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Strategic Research on Western Australian Marine Ecosystems

Marine ecosystems are facing unprecedented pressure from an increasing number of potentially competing uses.

The need for extensive science-based knowledge of our ocean environment grows with the state's population and the variety of demands we place on marine and coastal ecosystems.

These include oil and gas extraction, fisheries, aquaculture, port expansions, marinas and other coastal developments along with waste disposal, recreation,tourism and conservation.

The scale of proposed uses, together with the rate of climate change, means the impacts on the marine environment are much less predictable than in the past.

As a result, governments, industry and the community face bigger, more frequent and more rapid decisions relating to marine and coastal planning. Enhancing their ability to do so urgently requires greater strategic understanding of our ocean environment.
 
WAMSI provides the science that is needed to underpin confident and well-informed decision-making by improving how we predict and assess the way ecosystems respond to man-made and natural pressures.
 
CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship is working with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), Geoscience Australia, Murdoch University, Edith Cowan University, The University of WA, the WA Department of Environment and Conservation, the WA Department of Fisheries, the Chemistry Centre of WA and the WA Museum to undertake this research.
 
Research projects include:

  • characterising the WA coastal marine ecosystem structure and function and enhancing our capacity to understand, predict and assess ecosystem response to man-made and natural pressures;
  • understanding how ocean currents transport nutrients and fish and rock lobster larvae over a variety of distance and time scales;
  • identifying the source of nutrients that maintain productivity in near-shore ecosystems; how the nutrients are utilised, then transferred between marine plants and animals;
  • determining what factors affect the distribution of marine animals and plants in different habitats and how these communities are affected by natural and man-made disturbances;
  • evaluating the effectiveness of marine protected areas by comparing the ecological interactions within and external to the protected zones;
  • investigating and simulating how ocean waves influence coastal marine habitats;
  • developing visualisation tools that make data and the results of scientific research more accessible to decision-makers; and
  • assessing near-shore habitats in the Kimberley region of northern WA for coastal development planning.

Preliminary findings:

  • The discovery of deepwater kelp beds in more than 50 metre depth off south-west WA has reinforced our understanding that kelp forests are an important feature of benthic ecosystems.
  • Leeuwin Current waters are sourced primarily from western offshore waters in summer and from the north in autumn and winter.
  • Sediment resuspension is highly important in the recycling of nutrients on the continental shelf off south-west WA. The timing and magnitude vary with annual fluctuations in the strength of the Leeuwin Current and the cooling of surface waters.
  • The importance of recycling of nutrients on the continental shelf off WA has been established. Approximately 84 per cent of the nitrogen used by algal plants on the continental shelf has been recycled.
  • The size of the marine protected area is important in determining the success of this conservation management strategy.
     

 

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