Anemone fish ( Amphiprion sp. ). Image: Jamie Colquhoun.

AIMS is undertaking a baseline environmental study of Scott Reef, off Western Australia's Kimberley coast about 430 kilometres north of Broome, in a project co-funded by the oil and gas industry (Browse Joint Venture).

The Scott Reef Research Project (SRRP), worth at least $30 million over four years, will provide a comprehensive understanding of biodiversity, oceanography and ecosystems on and around Scott Reef. It was announced in April 2008 by the Federal Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research, Senator the Hon Kim Carr.

It will provide 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 but also part of WA's state jurisdiction.

Much of Australia's ocean territory remains unexplored and poorly understood and this is especially true for northern and northwest Australia. Our marine ecosystems face a number of real and imminent challenges from human pressures like fishing, pollution and the impacts of global warming due to enhanced greenhouse effect. Marine environmental issues associated with coastal and offshore development require independent scientific advice to inform regulators about risks and resilience in order to assess applications for environmental permissions.

There are three main scientific projects. In shallow water, divers will monitor changes in the coral and fish communities in a range of reef habitats, continuing a time series that AIMS started in 1993. Data on the replenishment, growth and survival of corals will be used to predict their resilience and recovery from disturbance. Genetic data will be used to test whether the coral and fish populations on Scott Reef are regionally significant sources of replenishment for other isolated reefs in the region such as the Ashmore-Cartier Reefs and the downstream Rowley Shoals.

A second project will map coral communities in the South Scott Reef Lagoon, collect data on the life habits and sensitivities of deep water corals and place these deep coral communities into a regional biodiversity context.

A third project will measure water currents and food chains in the ocean ecosystem around Scott Reef, tracing the movement of nutrients through the system. It will show how biological patterns on and around the reef are dependent upon oceanographic processes.