Strong, national, multidisciplinary collaboration in marine science was exercised and developed in this theme to better understand Australia’s north and north-west marine regions.
Sparse data are available to support effective management of these vast areas, which face increasing cumulative pressures from environmental change and extractive industries, including fisheries and oil and gas.
High-resolution bathymetry, geochemical and geophysical data, and biological collections and observations contributed to a qualitative model of the Key Ecological Features (KEFs) of the Oceanic Shoals Commonwealth Marine Reserve that confirmed their biodiversity value and regional significance.
Consultation with the Department of the Environment helped to prioritise theme priorities to support management needs to understand the value of KEFs in a regional context and to explore unsurveyed areas of a recently declared Commonwealth Marine Reserve. Visual outputs from surveys, including pictures and videos, proved useful for communicating with the Department and a broader audience. A video developed by the Marine Biodiversity Hub that featured research footage and modelling to highlight the values of a Commonwealth Marine Reserve was used by the Department at the IUCN World Parks Congress (Sydney 2014). Pelagic camera highlights and a brochure about the Oceanic Shoals voyage were also produced.
IMAGE: Mid-water stereo video camera systems were among a suite non-destructive sampling methodologies developed to survey marine habitats and fish communities. Image: University of Western Australia.
Research partners combined unique expertise to survey some 600 km² of seabed containing KEF (banks, pinnacles and shoals) and non-KEF habitats. Multibeam sonar and other acoustic tools were used to create high-resolution seabed maps and biological material was sampled with epibenthic sleds. Seabed habitats and fish communities were observed with towed cameras and benthic and pelagic baited video systems. The survey, processing and analysis provided training for doctoral and post-doctoral students, established new sample and data collections, and successfully trialled new, non-destructive, sampling methodologies such as pelagic baited cameras. It also discovered more than 150 km2 of new KEF habitat in the Oceanic Shoals CMR.
Research in this theme designed and delivered information products to support priority needs identified by the Department. The field expedition supported the roll-out of standardised survey and monitoring protocols including the Generalised Random Tessellated Stratified technique for selecting survey sites, and the application of standardised and new methods for environmental and biodiversity sampling. It also provided new information that was used to develop the first qualitative model of the KEFs in the area, a departmental goal for all the KEFs identified across the CMR network and a prerequisite to their inclusion in national marine ecosystem health monitoring.
Australian Institute of Marine Science
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
University of Western Australia