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30.04.2015 01:39 Age: 3 yrs

The World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia will be the focus of a new marine research partnership between CSIRO and BHP Billiton Petroleum

The program will use existing IMOS infrastructure at Ningaloo Reef.

CSIRO researcher Mat Vanderklift releases a juvenile green turtle at Ningaloo Reef. (Russ Babcock)

CSIRO researcher Richard Pillans services an acoustic receiver in Mangrove Bay (Mick Haywood)

Hawksbill turtle at Ningaloo reef (Mat Vanderklift)

School of reef fish at Ningaloo (Mat Vanderklift)

The five-year, jointly-funded $5 million research program will include both deep and shallow reef research, turtle and shark tagging, and three PhD scholarships. In addition, there will be opportunities for the local community to be involved in some aspects of the research.

The program will use existing IMOS infrastructure at Ningaloo Reef. IMOS and CSIRO deployed the Ningaloo Reef Ecosystem Tracking Array in 2007: this is an array of acoustic receivers that detect tagged fish and animals, which aims to understand species' movements and habitat use on the unique coral reef ecosystem. There have been 2,960,481 detections since 2007, with the data stored in a database accessed via the IMOS Ocean Portal, https://imos.aodn.org.au.

“It is exciting to see new research projects spin up and build on the data collected by IMOS,” says IMOS Director, Tim Moltmann. “This research program is a great example of the expanding use and value of our national Integrated Marine Observing System to Australian science and industry.”

The new investment in marine science at Ningaloo Reef will help all stakeholders to better understand the reef and help target management efforts. The research program will provide baseline data on the condition of the ecological values of the reef, which will allow assessments over time to determine any changes. The project aims to translate the results that come from this new scientific research into improved management practices, so that Ningaloo can be used safely and responsibly for generations to come.

Project leader Mat Vanderklift from CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere Flagship says "In our tagging and tracking research we will focus on sharks and turtles – iconic fauna that are key ecological values in the marine park. We will identify where and how far they move, allowing us to draw inferences about how they use various habitats within the park, and how they interact with activities that occur outside the park."

The program builds on CSIRO's extensive decade-long shallow coral reef and fauna research and turtle tracking using satellite and acoustic technology and follows the successful BHP Billiton Petroleum investment in the Ningaloo Atlas Research program.