couple of months’ time before the animals fully moult.”

The satellite tags have already been successfully attached to four sea lions, who were also marked with the hair dye.

Sea lion behaviour and conservation

Male sea lions tend to move between breeding islands around Jurien and haul-out sites in the Perth metro area, many using the Perth Metro Area during non-breeding periods.

The satellite trackers will help obtain high resolution information on where they forage and what habitat is important for them to find and capture their prey.

By understanding which habitats are important, the researchers can get a better understanding of how to manage and protect this endangered species, that have experienced a more than a 60% decline in numbers over the last 40 years.

Simple and effective

The satellite tags are attached only to the fur of the animal using glue.

“This ensures that the animal is not impacted by having the tag on them, and we retrieve the trackers after a month or two so that we can download the high-resolution data from the tag,” Associate Professor Chandra Salgado Kent said.

The ASL hair dye marking, and satellite tracking will continue over the next few months, providing the researchers with information on sea lion behaviours, movement patterns and numbers in the Perth metropolitan area.

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.

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)

Modelling reveals greatest threat to Kimberley

Climate change, not economic development, is the biggest threat to the Kimberley region, putting resident species such as reef fish at risk according to long-term environmental modelling.

A team of researchers from CSIRO carried out complex modelling across a network of Kimberley marine parks to explore the future impacts of climate change and human development at a regional scale.

Using a range of economic development and climate change scenarios they applied socio-economic and environmental modelling to create a projection of the Kimberley marine system up to the year 2050.

Based on the projected future models, CSIRO lead Dr Fabio Boschetti anticipated climate change would have the most significant long-term impact on the region.

“While one-off investments in large infrastructure can affect a region for decades to come, environmental sustainability appears to be more heavily affected by slow-dynamics climate change processes,” Dr Boschetti said.

The results uncovered a need for tougher management strategies, particularly expansion of sanctuary zones and Marine Protected Areas, to protect resident marine species.

“These models project a future where both strategic and reactive planning is necessary and prediction becomes as urgent as standard adaptive management,” Dr Boschetti said.

“It builds the groundwork to ensure basic bookkeeping of ecological processes are in place and that expectation of future regional developments are realistic and consistent.”

The research, carried out under the Kimberley Marine Research Program, provides meaningful scientific information to support environmental decision making at a regional scale across several decades.

Setting a new industry gold standard

Proponents of future infrastructure projects involving large-scale dredging will be encouraged to comply with new scientific guidelines in order to carry out their activities.

The Environmental Protection Authority’s Technical Guidance for the Environmental Impact Assessment of Marine Dredging Proposals has been revised and updated to include key scientific findings from WAMSI’s Dredging Science Node (DSN).

The revised technical guidance will improve the ability for industry to predict and manage the impacts of large-scale dredging on projects in Western Australia.

Dredging is a critical component of WA’s infrastructure and essential to the export of commodities, however until recently, there had been considerable uncertainty about the scale and intensity of potential impacts on the state’s marine environment.

This uncertainty has often meant lengthy delays in the approval and regulatory processes, amounting to significant costs for the proponents and the state, as well as costly monitoring and management regimes.

The guidance describes a framework that recognises this uncertainty and provides for the clear and consistent presentation of predicted dredging effects on benthic habitats caused by removal, light reduction or burial at the sites of dredging and disposal.

Science Lead Dr Ross Jones from AIMS, said the research outputs from the DSN represented a monumental change in the available information for dredging across the state and would greatly improve consideration of environmental impacts.

“The DSN significantly increased understanding of dredging pressures on marine benthic communities and the key findings, relating to tolerance thresholds of benthic organisms to dredging pressures and critical life cycle windows where organisms are likely to be more sensitive to those pressures, have been incorporated,” Dr Jones said.

Environmental Protection Authority Chairman Professor Matthew Tonts, said the DSN was an example of a demand-driven, science-regulator-industry collaborative approach to research that has been directly applied to improve the social, environmental and financial outcomes of major marine dredging activities.

“The revised Technical Guidance will be a valuable tool in the assessment and management of dredging programs in WA,” Professor Tonts said.

The Technical Guidance is complemented by the Guidelines on dredge plume modelling for environmental impact assessment, published by WAMSI.

It’s expected that the delivery of outcomes from the DSN, could be repeated in other important and emerging issues in marine science in WA, such as the fate of hydrocarbons in oil spills, aquaculture and sustainable fisheries management.