Researching and surveying – Kimberley 2013

Video | Updated 2 years ago

The animals seen in these videos are being handled by experts who know how to avoid potential bites and stings. To avoid accidents it is recommended that all marine animals should be watched and not touched. Please enjoy the videos and remember to leave wildlife alone, both for their protection and yours.


The WA Museum and partner agencies have performed surveys in the Kimberley to examine and survey marine biodiversity and their associated habitats. This video introduces the processes and activities required to undertake such research.


In the north west corner of Australia lays the Kimberley region. It is remote and rugged. Consisting of 2,500 islands and a fjord-like coast line, it is spectacular in the extreme. However, it hasn't always looked this way. 6,500 years ago the shoreline was at the edge of the continental shelf and over successive global warming events, the whole coastline became flooded. The hills and mesas that characterised that region have now become the islands we know today. In recent years the Kimberly has come under increased human pressure and that is why the WA Museum and partner agencies are here, with my fellow researchers behind me, we're here examining marine biodiversity and associated habitats. With such a large area cover, satellite images, marine charts, as well as information form previous survey work are all used to determine the different geomorphic zones that are to be surveyed. Tide, weather and logistical constraints can change and sometimes adjustments need to be made. A combination of exposed and protected reefs, forward reef slopes, platforms and back reef slopes are chosen to give a more accurate assessment of the area. Using this method ensures as many different habitats as possible are chosen to survey, these habitats are sampled many times to average any results to give a better understanding of what animals live where. We're interested in biodiversity, biogeography and abundance of fishes, which is essentially what lives where, and how many of them and we do this using the visual transact, where we swim along and count all the fish that we see, hopefully we can identify most of what we see and if we can't we'll take photographs or maybe collect them, if collect them then we are able to identify them later and take some DNA so we can maximise the use of our specimens. A survey starts by laying two by fifty meter measurement tapes known as transact lines each researcher will then spend up to an hour working along the transact, usually as a reference to sample their target species. Detailed habitat notes are also kept, measuring a percentage of each the major type of animal group and substrate type. Once each researcher has worked their way along the transact any remaining time will be spent wondering about the station area looking for, photographing and taking samples. This helps to increase the inventory of what is at each site. In between dives and reef walks everything that has been collected is then sorted and processed. Detailed photographs are taken, everything is labeled, numbered and entered into a database. Collected specimens are preserved to verify their identification and DNA samples for later molecular work are also taken. This is a red sea fan I collected on the last dive. In order to identify to the right species, I have look at the skeletal structure. To do that, I break off a little bit of the sea fan and then dissolve the organic material then a look at the skeletal structures, the little sclerites, under the microscope. Once all samples are collected and processed, they are then packed into containers, ready for transport to the museum, or further analysis. It's not just marine life that's collected, water testing plays an important part in unlocked the secrets of this unique marine environment. Water samples are taken, and light penetration is measured. This information is recorded and cross-referenced to the samples already collected. These surveys will help tell us what exists here and help paint a bigger picture of this pristine environment, and it will also help government departments, and conservation agencies develop strategies on how to best manage and protect one of the world's last frontiers, the Kimberley.