Monday, April 1, 2013

Coastal activity survey to include people ‘head count’ too

Science Network Western Australia.
A Murdoch University marine scientist has just commenced an aerial survey of the western Kimberley coast.
It will comprise one of the studies intended to inform the management of the new marine parks network.
Professor Lynnath Beckley is taking high-resolution photographs of the coast from a light aircraft before analysing them for the physical presence of humans and their likely activities.
She says people counts are frequently neglected in ecological surveys.
“Generally we find out where the fish are, we find out where the whales are, [but] we actually don’t look where the people are,” she says.
She says the technique has been extensively used in fisheries surveys.
“We generally use 500 meters from the high tide mark as a cut off for our surveys.
“We cover that interface between the land and the sea, and we usually monitor vessels and what they’re doing out to about five kilometres from the coast.
“When we fly we photograph every single activity we see.
“All our digital photos are date-stamped [and] time-stamped against the flight line.
“We’ve got a GPS logger running so we’ve got [the] actual flight line.
“And then we’ve got some crafty software that we’re using now to bring the photos into a database and we identify all the activities in the photos.
“So for example I shoot a photo of the coast line, I know exactly where I am and I see three four-wheel-drive vehicles, three people standing in the shore fishing, two people lying in the sun burning themselves, and three kids swimming, then we detail all of those activities and yes, we map all that sort of stuff.”
She says it takes 2-3 hours to survey 4-500km of coastline.
There are three flight lines; Port Hedland to Broome taking in the Eighty-Mile Beach and Roebuck Bay; Crab Creek to Point Torment including the Dampier Peninsula coastline; and north of Point Torment, taking in the Buccaneer Archipelago and the Camden Sound coast.
“You get an accurate snapshot of where everyone is at the same time,” she says.
“You have people using the coast for recreation and for tourism, for cultural pursuits, for traditional things.
“Mostly people value the biodiversity … but people use that coast all the time, from traditional use, cultural use, to recreation use by the locals, tourists that come in—I think it’s a misnomer to think the western Kimberley coast is pristine.”
Notes: This is a WAMSI project, conducted by Murdoch University scientists under the direction of Prof Beckley.
This story pertains to deliveries in themes 1, 2 and 3 of the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.

Collaborative science behind new marine park

THE 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.
“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 Conservation
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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Wanjina National Park


Thousands of angry unionists knocked on Premier Colin Barnett's office door to voice their frustration at overseas recruitment - only to find he was out campaigning thousands of kilometres away.

The massed ranks of Western Australia's union movement marched through Perth's main business district on Thursday, continuing a long-term protest against mining and construction companies using guest workers over Australians.

"We are a state that relies on trade, so we will not mandate local content," WA Commerce Minister Simon O'Brien said in response to Thursday's well-attended rally, which was led by construction and maritime union members.

Far away in the Kimberley, Mr Barnett was campaigning to raise his party's environmental credentials.

In their fourth announcement about the Kimberley in a month, the Liberals laid out a plan to create one of Australia's biggest national parks in the state's north.

The Class A Wanjina National Park, stretching from Walcott Inlet in the south to the Lawley River in the north, would provide the highest level of protection to the internationally recognised environment, rock art and cultural values, including those of the Wanjina people.

The park could cover up to 20,000 sq km - 2000 sq km bigger than Kakadu.

Planning minister John Day announced on Thursday that if re-elected at the March 9 poll, the government would build 500 affordable homes on big state-owned blocks within three years and loosen laws on granny flats to address WA's housing crisis.

Families and social welfare remained the focus for WA Labor, with a promise of more childcare services at schools and a new mental health facility north of Perth.

Leader Mark McGowan revealed a 10-point plan to tackle mental health, providing 50 extra community liaison officers and building a $95 million mental health facility at Joondalup Health Campus.

Mr McGowan claimed some of WA's most vulnerable had been let down by the government.

"Our mental health system is not working and too many patients are falling through the cracks," he said.

Labor also promised childcare facilities at all new primary schools and help for schools to set up out-of-school care.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Rowley Shoals decision shows area tough

