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Dredging Science Node

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution is delivering one of the largest single-issue marine research programs in Australia. It will vastly improve the planning and regulation of major dredging operations in our precious marine environment.

This world-class marine research is enhancing capacity within government and the private sector to predict and manage the environmental impacts of dredging in Western Australia. The outcomes will increase the confidence, timeliness and efficiency of the assessment, approval and regulatory processes associated with dredging projects.

Eighty-one scientists from ten collaborating research organisations are supported by $19 million in funding and working across nine integrated research themes to address key areas of uncertainty in the prediction and management of the impacts of dredging.

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Integrated research coordinated across nine themes

The science plan and research themes of the node have been designed to fill a very large gap in our understanding of how dredging activities effect the marine environment.  The key areas of research include:

  • Compiling the collective knowledge of dredging impacts for the Pilbara (Theme 1)
  • Predicting and measuring the characteristics of sediments generated by dredging (Theme 2)
  • Characterisation and prediction of dredge-generated sediment plume dynamics and fate (Theme 3)
  • Defining thresholds and indicators of response by corals, seagrasses and filter-feeders to dredging-related pressures (Themes 4, 5 and 6)
  • Effects of dredging-related pressures on critical ecological processes for corals, finfish and other organisms (Themes 7, 8 and 9)

The second phase of this program which involved a suite of field and laboratory-based investigations is almost complete. These investigations address gaps identified in the Stage 1 literature reviews of dredging impacts and, importantly, are informed by the analyses of field data collected during dredging projects carried out in the Pilbara and provided by Industry. These analyses allowed the actual intensity, frequency and duration of dredging-related pressures to be quantified for the first time and to design and undertake laboratory experiments to determine the response of biota to realistic exposure conditions. The reports and papers arising from these studies are being released as they become available to allow immediate uptake (see DSN reports and DSN Research Articles tabs).

We are now turning our attention to the Stage 3 synthesis. This stage involves within theme and across theme integration of the key findings and translation of these findings into clear and fit-for-purpose guidelines and protocols to improve the ability to predict and manage the impacts of dredging in tropical coral reef ecosystems.

This will represent a significant step-change in the readily available information for dredging in Western Australia and the nation.

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A unique collaborative initiative between government and industry

Dredging is a critical enabler for the export of raw materials from the Pilbara that continues to drive the Australian economy. Over the last decade there has been an unprecedented level of dredging in Western Australia, and the size of some of these projects are enormous by world standards.

However, the ability to predict and manage the impacts of dredging is very poor worldwide. We're no better-placed in that regard here in Western Australia.

The WAMSI dredging node is the direct response to this uncertainty. A remarkable collaboration between industry, government and research will not only allow the scale of research required to be delivered, but also ensure a strong focus on delivering outcomes and real world change.

Our Dredging Science Node is made possible through $9.5 million invested by Woodside, Chevron and BHP as environmental offsets. A further $9.5 million has been co-invested by the WAMSI Joint Venture partners, adding significantly more value to this initial industry investment.

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Strategic use of environmental offsets

The Dredging Science Node is a key example of the strategic use of environmental offsets. Pooling these funds into a single coordinated research program enables work on the scale and depth necessary to make substantial inroads into key areas of uncertainty associated with marine dredging projects. This represents "a sensible and practical way of using these funds to better protect the environment," said Premier Colin Barnett in a media statement.

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Extraordinary sharing of data

In addition to the funding provided, our industry partners have generously shared hundreds of millions of dollars worth of environmental monitoring data. By providing access to this usually confidential data, Woodside, Rio Tinto Iron Ore and Chevron are enabling WAMSI researchers to better understand the real-world impacts of major dredging projects, and therefore how they can best be managed. Rio Tinto's voluntary contribution is particularly noteworthy, as they are not one of the funding contributors to the Node.