29 February 2016
Scientists on a mission to better understand the ecological biodiversity that thrives on the ocean floor in Australia’s remote northwest are about to head out on the fourth of five field trips, this time to uncover what lives in the area of the proposed North Kimberley Marine Park.
The results will be added to the data collected from the recent field trip aboard RV Solander to the islands of the Bonaparte Archipelago to investigate the coral reefs, sponges and other marine life inhabiting this remote area of the Kimberley.
The Solander voyages include researchers from AIMS, the Western Australian Museum, CSIRO and Curtin University.
The surveys focus on sampling in southern, central and northern sections of the Greater Kimberley proposed Marine Park. Researchers map the sea floor using multi-beam sonar technology, examine the distribution of habitats using towed video, make measurements of the water conditions (light penetration levels; temperature; salinity levels) and tidal ranges, and collect representative samples of the benthic flora and fauna using an epibenthic sled.
Video of sponge gardens at Nick’s Rock.
The current ship based surveys have a focus on the deeper areas, from around 10m below low tide, where little information is available from previous Kimberley studies.
The project anticipates that complimentary work will also be conducted to build on existing information of nearshore shallow and intertidal habitats.
Ultimately all available data will be drawn together to provide an overview of the large scale trends in habitats along the Kimberley and highlight the principle factors determining the presence or absence of key biota.
The locations for investigation have been selected with the WA marine park initiatives in mind, in particular Lalang-garram/Camden Sound Marine Park and the proposed North Kimberley Marine Park in the Cape Bougainville-Cape Londonderry region.
Scientists on the voyage collect benthic specimens to characterise the marine biodiversity of the area and create a reference collection at the WA Museum. This sampling and identification process will help the scientists determine what species of animals and plants occur there and what types of habitats each species is associated with.
What does a coral reef sound like?
“The Kimberley is an increasingly active, multiple-use marine region, with a growing need for accessible environmental and socio-economic information,” WAMSI 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.”
“The Kimberley region has a vast array of habitat types with a stunning array of biodiversity, much of which has not been studied or collected before,” CSIRO scientist Dr John Keesing said. “The macro tidal range and working in previously unchartered waters makes surveys of this type particularly challenging, but also exciting and rewarding in terms of the scientific discoveries waiting to be made.”
Work is now underway on the analysis of species assemblages, biomass and abundance in relation to habitat types encountered during the surveys.
Marji Puotinen (AIMS) captured the daily highlights of the voyage on the Northwest Atlas blog http://blog.northwestatlas.org/category/expedition-to-the-kimberly-coast/
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.