Trends and Discoveries – Kimberley 2013

Video | Updated 8 months ago

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The WA Museum and partner agencies have performed surveys along the Kimberley coast to examine marine biodiversity. This video introduces some of the initial discoveries that the research team has made during the research expedition.


Narrator - The Western Australian Museum, with partner agencies have been leading marine biodiversity surveys along the Kimberley coast, out as far as the edge of the continental shelf. Here are some of the interesting trends discovered by the researchers involved in these surveys.

Dr Zoe Richards - So far my research into coral biodiversity in the Kimberley wilderness area has revealed incredibly diverse community. The corals out here are surviving in some very harsh conditions, in the inter-tidal they're exposed for up to 3 hours and offshore they're submerged, but exposed to some very large currents. These corals are extremely interesting for the strategies they employ to survive these conditions.

Dr Monika Bryce - The soft corals faunal composition changes dramatically from the inshore, close to the land, to the offshore atolls. This is influenced by the water turbidity, closer to shore the water is much more turbid, and you find other species then here, where the water is very clear.

Narrator - Echinoderms are diverse group of creatures, such as holothurians, or sea cucumbers, feather stars known as crinoids, sea stars and the piny urchins. Dr Merrick Etkins has been looking at how they differ between the inshore and the offshore.

Dr Merrick Etkins - And what I find is that the different habitats you'll get dominance of a certain type of species, such as holothurians of one species in one area, and another area, you'll get a totally different species.

Dr Lisa Kirkendale - Today, the Kimberley biodiversity project has focused on large-bodied species of molluscs, shells that you would typically display in your bathroom like nautilus, giant clams, or tritons trumpet. This year we've added something new to the program, we're focusing on sampling micro-molluscs, or very small species of molluscs. We do this by literally scrubbing the rocks off because we can't see them in the field.

Narrator - Dr Lisa Kirkendale will take her samples back and study them in the lab this is part of an ongoing program to find undocumented molluscan diversity which until now has been largely unstudied.

Dr Andrew Hosie - Through surveys the crustacean fauna of the northern Western Australian coastline, I've noticed that there's been a switch between the inshore and the offshore barnacles that are found in association with other cessile organisms such as sponges, corals and soft corals. Inshore, there's high abundance, high diversity you'd rarely come across a colony without barnacles. On the offshore atolls, there's been a distinct drop in the diversity and the abundance of species across the board.

Narrator - Dr John Huisman from the WA Herbarium is examining the sea grasses and algae occurring in the Kimberly region

Dr John Huisman -  I've got over 60 new species of seaweed we're describing and it's a phenomenal group most people overlook, but many things that you'd find in the Great Barrier Reef but never been found in Western Australia before, it's a very exciting time for a phycologists, which is the person who studies seaweeds.

Narrator - Dr Glenn Moore and Sue Morrison have been researching fish for the Kimberley biodiversity project and have uncovered some interesting trends.

Dr Glenn Moore - The most interesting perhaps, is on the inshore waters, where it's turbid and there's a lot of fresh water run-off we have fewer species and as we move offshore into the clearer waters we get many more species and in much higher numbers and these species though are typically wide-ranging species found throughout the vast Indo-Pacific region.

Narrator - Rodrigo Garcia from Curtin University is here assessing water quality, he's found that sediment and plankton both play a major role in the light available to marine life for photosynthesis. The inshore waters of the Kimberley have high levels sediment, which are nutrient-rich resulting in high productivity.

Rodrigo Garcia - What's unique about this area is that the big tides and strong currents rarely allow this sediment to settle out of the water.

Narrator - Offshore, water is much clearer due to the lower amount of the phytoplankton and sediment.

Rodrigo Garcia - I use these water quality samples to ground with satellite imagery from which I can determine big picture water conditions throughout the Kimberley coast.

Narrator - Oliver Gomez has been collecting information on marine sponges in the Kimberley area, the inshore and offshore areas have very different habitats, information that will help researchers assess the geographical distribution of these species.

Olivier Gomez - (unclear), for instance. A common species found in the inshore area last year it's hardly been seen in offshore reefs of the Kimberley.

Narrator - Lynda Avery has been working on the marine worms of the north-west shelf, these have never been collected before and Lynda is expecting a whole new sweep of species to come from this collection.

Ms Lynda Avery - Done interesting thing that I've found is that the worms on the inner-shore are much larger than those found out on the shelf / this is the largest survey of marine worms from the north-west shelf that has ever been collected and therefore we're expected a whole new sweep of species to come from this collection.

Narrator - The Kimberley is one of the world's last frontiers. This work will help protect and aid conservation management of its pristine waters.