WA's Rowley Shoals set to shine on world stage

2 November 2007

A major collaborative marine research project gets underway off the Kimberley coast next month.

Environment Minister David Templeman said a team of 12 scientists led by The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) Western Australia and Charles Darwin University, Darwin would undertake a 17 day scientific survey of three atolls in the Rowley Shoals Marine Park including Mermaid Reef National Marine Nature Reserve, about 260 km west-north-west of Broome.

"These three atolls are arguably among the most pristine coral reef environments remaining on the planet and the importance of their successful conservation cannot be overstated," Mr Templeman said.

"It is expected that this survey will establish the Rowley Shoals as a global benchmark for coral reef conservation.

"The data generated by the survey will be directly relevant to the successful management of the Rowley Shoals Marine Park and the Commonwealth-managed Mermaid Reef National Marine Nature Reserve."

The Research will be the maiden scientific voyage of the RV Solander, the latest addition to the AIMS research fleet. This high tech, state of the art research vessel was built in Fremantle by WA company Tenix Defense Pty Ltd.

Mr Templeman said the survey would focus on the distribution and abundance of several key target species including sharks, hard and soft corals, trepang or bêche-de-mer, trochus, Tridacnid clams and algae.

"This is an opportunity to investigate how a virtually untouched coral reef environment works, which will help us manage other similar reefs in the region that are being impacted by human activities," Mr Templeman said.

"The teams will also be studying the extent of human impacts on the Rowley Shoals, including the effects of anchoring on corals. They will collect baseline data that over time will reveal whether our management strategies up there – for example, the recent declaration of sanctuary zones – are effectively conserving this priceless asset for WA."

The research will also initiate a new acoustic shark tagging project lead by AIMS, with $0,000 in funding from the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Water.

"The scientists will tag silvertip and grey reef sharks, species which are threatened by shark-finning fisheries elsewhere in the world. More information about how these sharks live will help us manage our local populations of sharks better.

"A sophisticated network of acoustic listening stations will be installed for the acoustic tags so data can be collected and stored throughout the following cyclone season.

"Scientists will return in April or May next year to recover the data."

One of the world's leading soft coral experts, AIMS Senior Research Scientist, Dr Katharina Fabricius, will conduct the first quantitative survey of the biodiversity of soft corals in Western Australia.

Other team members include Jamie Colquhoun (AIMS), Shannon Armstrong (Marine Science Program, DEC), Kylie Cook (AIMS), Dr Suzanne Long (Marine Science Program DEC), Dr John Huisman (DEC and WA Herbarium), Dr Iain Field (AIMS) and Warren White (AIMS).

Mr Templeman said the Department of Environment and Conservation had allocated $150,000 for scientific research at the Rowley Shoals Marine Park, while AIMS would contribute around $00,000 to the survey.

"There are 12 marine parks and reserves in WA and the State Government is committed to further improving Western Australia's world-class marine conservation reserve system," Mr Templeman said.

"The State Government also plans to establish new marine parks and reserves for the Walpole and Nornalup inlets, the Dampier Archipelago/Regnard area and around the south-west Capes over the next few months."

Media contacts:

Jamie Colquhoun , AIMS Benthic Ecologist
Mobil: 0409 682 694
eMail: j.colquhoun@aims.gov.au

Wendy Ellery, AIMS Media Liaison
Phone: 07 4753 4409
Mobil: 0418 729 265

eMail: w.ellery@aims.gov.au