Western Australian coral reef, unique new research

This 2013 video from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is called Scuba Diving with an Amazing Sea Cucumber.

From the Science Network Western Australia:

Rare chance at never-before-studied Kimberley reef

January 4, 2016 by Samille Mitchell

The weather gods conspired to provide a rare chance to survey a remote and rarely visited section of north Kimberley reef recently, with footage that will inform the future study of reefs through climate change.

Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW) researchers and Wunambal Gaambera traditional owners took advantage of the rare weather conditions to visit East Holothuria Reef, about 30km from the tip of Bougainville Peninsula, to conduct coral surveys.

They uncovered a flourishing and extremely biodiverse reef system, resplendent with corals and fishes, in a spectacular and never-before-studied part of the Kimberley’s underwater world.

“It is right in the top corner of the Bougainville Peninsula where wind-against-tides creates very rough sea conditions for much of the time,” says DPAW research scientist Andrew Halford.

“But we lucked-in with glass-off weather during neap tides—it was like a good perfect storm.”

The team traversed multiple 100-metre transects of the reef placing a camera on the bottom every 10 metres, which took photos every five seconds to record the diversity of the coral community.

Such footage will be used as a benchmark at monitoring sites across the north Kimberley, to enable conservation managers to study how reefs change and respond to different circumstances such as storms or a changing climate.

“We will be establishing long-term monitoring sites in the Kimberley that we can go back to and keep track of over time,” Dr Halford says.

“We’ll be able to see whether healthy reef communities can adapt to changing conditions over time.”

The big picture

The DPAW survey was part of a much larger examination of Kimberley benthic communities conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, and the WA Museum, under the WA Marine Science Institute-managed Kimberley Marine Research Program.

These organisations are using large research vessels to study the diversity of the Kimberley marine benthic environment. The DPAW survey complimented their work by assessing shallower near-shore areas that are inaccessible to the larger boats.

Dr Halford says traditional owners are also playing an important role in monitoring these remote marine systems.

“As well as providing traditional knowledge of these areas, the idea is that eventually traditional owner groups will go out and do the surveying themselves,” Dr Halford says.

“They can take the footage and then the images can be sent to experts for analysis.”

‘Extinct’ Australian sea snakes rediscovered

This August 2015 video is called Top 10 Rarest Snakes In The World (Endangered Snakes).

From ScienceDaily:

Scientists discover rare sea snakes, previously thought extinct, off Western Australia


December 21, 2015


ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies


Scientists have discovered two critically endangered species of sea snakes, previously thought to be extinct, off the coast of Western Australia. It’s the first time the snakes have been spotted alive and healthy since disappearing from their only known habitat on Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea more than fifteen years ago.

Scientists from James Cook University have discovered two critically endangered species of sea snakes, previously thought to be extinct, off the coast of Western Australia.

It’s the first time the snakes have been spotted alive and healthy since disappearing from their only known habitat on Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea more than fifteen years ago.

“This discovery is really exciting, we get another chance to protect these two endemic Western Australian sea snake species,” says study lead author Blanche D’Anastasi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU.

“But in order to succeed in protecting them, we will need to monitor populations as well as undertake research into understanding their biology and the threats they face.”

The discovery of the critically endangered short nose sea snake was confirmed after a Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Officer, Grant Griffin, sent a photo of a pair of snakes taken on Ningaloo Reef to Ms D’Anastasi for identification.

“We were blown away, these potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia’s natural icons, Ningaloo Reef,” says Ms D’Anastasi.

“What is even more exciting is that they were courting, suggesting that they are members of a breeding population.”

The researchers also made another unexpected discovery, uncovering a significant population of the rare leaf scaled sea snake in the lush seagrass beds of Shark Bay.

The discovery was made 1700 kilometres south of the snakes only known habitat on Ashmore Reef.

“We had thought that this species of sea snake was only found on tropical coral reefs. Finding them in seagrass beds at Shark Bay was a real surprise,” says Ms D’Anastasi.

Both leaf scaled and short nosed sea snakes are listed as Critically Endangered under Australia’s threatened species legislation, which means they have special protection.

