A major collaborative marine research project will begin off the Kimberley coast this weekend.
Environment Minister David Templeman said a team of 12 scientists would undertake a 17-day scientific survey of three atolls in the Rowley Shoals Marine Park, including Mermaid Reef National Marine Nature Reserve, about 260 km west-north-west of Broome.
The team will be led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) Western Australia and Charles Darwin University Darwin.
“These three atolls are arguably among the most pristine coral reef environments remaining on the planet and the importance of their successful conservation cannot be overstated,” Mr Templeman said.
“It is expected that this survey will establish the Rowley Shoals as a global benchmark for coral reef conservation.
“The data generated by the survey will be directly relevant to the successful management of the Rowley Shoals Marine Park and the Commonwealth-managed Mermaid Reef National Marine Nature Reserve.”
The research will be the maiden scientific voyage of the RV ‘Solander’, the latest addition to the AIMS research fleet. This high-tech research vessel was built in Fremantle by WA company Tenix Defence Pty Ltd.
The Minister said the survey would focus on the distribution and abundance of several key target species, including sharks, hard and soft corals, trepang (or beche-de-mer), trochus, Tridacnid clams and algae.
“This is an opportunity to investigate how a virtually untouched coral reef environment works, which will help us manage other similar reefs in the region that are being affected by human activities,” he said.
“The teams will also be studying the extent of human impacts on the Rowley Shoals, including the effects of anchoring on corals. They will collect baseline data that over time, will reveal whether our management strategies there, such as the recent declaration of sanctuary zones, are effectively conserving this priceless asset for WA.”
The research will also initiate a new acoustic shark tagging project lead by AIMS, with $30,000 in funding from the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Water.
“The scientists will tag silvertip and grey reef sharks, which are species that are threatened by sharkfinning fisheries elsewere in the world. More information about how these sharks live will help us manage our local populations of sharks better,” the Minister said.
“A sophisticated network of acoustic listening stations will be installed for the acoustic tags so data can be collected and stored throughout the following cyclone season.
“Scientists will return in April or May next year to recover the data.”
One of the world’s leading soft coral experts, AIMS Senior Research Scientist Dr Katharina Fabricius, will conduct the first quantitative survey of the biodiversity of soft corals in WA.
Other team members include Jamie Colquhoun (AIMS), Shannon Armstrong (Marine Science Program, DEC), Kylie Cook (AIMS), Dr Suzanne Long (Marine Science Program DEC), Dr John Huisman (DEC and WA Herbarium), Dr Iain Field (AIMS) and Warren White (AIMS).
Mr Templeman said DEC had allocated $150,000 for scientific research at the Rowley Shoals Marine Park, while AIMS would contribute around $300,000.
“There are 12 marine parks and reserves in WA and the State Government is committed to further improving Western Australia’s world-class marine conservation reserve system,” he said.
“The State Government also plans to establish new marine parks and reserves for the Walpole and Nornalup inlets, the Dampier Archipelago/Regnard area, and around the South-West Capes over the next few months.”
Minister's office: 9220 5050