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Ningaloo Outlook: project update

Ningaloo Outlook is a marine research partnership between BHP Billiton Petroleum and CSIRO which aims to inform management of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area off the shores of Western Australia. The program is a five-year research alliance, which will increase the understanding of Ningaloo’s deep and shallow reefs and its iconic megafauna (especially turtles, whale sharks and reef sharks).

The partnership has now been operating for one year and scientists have tagged 60 animals with three different types of tags, surveyed fish, corals and macroalgae along seven kilometres of the reef, and mapped 12,000 hectares of deep habitat.

Whale sharks visit the Ningaloo region each year between March and July, bringing thousands of tourists to the region to swim with the gentle giants. In recognition of the importance of these creatures, an additional A$400,000 has been added to the project to enable whale shark tagging. This year the scientists successfully tagged seven whale sharks, all of which are now transmitting and can be tracked on the website.

In June, Dr Tim Cooper, Senior Environmentalist and Regulatory Specialist, presented an overview of the project and key initial findings at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Hawaii.

What’s coming up?

The deep reef field work will commence in early August and will include further mapping of the habitats with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). There has been very limited research on the deep mesophotic reefs of Ningaloo, but what we do know is that these areas are likely to support abundant, highly diverse, filter-feeding communities – which are identified as important ecological values in the Ningaloo Marine Park Management Plan. Information on abundance and taxonomic composition of these deep reef habitats, along with the ecological processes essential for their long-term sustainability, are key pieces of information needed to develop effective long-term management strategies for the area.

Following the field work, the research team will provide Exmouth year 10 students with a practical demonstration on how the AUV works at the local pool and will share the research findings from the first year of the project with the local community.

Looking for more information?

The first year of field work for the marine research partnership has provided valuable baseline data on the condition of Ningaloo Reef. CSIRO have prepared a summary of the research to date on the project website.