Despite the good news of the find, sea snake numbers have been declining in several marine parks, and scientists are at a loss to explain why.

“Many of the snakes in this study were collected from prawn trawl by-catch surveys, indicating that these species are vulnerable to trawling,” says Dr Vimoksalehi Lukoschek from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

“But the disappearance of sea snakes from Ashmore Reef, could not be attributed to trawling and remains unexplained.

“Clearly we need to identify the key threats to their survival in order to implement effective conservation strategies if we are going to protect these newly discovered coastal populations,” Dr Lukoschek says.

Two striking sea snakes have been spotted drifting off the coast of Western Australia, more than 15 years after the species was declared extinct. These bright yellow short nosed sea snakes (Aipysurus apraefrontalis) vanished from their natural habitat in the Timor Sea between 1998 and 2002, only to reappear in full view of a park ranger this month: here.

Western Australia dinosaur tracks, new study

This video says about itself:

Dinosaur Footprints in Broome, Western Australia

At Gantheaume Point and 30 m (98 ft) out to sea are dinosaur footprints dated as Early Cretaceous in age (approximately 130 million years ago). The tracks can be seen only during very low tide.

From the Science Network of Western Australia site:

Friday, 16 October 2015

Dinosaur tracks offer window to ancient landscapes

Written by Kandy Curran

RESEARCHERS are working to reconstruct scenes from 130 million years ago, when Australia was still connected to Antarctica and covered in towering conifer forests, via dinosaur tracks.

When the sun, moon and earth align to produce the biggest tidal range, Dr Salisbury from The University of Queensland and his team of palaeontologists, geologists and roboticists are on the exposed intertidal zone to study the coast where some 16 species of dinosaur once roamed.

The ambitious project aims to digitally catalogue remnant dinosaur tracks over an 80 km stretch of coastline and then use that imaging to reconstruct the ancient landscape that was inhabited by some of the planet’s biggest dinosaurs.

These tracks are the only known evidence of dinosaurs along the Broome coast thus far, as the muddy sediment that the dinosaurs walked over has hardened to eventually form sedimentary rock.

“We also want to figure out just how many different types of dinosaur tracks there are in this area to get a handle on the significance of the footprint fauna, because to this point very little detailed work has been done,” Dr Salisbury says.

With many only exposed for a few hours each day, and only a few days each year, the team have had to adopt innovative remote sensing technologies to speed up the process.

In addition to making moulds of various tracks with a quick setting silicon rubber, thousands of photographs are being taken using a conventional camera and a low-flying drone.

These images are used to create virtual 3D models that are combined with laser scans from a hand-held LiDAR unit developed by CSIRO.

Geological analysis of various rocks in the area has revealed that many of the tracks seem to occur in the same layer of sandstone, created as seasonal floods inundated low-lying sandbars and floodplains. It was over this muddy environment that the dinosaurs walked and left their tracks.

Dr Salisbury says his team is now beginning to contextualise the tracks over large geographic areas, and can better understand which direction the dinosaurs were travelling, whether they were walking or running, and if they were interacting or crossing the landscape in groups, searching for food, or trying to escape predators.

“One of the really special things about the tracks is that they’re part of the creation mythology associated with indigenous law and culture in this area; they’re integrated into a song cycle that extends along the coast, with the knowledge of the tracks probably extending back thousands of years”.

In an effort to protect, promote and educate the public about the dinosaur tracks of the Dampier Peninsula, Dr Salisbury and members of the Broome community formed a Dinosaur Coast Management Group in 2014.

Dr Salisbury and his team have provided outstanding presentations on their research in the Science on the Broome Coast series, drawing large audiences on both occasions.

The science series, which aims to showcase the exciting research that is underway on Broome’s coast, is an initiative of the Roebuck Bay Working Group and Yawuru Land and Sea Unit, and sponsored by Inspiring Australia, Rangelands NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, the Department of Parks and Wildlife and Broome Shire Council.

Western Australian fish threatened by climate change

This video is called Wildlife of Western Australia.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Tropical fish in WA Kimberley facing extinction from climate change, researchers say

By Erin Parke

12 July 2015

Entire species of tropical fish could be wiped out by climate change, according to a research team that has spent months carrying out a study in Western Australia’s north.

