Modelling a picture of the future Kimberley marine environment

Scientists are working on the final stage of developing models that could estimate the likely effect of changes in population, tourism and climate in the Kimberley to better predict what the future may look like.

By the end of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s Kimberley Marine Research Program (KMRP), a staggering 25 research projects will have generated new information about the bio-physical, ecological and social processes affecting the Kimberley marine environment and the main causes of change.

Condensing all this information into a unified picture to better understand the complex interactions to guide conservation decisions is an international team of researchers from CSIRO and ALCES (based in Canada).

Led by CSIRO’s Dr Fabio Boschetti, the team has been building a modelling tool which uses the best available information on the likely future of the region.


Simplified, spatially explicit, conceptual model of the working of the Kimberley system, including land, coastal and marine processes

“In general, model predictions are more reliable than the ones we (experts included) may produce without models,” Dr Boschetti said. “Of course, models will not accurately predict what will happen to the system. Rather, they are designed to say something physically and ecologically meaningful about what may happen to the system, should it undergo specific pressures.”

“They are tools which allow us to integrate the available knowledge, include the state-of-the-art understanding of social, economic and ecological processes and account for uncertainty and missing information. We can use them to explore what may happen to the Kimberley region to the year 2050 depending on how the Kimberley system works, what events may occur, and what we do and how we react to these events. Hypothetical or conditional questions, like “if this event occurs, then what may the future look like?’ can be asked. This forces us to focus on the events and conditions which may affect it,” Dr Boschetti said.

Modelling approach based on asking what may happen to the Kimberley region if specific events (scenarios) occur and specific initiatives (management strategies) are adopted

The two computer models are being used in this project to integrate existing knowledge about the Kimberley system to provide an estimation of the likely impacts of different stressors on the land (ALCES) and marine (Ecopath with Ecosim – EwE) environments.

The EwE model is being used to characterise the impact of fishing, tourism, other human uses and climate change on the Kimberley marine ecosystem as well as how different management options, such as controls on fishing effort and spatial closures, can affect the overall impact.

Based on available information on likely future land use in the Kimberley (e.g. mining, energy, aquaculture, crops, livestock, settlements, tourism, transportation) ALCES can simulate how land based processes affect the marine environment via sediment and pollution flows, infrastructure and localised human pressure.

“We do not know precisely how the Kimberley system works, but we have a few working hypothesis that represent a snapshot of how we believe the system is and works now,” Dr Boschetti explained.

“A future is an estimation of what the system may look like several years down the track, according to the model,” Dr Boschetti said. “It is the answer to the question ‘If a specific scenario occurs and we implement a specific management strategy and the system works according to our current knowledge, then how will the system likely respond?”

Determining future outcomes is the final stage of the project to be delivered by October 2017.

More information can be found on the WAMSI KMRP Modelling Project Page:

The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.


Kimberley Marine Research Program