Monday, 25 March 2013

Collaborative science behind new marine park

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Dugong“We don’t know how many dugongs are up there, we don’t know if they are … connected to the Shark Bay population or the Indonesian population”—Dr Simpson. Image: Earthrace ConservationTHE RECENTLY announced marine park to be established at Horizontal Falls along with Kimberley marine parks at Camden Sound and Eighty Mile Beach, will involve joint management between the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and Indigenous rangers.

Marine scientist Chris Simpson, who is DEC’s Marine Science Program leader, says indigenous rangers will be involved in management and data collection that will go towards research.

“For the next five years, there will be a major program of research and that’ll be where the science comes from to underpin the management of those marine parks,” Dr Simpson says.

He says this will be funded by a $12million state government allocation, with the addition of about $18million from various institutions such as the CSIRO, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and universities in the collaborative Western Australian Marine Science Institute (WAMSI).

“We’ve just gone through a 12-18 month planning period to work out what science we should do and where it should go,” he says.

“The major areas of marine species management are … turtles, coastal dolphins, hump back whales, and dugongs. We’ve got a small project on crocodiles and [another] on some of the migratory birds on Eighty Mile Beach.

“The process of planning these projects is to pick the gaps presented by the unique characteristics of the Kimberley.

“For example … the dugongs, turtles and coastal dolphins, there will be genetic work to work out if they are part of a wider population.

“We don’t know how many dugongs are up there, we don’t know if they are … connected to the Shark Bay population or the Indonesian population.

“There will be aerial surveys to work out the distribution and abundance of these species.”

“We’ve also got major studies looking at the oceanography of the area … we [are] looking at remote sensing as a monitoring tool.”

He says about a quarter of the funding is devoted to studying critical habitats such as corals, coastal mangroves, seagrass meadows, sponge beds, soft sediment communities and the like.

“We’ve got a major social program; the human use of the entire Kimberley, [and ] we’ve got an Indigenous program trying to look at Indigenous coastal knowledge,” he says.

Dr Simpson says the studies will include proposed marine parks at North Kimberley and Roebuck Bay.

Dr Simpson will be retiring from DEC in late April after more than 30 years of working in marine science and conservation.

This story pertains to deliveries in theme 1 of the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.

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