The team from the University of Melbourne is looking at how sensitive freshwater species are to small increases in water temperatures.

PhD student Matthew Le Feuvre said the results were cause for concern.

“We’re finding a lot of species are living potentially very close to their maximum thermal limit, so these species will be very sensitive should the climate change in the Kimberley,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

“If water temperatures and air temperatures increase by just a degree or two, you could potentially see a lot of species fail to adapt and go extinct as a result, or at least become far more vulnerable.”

The team focussed on 18 species that are found only in the river systems of the Kimberley.

Until now, little research has been done on the river systems, partly because they are located in remote areas accessible only by helicopter or boat.

The University of Melbourne study involved eight months of trekking and camping in some of the most rugged terrain in Australia, to allow researchers to collect specimens.

“We’ll arrive at a beautiful spot in the Kimberley with a ute and a trailer fully loaded with sampling gear and a tinny, and then we basically throw the whole kitchen sink at it,” Le Feuvre said.

“We use a variety of nets, a baited underwater video camera, and we use an electro-fisher, which basically stuns the fish in the water and then you can scoop them out, which is a really useful tool for sampling fish.

“We also use traditional hook and line fishing techniques and also snorkelling, so we use a whole lot of methods at each site for a couple of days.”

The fish were packed into customised eskies for the 4,000 kilometre flight to laboratories at the University of Melbourne.

Testing Begins

In Melbourne, they were put into a flow-rest barometer, to measure the amount of oxygen they consumed as the water temperature was increased in tiny increments.

That is when the sensitivity of the fish was discovered, Mr Le Feuvre said.

“We’ve found that these species basically fail to function above 34 degrees, which is roughly the temp of the water you find in the Drysdale river in the wet season,” he said.

The Kimberley species were also considered to be highly vulnerable because of their unusually limited range.

“The Mitchell Falls Gudgeon [for example] is only found around the Mitchell Falls, so it’s only known for a couple of kilometres upstream from the falls, and a couple of kilometres downstream from the falls,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

“There’s one species from the Drysdale River that’s only been caught once… so it’s a really rare species and we failed to find it in more than eight months of fieldwork.”

It is hoped the work results in some of the species being added to a national register of threatened species.

While 20 per cent of Australian freshwater fish species are currently included on the register, none of the endemic Kimberley species are listed.

Conservation group Environs Kimberley said the research work was groundbreaking.

“So little research has been done in the remote areas of the Kimberley, and there’s so much more work to be done up there,” said Marine Projects Officer Jason Fowler.

“It’s certainly going to help build a case to protect these river systems.”

Beautiful new waterlily species discovered

This video says about itself:

Kew Gardens‘ Carlos Magdalena discovers new species of waterlily

5 June 2015

Carlos Magdalena – Kew Gardens’ resident tropical plant and waterlily expert – has discovered a brand new species of waterlily while on a plant hunting expedition in Western Australia.

From Kew botanic gardens in London, England:

Beautiful new waterlily species discovered by Kew plant hunter Carlos Magdalena

4 June 2015

The discovery of a new waterlily species in the wild surprises experts as an identical plant has already been grown at Kew.

A new waterlily species has been found on a plant-hunting expedition in a remote spot in Kimberley, Western Australia. As plant-hunter Carlos Magdalena investigated the waterlily, it became clear this was not the first time the species has been encountered by Kew experts.

An identical plant had previously been collected in the Northern territory and then grown at Kew. It was thought the lily grown at Kew must be a hybrid — a cross between two different plant varieties. However, the discovery in Kimberley was thousands of kilometres from the location where the original lily was found, and there were no examples of the suspected parent plants in the surrounding area. It was then that Carlos realised it was indeed a well-defined and separate species. He explains:

‘After years of wondering about this plant, it was huge a surprise to make this discovery. Finding the first population was a shock, but then we found creeks filled with just this species — it was breathtaking.’

