Understanding the isolated coral atolls of the north west shelf

The Scott, Ashmore and Rowley Shoals systems are located on the edge of the north west continental shelf, west of Broome, Western Australia.

On the edge of the north west continental shelf, far from the Western Australian mainland, lie a series of remote coral reef systems that rise steeply from deep water to almost touch the ocean’s surface.

AIMS has been studying the Scott Reef, Ashmore Reef and Rowley Shoals systems for over 20 years, providing valuable knowledge about their plants and animals. To improve understanding of the entire region’s health over time, a coordinated approach to standardised mapping, monitoring and assessment is underway.

The North West Shoals to Shore program is forging new paths in underwater monitoring by comparing traditional diver-based methods with autonomous methods, including independent machines capable of collecting data across large areas of ocean and others that can process information very quickly. These new cost-effective technologies could shape a new age of reef monitoring across the region.

While developing these innovative techniques, the project is contributing to the regional understanding by filling in the gaps in knowledge and creating reliable maps of important seabed communities of the north west shelf. Part of this work includes fish and shark surveys to understand their patterns of movement and population sizes.

The team is mapping the physical features of the seabed as well as water properties and movement in the area to understand how the seabed and ocean help shape these marine communities.

The results of this project will be made available in the North West Atlas, a website and mapping system that provides environmental research data in a publicly available and easily an accessible form.