  • AAP 
  • February 04, 2013 3:22pm

  • THE decision not to re-release an oil and gas exploration permit near the Rowley Shoals Marine Park shows the offshore Kimberley region is proving difficult for the sector, an analyst says.
    Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson will not re-offer the exploration permit W11-5, some 200km from the Kimberley coast and close to the Rowley Shoals, because no companies have applied for it since it was put up for grabs in April last year, his spokeswoman has confirmed.
    There were also community concerns, she said.
    Conservationists were up in arms in early 2012 when three permits including W11-5 were offered for exploration, although the hunt for oil and gas has been going on in the area for many years.
    Shell's East Mermaid 1 well - smack in the middle of those three permits - was drilled in 1973 but abandoned due to technical problems and poor geological conditions.
    The Rowley Shoals are a popular scuba diving site and are considered among the world's healthiest atolls.Woodside, no stranger to protests by conservationists with its contentious Browse gas hub plan at James Price Point north of Broome, is currently conducting seismic studies on permits north of Rowley Shoals, but says that activity is just to meet its obligations to retain the leases.
    "This whole area is very difficult - you have to jump through a lot of hoops to get it going," State One Stockbroking analyst Peter Kopetz said.
    While WWF Australia was pleased the W11-5 well was temporarily off limits to the oil and gas sector, it urged the federal government to create a permanent exclusion zone to the industry in the area.
    On Browse, Mr Kopetz said it would be the economics of the project, not the vocal opponents, that would be the deciding factor in whether it proceeded.
    Shell, with its preference for floating gas production, did not appear to be pushing the operator Woodside hard and was sitting back to see what happened, Mr Kopetz said.
    While WA Premier Colin Barnett remains insistent the Browse hub must be built onshore where royalties will flow through to the state - rather than offshore, where the royalties will go to the Commonwealth - the project proponents would only choose a site that met their profitability criteria, he said.
    "Why would someone lose money to appease someone?" Mr Kopetz asked.

    Monday, January 28, 2013

    National Marine Parks Protect Horizontal Waterfalls

    Rebecca Trigger, The West Australian
    January 28, 2013, 9:39 am

    The Kimberley's famous Horizontal Falls site will be protected through the creation of a 160sqkm national and 3000sqkm marine parks, the State Government said today.

    But existing iron ore mines on Koolan and Cockatoo islands will continue to operate.

    Both parks will be Class A reserves providing "the highest possible protection" for natural and cultural sites, Environment Minister Bill Marmion said in a statement this morning.

    The Horizontal Falls marine park will cover nearly 3000sqkm south of Camden Sound, including Talbot, Collier and Doubtful Bays and Walcott Inlet.

    The park will protect coral reefs, dolphins, and mangrove systems, he said.

    But the reserve will continue to be used for recreational fishing and tourism, Mr Marmion said.

    "Existing pearl leases will remain and the creation of the marine park will help ensure continued high quality water for pearling," he said.

    The Great Kimberley Marine Park will now stretch 26,000sqkm from Horizontal Falls to Cape Londonderry.

    The park will be jointly managed by traditional owners the Dambimangari people, and Indigenous land use and joint management agreements will be negotiated and draft management plans for both areas will be released for public comment," Premier Colin Barnett said.

    Final borders will be determined after consultation with traditional owners and other stakeholders, the statement said.

    Conservation groups largely welcomed the move.

    "The coastline and marine environment surrounding Horizontal Falls contains an incredible variety of marine life and coastal features, many of which are not yet fully known to science,” Conservation Council WA director Piers Verstegen said.

    "Today’s announcement recognises that some places in Western Australia are too precious to lose.”

    The Pew Environment Group spokesman John Carey said the new park “provides a balance to the rapid spread of mining and other industrial development.”

    But conservation group Environs Kimberley claimed the planned industrial port at James Price Point about 200km south west of the new park undermined the Government’s environmental protection credentials."We welcome this new initiative as a small step forward for a Great Kimberley Marine Park but the Premier needs to understand that if James Price Point goes ahead then the integrity of this coast will be destroyed," Environs Kimberley Executive Director Martin Pritchard said.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Kimberley corals offer hope for reefs

    Flip Prior, The West AustralianNovember 21, 2012, 5:30 am
    Marine scientist Ali McCarthy popped out of the turquoise water at Shell Island, grinning around her snorkel and holding a purple-tipped staghorn coral - one of many colourful reef specimens turning the shallows near Cygnet Bay into an underwater wonderland.

    Despite being bombarded daily by the biggest tides of any tropical reef system in the world, early studies suggest the Kimberley corals survive big fluctuations in temperature, water flow and light intensity to grow at a phenomenal rate.

    "The ranges in parameters that they cope with on a daily basis are beyond the thresholds for most other coral reefs throughout the world," Ms McCarthy said.

    "Learning what's different and what makes these corals able to adapt and cope with the environment up here may well hold part of the key to helping other reefs elsewhere to be able to survive in a changing climate."

    The corals are one reason scientists are flocking to the Kimberley Marine Research Station, on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula at Cygnet Bay, to dive into its pristine waters.

    James Brown, a third-generation pearler and marine biologist, established KMRS in 2009 to give students low-cost and easy access to three marine bioregions - King Sound, Canning Basin and the Kimberley.

    The area is highly biodiverse and scientists suspect many species are yet to be discovered or understood.

    Mr Brown said now that the State Government's investment of millions of dollars into the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy was starting to hit the ground, interest in the region was growing.

    In the past year, more than 20 teams of scientists have visited to begin projects - some of which will last years.

    As research officer, Ms McCarthy co-ordinates a busy schedule of scientists studying everything from cetacean distribution and abundance to coral bleaching and sedimentation in what she says is a "remarkable environment"."Because it is so isolated, there is a huge amount of diversity up here and relatively very little human impact," she said.