Gary Kendrick

Worskhop: Adapting to ecosystem change in the Shark Bay World Heritage Site

A workshop led by Professor Gary Kendrick, UWA Oceans Institute

6 June 2018,


IOMRC Auditorium, UWA
Researchers, General Public, Students, Alumni



To address the questions:

  1. “Is our current understanding of the Shark Bay marine ecosystem, its productivity, and how it responds to the current stressors and future climate change, adequate?”; and “Are our science, assessment tools and management settings still appropriate?”
  2. To undertake an information update and gap analysis to provide the basis for development of integrated research and management programs that informs key economic, social and ecological considerations associated with the Shark Bay marine ecosystem.
  3. To develop the capability to provide advice in relation to future environmental change for business and policy makers in the Shark Bay/Gascoyne region.

We need your input

The effects of climate change, such as longer-term trends in increasing water temperatures or increases in the intensity and frequency of anomalous events (e.g. marine heat waves) will affect marine ecosystems and the resources they support. Globally, links between climate-change, shifts in species distributions, and the structure and function of marine communities and ecosystems are increasingly being well documented. Despite this, natural resource management in Australia rarely gives adequate consideration to the full extent and potential future impacts of these changes in the marine environment on tourism, recreational and commercial fishing and industry. This limits our capacity to implement adaptive management strategies that influences all sectors in an integrated manner.

Shark Bay supports important recreational and commercial fisheries (collectively Shark Bay commercial invertebrate fisheries represent the second most valuable to the state after Western rock lobster), and due to is World Heritage status, is an internationally recognised tourist destination. However, in recent years the bay has undergone substantial changes due to ocean warming, which has impacted the ecosystem structure and function. For example, prior to 2011 Shark Bay supported the largest and most diverse seagrass beds in the world however; the 2011 marine heatwave resulted in a dramatic loss of seagrasses and by 2014, more than 1/4 of seagrasses in Shark Bay have been lost. Other ecosystem impacts observed included declines in the blue swimmer crab and scallop stocks, changing behaviors in mega-grazers e.g. dugongs and turtles, a decline in the health of green turtles, and increases in tropical fish herbivores and their consumption of seagrasses.

A previous workshop and resulting publication focused on Shark Bay recommended a coordinated multi-institutional and multi-discipline approach to research (Kendrick et al. 2012). However, five years on there is little evidence of such a coordinated approach to research.

Given the changes that have already occurred and the scale of predicted further changes, a better understanding of the drivers of environmental changes on productivity is a critical step in being able to predict the ecological resilience of Shark Bay and adopt appropriate management strategies to minimise the impacts of environmental variations on natural resources and the industries that depend on them.

Structure of workshop

  1. Introduction to the issue: (20 minute short talks – summary of previous work, what is currently underway/planned, main gaps in knowledge)
    • Physical Oceanography (speakers: Chari Pattiaratchi and others)
    • Biological Resilience (speakers: Gary Kendrick, Paul Lavery, Matt Fraser (seagrasses); Simon Allen (Dolphins); DBCA (ecosystem monitoring))
    • Fisheries impacts (speakers: Nick Caputi (commercial) and Gary Jackson (recreational))
    • Fishing industry (DPIRD)
    • Tourism (DBCA)
    • Cultural identity (DBCA)
  2. Break out into discussion groups organised around perspectives to address the research approaches to the question: “Can we make useful predictions about changes to the Shark Bay marine ecosystem under present stressors and climate change predictions?”
  3. Discussion group summary (Lead of each table presents)
  4. Lunch (30 mins)
  5. Break out into different discussion groups to address: "How do we manage our heritage sites under extreme events and climate change?"
  6. Discussion group summary (Lead of each table presents) followed by a whole group discussion on the agreed needs/gaps/priorities identified above.
  7. Close and drinks.

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