Rare soft corals feature in Kimberley photographic field guide

More than 90 images, giving a glimpse into the rare soft coral gardens of Australia’s remote northwest, have been compiled in a photographic field guide by Dr Monika Bryce of the Western Australian Museum.

Octocoral (non reef-building coral) specimens collected on five expeditions conducted in 2015 and 2016 in and around Camden Sound, Maret Island, Eclipse Islands and Lynher Bank have been identified and the species are characterised in the guide.

The locations for investigation by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution’s Benthic Biodiversity project team were selected with the WA marine park initiatives in mind, in particular Lalang-garram/Camden Sound Marine Park and the North Kimberley Marine Park in the Cape Bougainville-Cape Londonderry region.

The ship based surveys focussed on the deeper areas, from around 12-100m below low tide, where little information is available from previous Kimberley studies. Samples were also taken in nearshore areas at low tide reef walks and sediment grabs.

The guide is designed to walk scientists through the characters they require to identify species of octocorals. It features images of the octocoral species, and the sclerites that form their skeletons which are used to determine species identifications.


Chironephthya sp. 2  Chironephthya sp. 2  sclerites (that form their skeletons)


“The simplicity of the guide belies the complex taxonomic science that underpins it, and the enormous amount of time it has taken Monika to identify the 92 species presented in it,” Dr Jane Fromont, Head of Department of Aquatic Zoology at the Western Australian Museum said.

Video of sponge gardens at Nick’s Rock.

“There are rich sponge and octocoral gardens in the Kimberley and this guide gives a snapshot of the octocoral biodiversity.

“This is the first identification guide of octocorals of the Kimberley region,” Dr Fromont said. “As a new resource into a virtually unknown fauna it will be incredibly useful to researchers attempting to identify these animals. It also provides general estimates of abundance and rarity, and the habitats where the animals are found, and is therefore important for managers of the region.”



Ultimately all available data will be drawn together to provide an overview of the large scale trends in habitats along the Kimberley including:

  • A habitat map identifying the major seabed habitat types throughout the Kimberley.
  • A better understanding and appreciation of the importance of marine biodiversity in the Kimberley (including number of species and identification of species new to science and/or new to the region)
  • An improved ability to plan and manage marine protected areas in the Kimberley.


“The Kimberley is an increasingly active, multiple-use marine region, with a growing need for accessible environmental and socio-economic information,” WAMSI Benthic Biodiversity Project leader, Dr Andrew Heyward (AIMS) said. “These are voyages of discovery, which is inherently exciting for the scientists. We expect the project will reveal much about life on the seabed in this region and make a useful contribution to planning and management.”

WAMSI’s joint venture partners, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, Curtin University and Tradional Owners also supported the fieldwork and provided laboratory facilities.

The Octocoral Field Guide, Kimberley, Western Australia can be found at:

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.



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