red coral image

State-of-the art airborne imaging completes first digital map of Ningaloo Marine Park

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28 August 2006

A precision aerial image survey has captured a broadband spectral signature of the entire Ningaloo Marine Park at a fine scale. The successful mission is now providing a definitive and complete database, which will support accurate digital mapping and measurement of the Marine Parks nearshore environments.

This advanced technology survey, called hyperspectral imaging, covered 400km2along the length of Ningaloo Marine Park and sets a high benchmark for future marine science outcomes to flow from a research partnership between the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and BHP Billiton, to be officially announced today in Perth.

The research program will include a range of marine science projects at Ningaloo which build on the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) program and an international marine science workshop focused on Ningaloo and Exmouth.

The Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, said that programs such as these demonstrate how effectively industry, the research sector and the general community can work together, capturing new knowledge to secure our natural heritage into the future.

AIMS lead scientist in WA, Dr Andrew Heyward, said the program's first success, the hyperspectral survey, will provide enormous benefits for future scientific studies. "Surveys of this calibre are quite expensive and beyond the fiscal capacity of current research programs. The BHP Billiton-AIMS effort has lead to the largest hyperspectral survey of a coral reef anywhere on the globe, providing collaborating scientists in Western Australia with an opportunity to take a world lead in using this type of data for coral reef understanding and management."

"The hyperspectral data contains far more information than normal colour photographs and is fully digital, permitting various combinations of spectral signal to be combined or contrasted. This enables researchers to distinguish features not apparent to the naked eye, using computer processing. All the images have precise GPS coordinates, facilitating the production of accurate maps that can integrate well with existing information and permitting rapid, computer based estimates of different seabed types in any part of the reef system" said Dr Heyward.

"The images will be cross referenced with information gathered from AIMS underwater biological surveys which include dive expeditions and deep water investigations using video, sled sampling and acoustic echo sounders.

"We take a geographic position and match the colour to the information gathered on underwater surveys to establish the meaning of that colour. This will enable us a rapid assessment strategy to identify other areas with similar habitats that haven't been physically surveyed."

"For example one image may depict substantial areas of pink and purple, which we know is an area dense with table corals. Where we see these shades elsewhere along the vast tract of the reef, we can assume there are table corals."

"The broad-scale data captured sets the stage for exciting science projects. From this we will be able to separate out habitats and monitor change."

"The more we know and understand about this remarkable region the more we can feed into the management loop," he said.

"The hyperspectral data will be provided at no cost to other science agencies to facilitate collaboration to enable further original and value-adding studies that will grow the understanding of the Ningaloo marine region considerably and provide WA with opportunities to lead this field of research application."

Media Contacts:

Dr Ian Poiner , AIMS CEO

Phone: 07 4753 4490

Mobile: 0419 702 652

Dr Andrew Heyward , Senior Research Scientist

Phone: 08 9433 4440

Mobile: 0417 400 273

Wendy Ellery , AIMS Media Liaison

Phone: 07 4753 4409

Mobile: 0418 729 265