New marine facility at Waterman’s Bay to put WA in the lead

Life and the environment in and around the Waterman’s Bay shoreline on Perth’s northern beaches will soon be available to explore in real-time with an ambitious project to couple observations from the seafloor, sea surface and the atmosphere, and link scientists with the public and industry.

Project coordinator Dr Jeff Hansen from The University of Western Australia’s Ocean’s Institute and School of Earth and Environment has a penchant for the physical side of life, surf zone currents and sediment transport, but he believes the new Waterman’s Bay Nearshore Observatory could be used to explore much more, from conducting experiments relating to marine chemistry to monitoring marine life and collecting long-term records of ocean properties.

Dr Hansen said the location of the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) Waterman’s Bay Facility directly on the water’s edge presents a tremendous opportunity to study and monitor the surrounding ocean.

“The building provides a unique platform from which we can collect a vast range of observations in real-time” he said. 

A key element of the observatory is that all data, real-time and archived, will be made available free online. In addition to providing data relevant to individual scientists, the observatory will supply information needed to make decisions relating to marine safety, coastal zone management, and marine resource management, as well as providing data to the public for recreational and educational purposes.

“We’re trying to cast a broad net and invite industry partners who may have a range of applications for the observatory infrastructure” Dr Hansen said. “We want to design the observatory infrastructure to be as flexible as possible to meet the requirements of a wide variety of users for many years to come.”  

The project, a major new initiative proposed by the UWA Oceans Institute and the IOMRC partners, will provide a new undersea observatory facility to be used for fundamental oceanographic research, monitoring the physical, chemical, and biological process occurring in Perth’s metropolitan coastal waters, and for marine technology development and trials.

It will include a range of infrastructure and instrumentation that will enable remote control of instruments and monitoring of data streams. The observations delivered by the facility will provide a detailed view of the coastal ocean, unrivalled elsewhere in Australia, while supplying a diversity of data relevant to science, marine safety, coastal management, industry, and to the public.

The project has been planned in two stages: in Phase 1 the roof of the newly refurbished Waterman’s Bay facility will be equipped with a weather station and seaward-directed video camera to provide continuous images of sea state and hourly georeferenced shorelines of the adjacent beach. These observations will be coupled with wave, water level and temperature measurements collected by a submerged sensor about 150 metres off the beach connected by a cable running into the building.

Phase 2 (subject to funding) is the installation of an eight kilometre fibre optic and power cable from the facility out to a depth of 25 metres that will support more than 100 underwater instruments  in addition to a directional wave buoy that will provide real time observations of sea state. 

Bathymetric chart of the Waterman’s Bay Marine Centre facility region, showing the proposed locations of the Observatory undersea nodes (red starts) and buoy (yellow circle), and approximate cable-run (dashed line).

“The most ambitious part of the project is getting the cable from the building to eight kilometres offshore ” Dr Hansen said. 

Prior to coming to UWA, Dr Hansen worked in the US including at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“A lot of other marine laboratories around the world have undersea observatories and they have proven to be an extremely powerful resource for community engagement and research,” he said.

Interested parties, from all sectors and organisations, are invited to contact Jeff Hansen at the UWA Oceans Institute with expressions of interest in this initiative.

“By providing information about envisaged usage, we will be able to design the infrastructure to meet the requirements of the maximum number of stakeholders,” Dr Hansen said.

The project anticipates that access to the Waterman’s Bay Facility for the installation of the weather station and video camera will be possible in the coming months. The Phase 1 undersea instrumentation is expected to be up and running by early next year.