Species at risk

Identifying important habitats and threats to iconic marine species

A large number of Australia’s marine species are listed as Threatened or Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Many of these species are iconic megafauna ─ such as whales, dugongs, sea turtles, and large sharks and rays ­─ and their status often reflects the health and diversity of marine habitats.

AIMS studies and monitors these species to identify critical habitats including breeding grounds and migration corridors, and high-risk areas where human activities intersect with these environments. The knowledge we generate supports the sustainable development of marine resources.

Long-term monitoring of reefs off Australia’s north-western coast suggests that healthy shark populations may aid the recovery of coral reefs damaged by cyclones and bleaching. The monitoring shows that low shark numbers coincide with significantly lower numbers of herbivorous fishes, which have an important role in promoting the growth of coral and reef health.

At Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, whale sharks are the focus of a thriving ecotourism industry. Ongoing research by AIMS monitors the status and health of these shark populations, and tracks their movements in waters of the region. The research also evaluates the effectiveness of the tourism code of conduct and assesses threats posed by problems such as ship strikes, to support management of the species by the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Using novel approaches in acoustic telemetry AIMS has, for the first time, tracked the early offshore movements of turtle hatchlings at Ningaloo. This work shows that hatchlings are attracted to artificial light, which may affect their survival. This much-needed information is being used to support the management of development activities near nesting areas.