In a historic moment, scientists from the Kimberley Marine Research Station in Cygnet Bay have observed and documented the spawning of near-shore corals along the mainland Kimberley coast for the first time.
Nine days after the March full moon and after two wet, windy nights of monitoring, aquariums set up in the research station were awash with slicks of bright blue and pink spawn as moon (Mussidae), brain (Faviidae) and staghorn corals (Acroporidae) released their gametes into the water for fertilisation. The spawning occurred synchronously with corals on the reef only a few hundred metres away.
While Indigenous Australians in the region know the times of year when corals will spawn on the neap tides based on observations of slicks, near-shore coral spawning, which has been well researched in other areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo, has never been seen by scientists along the mainland Kimberley coast until now. Direct observation of spawning agrees with previous sampling in the south and central Kimberley that found evidence of maturing gametes leading up to the March spawning. Taken together, this suggests the March spawning may be a key period for corals along the Kimberley, just as it is for the much better understood reefs at Rowley Shoals, Scott Reef and the iconic Ningaloo.
The observations were made possible with the expertise and assistance from Dr Andrew Heyward, a coral biologist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (a WAMSI partner), and will provide a basis for future studies on the reproductive habits of corals which form the foundation of the Kimberley’s reefs – one of the most unique and poorly understood ecosystems in Australia.
The Kimberley Marine Research Station is an Industry Associate Member of WAMSI and is the first and only scientific research station in the region. Established in 2009 through a collaboration between Cygnet Bay Pearls and WAMSI, the Kimberley Marine Research Station aims to support and encourage board-scale independent scientific research throughout the Kimberley coastal and marine environment. The research station offers facilities, vessels, personnel and local knowledge to enable independent marine scientists to access and work in the Kimberley.
Through its partners, WAMSI is undertaking pioneering research in the Kimberley marine environment in support of the State’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.
Photo: Tony Cockram
See attachment for Kimberley Marine Research Station press release
Kimberley Marine Research Station: www.kmrs.com.au
Media coverage in The Australian, Secret Life of Kimberley corals revealed
WAMSI research in the Kimberley