A green turtle rests among coral at low tide in the Kimberley region

Coral reefs in the Kimberley region of northwest Western Australia are home to substantially greater coral diversity than first thought a new Western Australian Museum study finds.

A new publication into the reef-building hard coral biodiversity of the Kimberley region has revealed the importance of the Kimberley region as a nationally significant reservoir of tropical coral biodiversity.

The study increases previous estimates of reef-building corals in the Kimberley to 438 species, about 20% higher than earlier estimates of coral diversity in the region.

This publication marks the newest addition to the Kimberley Marine Life series, which aims to thoroughly document marine life in this remote, and under-explored region.

The study conducted between 2009 and 2014, involved undertaking replicate belt transect surveys – which assess how organisms are spread out in a given area – at 171 sites spanning the inshore Kimberley, mid-shelf shoal habitats and offshore reefs and atolls.  

Porites (coral) with christmas tree worms under the water

Porites (coral) with christmas tree worms
Image copyright WA Museum 

Lead author of the study, Marine Invertebrate Curator at the WA Museum Associate Professor Zoe Richards said previous estimates indicated approximately 350 species of hard coral occur in the region.

"The number of different types of corals we have documented far exceeded my initial expectations. Through our efforts, we've extended the known distribution range of 85 species that were previously unrecorded in the region," she said.

"Remarkably, 36 of these new records pertain to species from Southeast Asia that have not been previously documented in Australia."

“This study highlights the importance of the Kimberley region as a nationally significant reservoir of tropical coral biodiversity with vital, yet under-studied connections to the Indo-Australian Centre of Diversity.”

The publication titled, Biodiversity and biogeography of zooxanthellate corals in Australasia revisited based on new data from the Kimberley, can be found here.

This study was funded by Woodside Energy.

The Western Australian Museum respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Kimberley land and sea country, and the Dambemangardee and Wunambal Gaambera peoples, for collections made on their sea country.