Western Australia's unique ocean environment is about to become the focus of a multi-million dollar research program conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Deputy Premier Ian Taylor said today the Queensland-based institute had received a $4.73 million grant from the Federal Government to establish research facilities in the North-West and begin an intensive three-year scientific investigation.
"The waters off the north-west coast have now become the centre of one of the fastest-growing off-shore industries in the world and if this growth is to proceed without threat to the marine environment, it is essential that we broaden our knowledge of the region as quickly as possible," Mr Taylor said.
After long discussions with the State Government, the institute had decided to use Karratha as its principal base.
"However, the research program will take the institute's marine scientists far beyond there and ancillary facilities are likely to be established in Exmouth and Broome and elsewhere as studies require," Mr Taylor said.
The initial focus of the research program would be on marine ecology - particularly as it related to shallow water environments such as coral reefs and mangroves.
"But I also expect the institute to address other marine issues which may arise and their effect on industry, Government and the general community," he said.
Until now the Great Barrier Reef had attracted the lion's share of Australia's marine scientists.
But the huge build-up of off-shore industries on the North-West Shelf, plus the declaration of Ningaloo Reef as a national park had done much to stimulate marine research on this side of the continent.
"But we need to do more," Mr Taylor said.
"The additional research activities of the institute should ensure that what development does take place is environmentally sustainable."