16 May 2010
The CReefs team is back in the sheep shed and back out on Ningaloo Reef for the final Western Australian leg of the CReefs program.
The field expedition, running from 15 May to 3 June, is the third and final CReefs expedition to Ningaloo Reef. This year the participants will include more than 30 people on site at different times during the three weeks, including researchers from Australia, Singapore, Japan, Russia and the United States, support staff, BHP Billiton employees, a photographer and, for four days, a BBC film crew.
The research teams are searching for crabs and other crustaceans, invertebrate marine animals, shrimp, barnacles, worms, parasites, algae, soft corals and zooanthids.
The expedition gives those researchers that have been on previous CReefs trips the chance to re-sample known species and to continue searching for new plant and animal life.
For scientists new to the CReefs program, the expedition provides an opportunity to explore largely unexplored territory.
The researchers are based at Ningaloo Station, an historic shearing shed located about 100km south of Exmouth. The shed, operational for shearing for most of the year, has been transformed into a makeshift research lab for the duration of the expedition.
The team is using three boats to visit a range of dive and snorkel sites on the reef, allowing researchers to collect samples of marine flora and fauna.
The researchers on the field trip use diverse sampling methods in a wide range of habitats to sample species associated with coral reefs that have not previously been well sampled.
One of the tools used is the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS). The ARMS are sets of stacked PVC plates which are pegged to the ocean floor and provide an appealing habitat for sea creatures to colonise. The CReefs team will retrieve the ARMS that were deployed on the last CReefs Ningaloo trip in May 2009 and analyse all the creatures that have set up home in the structures over the past year.
Launched in 2005, CReefs is the coral reef component of the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year program involving researchers in more than 80 countries. The Census is the first comprehensive survey of the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life in the oceans in the past, present and future.
The Australian part of the CReefs program includes a series of nine such expeditions: three trips each to Ningaloo Reef in WA and Lizard and Heron Islands on the Great Barrier Reef. CReefs Australia is supported by BHP Billiton through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.