In order to determine the location and number of National Reference Stations a number of factors were taken into account. First Australia’s coast can be divide into five regions: (1) a broad, shallow, shelf seas in the tropical north, from North West Cape to Torres Strait, (2) the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, (3) very narrow shelf on the sub‐tropical east coast, from Fraser Island south to Tasmania,   (4) narrow shelf along the sub‐tropical west and south west coast, and (5) broader shelf in the Great Australian Bight, SA Gulfs and Bass Strait. Second there are two principle currents systems bounding Australia’s coastal oceans both of which flow poleward – the East Australian Current which forms off the Great Barrier Reef and flows south along the Queensland coast, separating in New South Wales to flow east as the Tasman Front, or south as the East Australian Current Extension; and the Leeuwin Current, which flows south from North West Cape to southern Tasmania.

Major boundary waters around Australia

In addition, Australia is divided into six phytoplankton provinces, four of which are coastal (1) The shelf waters of north‐west Australia, the Gulf of Carpentaria, Arafura Sea and Timor Sea, with chlorophyll biomass discriminating the biomes 1 a, b, c, (2) The tropical neritic communities carried southwards by the Leeuwin Current (2b) and East Australian Current (2d), respectively,   (3) The floristically distinct shallow waters of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon  dominated by fast‐ growing nanoplankton diatoms, (4) The productive temperate neritic province comprising coastal waters of New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.

Phytoplankton distribution map

Based on these physical and biological features, it can be argued that there are at least five distinct regions of Australia’s coastal oceans ‐ tropical north, GBR lagoon, south east, south west, and south central (Great Australian Bight and SA Gulfs).

Building on the three long‐term sites at Maria Island, Rottnest Island and Port Hacking (shown in orange below), the NRS Network was expanded by six extra sites at Darwin, Yongala, Kangaroo Island, Stradbroke Island, Ningaloo Reef and Esperance (black and green below), making nine in total. In 2014 the network underwent consolidation after which the Ningaloo Reef and Esperance NRS were decommissioned (shown in green).

Of the three existing long‐term stations, two are in the south east (Maria Island and Port Hacking) and one is in the south west (Rottnest Island). A station has been established in the tropical north, at Darwin. A station has been established in the GBR lagoon, at Yongala (off Townsville). A station has been established in south central, at Kangaroo Island. An additional station has been established in the EAC dominated south east, at North Stradbroke Island (making three in this region).

Water samples at Ningaloo are collected by CSIRO and AIMS. IMOS Node: QLD: Queensland; NSW: New South Wales; TAS: Tasmania; SA: South Australia; WA: Western Australia. Marine Reserve Network: GBRMP: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; TE: Temperate East; SE: South-East; SW: South- West; NW: North-West; N; North. Phytoplankton provinces: GBR: Great Barrier Reef; TN: tropical neritic; TO: tropical oceanic; TS: tropical shelf. Institutes: AIMS: Australian Institute of Marine Science; CSIRO: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; SARDI: South Australian Research and Development Institute; SIMS: Sydney Institute of Marine Science. Shelf processes: C: currents; CZ: connection zone; E: eddies; M: monsoonal influences; T: tidal influences; U: upwelling. Current systems: EAC: East Australian Current; FC: Flinders Current; HC: Holloway Current; LC: Leeuwin Current; LUC: Leeuwin Undercurrent; NC: Ningaloo Current; ZC: Zeehan Current (Lynch et al., 2014). NOTE: Ningaloo and Esperance NRS were decommissioned in 2014


Lynch, T, Morello, E, Evans, K, Richardson, A, Steinberg, C, Roughan, M, Thompson, P, Middleton, J, Feng, M, Brando, V, Tilbrook, B, Ridgway, K, Allen, S, Doherty, P, Hill, K, Moltmann, T 2014, IMOS National Reference Stations: a continental scaled physical, chemical and biological coastal observing system, PLoS One, vol. 9, no. 12, e113652, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113652