Nationwide sea-floor ecology study starts off WA

By May 6th, 2010

The first stage of a long-term observation study of the ecology of Australia’s sea-floor was recently launched off Western Australia’s Rottnest Island.

The study is being conducted by the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship and The University of Western Australia Oceans Institute (UWA OI) – as a collaboration through the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) – to increase understanding of how ocean currents affect coastal ecosystems.

“A focus of the study will be on how kelp forests influence biodiversity and productivity by generating food for valuable resources such as fisheries,” CSIRO research scientist Dr Mat Vanderklift said.

“Our observations will enable us to monitor and adapt to processes such as changes to major currents or climate change.”

From the CSIRO vessel Linnaeus, researchers deployed an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) – a small robotic submarine that ‘flies’ over the seafloor collecting data and visual images. The AUV can stay underwater for hours at a time and travel over several kilometres.

“Our observations will enable us to monitor and adapt to processes such as changes to major currents or climate change.”

Dr Mat Vanderklift

“The AUV was used to survey kelp forests on reefs at three locations from Rottnest Island to the Abrolhos Islands,” UWA’s Professor Gary Kendrick said. “Using an AUV we can produce detailed maps and do repeated surveys of the sea-floor allowing us to see how habitats change from year to year.” 

Although the AUV has undertaken numerous exploratory missions around Australia over the past few years, this is one of the largest such studies attempted worldwide, with annual surveys to take place off the coasts of Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia.

CSIRO initiated the National Research Flagships to provide science-based solutions to Australia’s major research challenges and opportunities. The 10 Flagships form multidisciplinary teams with industry and the research community.

The Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI)  is providing a better scientific understanding of the marine environment for the people of Western Australia. It is a collaboration between 15 core partners, including Commonwealth and WA Government research organisations, universities and the private sector.

IMOS  is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Super Science Initiative.

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