Baseline environmental study of WA's Scott Reef


10 April 2008

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) will undertake a baseline environmental study of Scott Reef, off Western Australia's Kimberley coast about 430 kilometres north of Broome. The project is funded by Woodside Energy on behalf of the Browse Joint Venture.

The study, which will cost at least $25 million over four years, will provide a comprehensive understanding of biodiversity, oceanography and ecosystems on and around Scott Reef.

The contract will be announced today (Thursday 10 April) by the Federal Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr.

AIMS CEO Dr Ian Poiner said that this project was an excellent opportunity to greatly improve scientific understanding of Scott Reef, a remote atoll system in the Timor Sea region, on the edge of Australia's continental shelf and also within WA's state jurisdiction.

"Australia is largely a marine nation and our coast and oceans contribute enormously to our identity and wealth," Dr Poiner said. "Despite this, much of Australia's ocean territory remains unexplored and poorly understood and this is especially true for northern and north-west Australia," he said.

Our marine ecosystems face a number of real and imminent challenges including the impacts of global warming due to enhanced greenhouse effect. Marine environmental issues associated with coastal and offshore development require independent scientific advice to help inform policy, management and industry decisions.

"AIMS' role will be to provide scientific investigation, analysis and examination of the Scott Reef environment," Dr Poiner said.

"This will involve the development of associated research methods, protocols and equipment," he said.

The project will allow AIMS to do what it does best: investigating Australia's marine resources in the national interest.

There will be three main scientific projects: understanding shallow water coral and fish communities; understanding deep-water coral and fish communities (30-70 metres); and studying the physical and biological oceanography of the area.

The first project will describe the coral and fish communities in a range of shallow Scott Reef habitats and show changes over time. It will collect data on the recruitment, growth and survival of coral colonies to predict their recovery from disturbance, as well as showing the flow of genes between fish populations.

The second project will map and monitor coral communities in South Scott Reef Lagoon, collect data on how corals function and survive in the deeper water and describe the fish life of the area and place it into a regional context.

The third project will assemble baseline data on the ocean ecosystem of South Scott Reef Lagoon, particularly how nutrients move through the system. It will also provide models of the dynamics of the physio-chemical oceanographic processes, linked to patterns of biodiversity that are observed in the biological studies.

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Interviews will be available from 9.50am to 10.15am on Thursday 10 April at the University Club, University of Western Australia. Formal speeches will follow. The speakers will be the Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, the CEO of AIMS Dr Ian Poiner, and Dr Vanessa Guthrie (Vice President Sustainable Development) from Woodside Energy.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Ian Poiner, AIMS CEO 0419 702 652 email: i.poiner@aims.gov.au

Wendy Ellery, AIMS Media Liaison Phone: 07 4753 4409 Mobil: 0418 729 265 eMail: w.ellery@aims.gov.au