Scientists confirm key fish nursery at Ningaloo


Vibrantly coloured baby Damsel and Butterfly fishes recorded during surveys at Ningaloo Reef. (Please photo credit Tom Holmes, DEC)

1 December 2010

Scientists confirm key fish nursery at Ningaloo

Ningaloo's whale sharks, the biggest fish on Earth, may be world famous but the area is also critical for numerous smaller species.

Ningaloo's place as one of the nation's most precious marine environments has been confirmed with new research identifying the region as a significant fish nursery site.

Studies undertaken by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the Western Australian Marine Science Institution have highlighted the importance of ensuring greater protection for key areas of Ningaloo.

AIMS scientist Martial Depczynski said the research confirmed that the northern and central parts of Ningaloo Marine Park in particular were important for many species of reef fish. 

"One big surprise was that we found that the vast algal fields ( Sargassum ) in the park's lagoons act as important nursery grounds for various species of reef fish, including recreationally fished species such as the Emperors and functionally important groups such as the Goatfishes," Dr Depczynski said.

"These findings indicate that calmer lagoonal and back-reef areas are vitally important to the ongoing health of Ningaloo's adult coral and fish populations, as this is where nursery grounds seem to be concentrated.

"Over the past two years, researchers have been studying the reef to create a cost-effective and safe way to conduct a long-term monitoring program of reef health in the marine park based on the growth and recruitment of coral and fish.

"We will also be collecting further data next year to gain an understanding of how recruitment strength varies between years."

DEC marine scientist Kelly Waples said the project was designed to provide management agencies with a template of how best to monitor annual recruitment processes within Ningaloo Marine Park.

"The development of a long-term monitoring program that focuses on larval input is critical because it provides a benchmark of the future health of the Ningaloo reef system," Dr Waples said.

"This current research at Ningaloo Marine Park will add to the scientific knowledge now being gathered by DEC and will be used in the development of its broader marine monitoring program along the entire WA coast."

WAMSI's Ningaloo research projects are being led by DEC with work being undertaken by the University of WA, CSIRO, AIMS, Curtin University, WA Museum, Edith Cowan University and the WA Department of Fisheries.

For further information contact:

DEC Media (08) 6467 5555

Dr Martial Depczynski (08) 6369 4025 / 0448 140 787

Wendy Ellery, AIMS media liaison, (07) 4753 4409; 0418 729 265; w.ellery@aims.gov.au

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