The discovery is a personal victory for Carlos, as this is the first time he’s discovered a species previously unknown to science. Carlos is already famous for his plant conservation work after saving the world’s smallest waterlily (Nymphaea thermarum) from extinction in 2009.

He joined the expedition in the hope of furthering waterlily conservation but was faced with very challenging conditions. As well as covering hundreds of miles of remote wilderness by jeep and helicopter the scientists, despite careful checks, were still faced with the omnious threat of the saltwater crocodile. The crocodiles inhabitat the lakes, creeks and ponds where the waterlilies grow and posed a serious threat to the scientists, as Carlos says:

‘It was extremely scary at times. Ultimately, if you are attacked by a crocodile, there is nothing you can do but accept your fate as waterlily fertiliser! Despite spending great lengths of time assessing the risk, there were occasions where we had to enter potentially dangerous waters to reach a critically-endangered species that desperately needed further research.’

The team was willing to face the risk as these explorations are such an important part of plant conservation, Carlos explains:

‘It is vitally important that we have a thorough knowledge of how many species there are out there. Without it, it is impossible to protect them. Where they are, how many, which threats they may face — all these factors must be established. Plant conservation of this nature is at the very heart of what Kew exists to do.’

Carlos was part of a team from Kew, Kings Park Botanic Gardens, and the University of Western Australia, who wanted to collect as many native species as possible for cultivation. The researchers also wanted to study and develop the germination, and storage, of waterlily seeds from the many species of Nymphaea found in the vast territories of Queensland and Kimberley.

Once this discovery has been backed up with DNA analysis, the next step will be to officially name the waterlily. Carlos has collected a dozen species from 30 different locations, which have been duplicated in Australia and Kew. If successfully grown at Kew, their DNA will be available for international researchers to study, and will produce seeds that will be stored at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst. And of course, they will be put on display for visitors to admire.

Australian quokkas and plants, new study

This video from Australia is called Quokka with baby.

By Shannon Verhagen in Australia:

April 9, 2015

Mapping the future of Rottnest‘s furry friends

We all know Rottnest Island‘s iconic quokkas (Setonix brachyurus) love eating treats from tourists and poking around inside public buildings but local researchers have identified plant species on the island that the quokkas need for food and shelter.

The Murdoch University study identified eight plant species used for food and four used for shelter by the quokkas and mapped their extent and distribution using hyperspectral remote sensing data.

They collected fresh faecal samples from 210 quadrats across the islands’ twelve native vegetation types over a two week period in 2011 to conduct dietary analysis.

The study found a clear preference for Guichenotia ledifolia, a non-significant food source for Rottnest Island quokkas 50 years ago, which suggests compositional changes in island vegetation over time may have caused this species to be more dominant in the landscape.

Researcher Patricia Fleming says a history of grazing, fire and land clearing has altered Rottnest’s vegetation structure and composition and therefore the quokkas’ vegetation use.

“The diet of these animals is likely to have changed over the last 50 years and probably has shifted from that of over 200 years ago,” Ms Fleming says.

“The vegetation on the island has changed markedly over that time, largely due to anthropogenic influences.”

Quokkas were found to have a clear preference for Melaleuca lanceolata and Acacia rostellifera for shelter, highlighting the importance of dense, protective vegetation.

They used remotely sensed, hyperspectral airborne imagery to map the principal food and shelter species in order to determine the locations where the preferred species are evident and where the principal species overlap.

Ms Fleming says managing these key habitat locations is essential as the Rottnest Island population suffers severe seasonal crashes due to a lack of permanent water bodies and intense browsing pressure from other quokkas.

“There are definitely times of the year for example, at the end of summer when the first cold nights hit those that are in worst condition, that animals are likely to be physiologically stressed,” Ms Fleming says.

“The forest [on the mainland] has more resources and the animals can probably access a much greater area to obtain their requirements.”

“The Rottnest Island population is resource limited.”

“It is likely that loss of a key plant species will alter the carrying capacity of the island,” she says.

More information: “Spatial analysis of limiting resources on an island: diet and shelter use reveal sites of conservation importance for the Rottnest Island quokka.” Wildlife Research, 41(6), 510.