Marine Life of North Western Australia

The Marine Life of North Western Australia Project is a three-year marine biodiversity research program. The project will explore the marine biodiversity of the inshore Kimberley and associated continental shelf coral atolls.

The information derived from this project will have significant relevance for planning a sustainable future for the Kimberley region.

Scuba diver jumping the sea - photographed from the water

Marine research expedition

© Western Australian Museum

Photograph by Clay Bryce, Western Australian Museum

The Kimberley Region

The Kimberley coast stretches from Broome to the Western Australian – Northern Territory border, covering about 15,000 kilometres. It is a rugged and remote place with high cultural and heritage values and a wealth of marine life ruled by huge 10 metre tides.

The marine life of the inshore Kimberley is not well known. Most of what is known is held within the collections of the Western Australian Museum and other Australian museums and research agencies.

The coastline boasts fiord-like cliffs and white sandy beaches festooned with rocky shores and mangrove forests. Offshore, there are some 2,500 islands fringed with seagrass meadows, coral reefs, tidally–drained mud flats and rich sponge gardens. The habitats are diverse and the biodiversity rich. Massive humpback whales, nesting turtles, myriad invertebrate life and fish all abound in the warm Kimberley waters. However, while public and industrial interest in this frontier region grows the biodiversity remains largely unknown.

octopus swimming underwater

Octopus cyanea

© Western Australian Museum

Photograph by Clay Bryce, Western Australian Museum

The Atolls of Western Australia’s Continental Shelf

Due west of Broome, the gateway to the Kimberley, on about 17°40' South latitude, near the southern edge of the Rowley Shoals, and extending northwards, the continental slope periodically and dramatically rises steeply to the surface, forming a chain of atolls. These ‘oases of life’ represent a unique habitat for Western Australia.

In 1983 the Western Australian Museum conducted a marine biodiversity survey of the continental-edge atolls at Rowley Shoals, Scott and Seringapatam reefs. The findings were published as a Supplement to the Western Australian Museum Records in 1986.

Twenty years later, in 2006, through generous support from Woodside, the Museum was able to revisit the area. As with the earlier 1983 survey, this new undertaking investigated the biodiversity of the reefs. The results represent a significant contribution to our knowledge of this remote oceanic region. The findings from this survey will soon be available in print and on this website.

Snapper fish hiding in the reef and shoal of fishes swimming

Underwater scene

© Western Australian Museum

Photograph by Clay Bryce, Western Australian Museum

About the Project

The Marine Life of North Western Australia project will combine inshore Kimberley and offshore atoll marine collection data, marine survey report information and data from future fieldwork to be undertaken in 2009 and 2010. These combined data sets will then be analysed to examine various environmental, biogeographical and taxonomic aspects of the Kimberley region.

The surveys will target the region’s worms, molluscs, crustaceans, fish, corals, soft corals and echinoderms, as well as marine algae and seagrasses.

This project will provide a wealth of information, contributing toward informed decision making, sustainable development, formulation of business and conservation policies, the provision of educational input and assessment of national and world heritage values.

Most importantly, the outcomes from Marine Life of North Western Australia will flag the value of museums and their collections, which contain important information that will inform solutions to some of the issues facing contemporary society.

Marine research expedition

Marine research expedition

© Western Australian Museum

Photograph by Clay Bryce, Western Australian Museum

The Team

The Western Australian Museum and Woodside have once again joined forces. Our first award-winning partnership (1998–2006) explored the marine biodiversity of the Dampier Archipelago in North Western Australia.

The Western Australian Museum, in conjunction with the Australian Museum, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and the Queensland Museum, will analyse all the known marine fauna from their considerable databases and associated scientific literature. The marine flora will also be included in collaboration with the Western Australian Herbarium (Department of Environment and Conservation).

The information contained in these datasets will be added to the data collected during two planned biodiversity surveys to be undertaken during October 2009 and 2010. Researchers from the Western Australian Museum will be joined by staff from the Australian Museum and Queensland Museum.

Offshore atoll coral reef

Researchers' Diaries

Read the Marine Life of the North Western Australia researchers' diaries.