1. UWA
  2. UWA Alumni

Philanthropy, research and community are finding solutions for climate change’s effects locally and globally within Western Australia’s iconic coastal ecosystems.

Marine Park zonings in Western Australia include the Great Southern Reef, Ningaloo and Shark Bay. These iconic coastal environments are home to kelp forests, seagrass meadows, and tropical coral reef: vibrant and unique ecosystems that are all under threat from ocean warming.

With enormous blue carbon risk and potential, these bio-diversity hotspots are ground zero in the climate change war. Philanthropically supported research at UWA’s Oceans Institute into these marine ecosystems and their conservation is providing innovative solutions for protecting their habitats.

In this webinar, hosted by Dr Laila Simpson, Associate Director – Research Operations, Office of Research, four leading UWA marine scientists will discuss how their work is making a difference.

Seek Depth • Seek Impact • Seek Wisdom

UWA gratefully acknowledges the following for their generous support of this marine research at UWA.

The Jock Clough Marine Foundation, Forrest Research Foundation, Minderoo Foundation, The Schmidt Family Foundation/Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, The Pew Charitable Trusts and Mr and Mrs James and Marion Taylor.

Made possible also thanks to: The Robson & Robertson Awards, Keiran McNamara World Heritage PhD Top Up Scholarships, The Jennifer Arnold Memorial Research Award, CFH and EA Jenkins Postgraduate Research Scholarships, Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Inc. and UWA Convocation Postgraduate Research Travel Awards.

Audience Q&A

Are the global kelp forests closely biologically related, or are they unrelated in a similar manner to indigenous plants on land? – Jonathan Strauss
Thomas Wernberg:

This depends somewhat on what you define as ‘kelp’ and there is some debate about this. Some believe kelp should only refer to the monophyletic (single origin, closely related) group, the Order Laminariales, while others believe the term should include all functionally similar large brown seaweeds. In the latter case the species are less closely related.
Is there an impact on predators when the mammal megafauna populations decline due to loss of seagrasses? Does this have a knock on effect to general health of the ecosystem? – Ingrid Sieler
Matthew Fraser:

Yes – we know there are strong biological interactions in Shark Bay, and changes in consumer (e.g. dugong, turtle) populations can have big impacts on the distribution of predators (tiger sharks). However, this works both ways – tiger sharks in Shark Bay influence the distribution and behaviour of consumers, which can even have an impact on the seagrass (and the ecosystem functions they provide). We’re still in the process of fully understanding these complex interactions, and how they will change with future climate change.
What collaborations are being done to make sure that results are being communicated to other ecosystems under threat? For example, in Pacific Islands to scale up effect given the time imperative with climate change. – Dorothy Lucks
Thomas Wernberg:

we try and communicate our results as broadly as possible both through interdisciplinary journals, open access publication and through collaboration with professional communicators to produce material for the public and specific stakeholders (eg policy makers).

Tim Langlois:

we help to supervise students internationally – recent PhD students were resident in Fiji and Brazil – and also share our methods through open-access journal publications and get involved in international studies/syntheses.
How is the tracking data in the megamove project collected? Is it mostly from satelite tagging? I have also read of the use of stable isotopes to further understand the migration patterns and activities of these megafauna. Is this something that is also included in this project? – Jemma Sargeant
Ana Sequeira:

Yes, most tracking data for megafauna are satellite tracking data collected through GPS or the Argos satellite services. We also have some light geolocation datasets, but no stable isotopes.
What is the difference between a marine park and a no-take zone? – Warwick Boarman
Tim Langlois

Marine parks is an area of management for conservation but can have many or no regulations that may or may not be spatially zoned – so it mean not a lot or a lot.

No-take zones – often called marine reserves or marine sanctuaries are areas where people are encouraged to appreciate, visit and study but with no extractive activities allowed. They have been demonstrated to provide a window in the past, insights into how biodiversity works and an indication of what ecosystems would look like without some human activities.
Has the reduction of people and goods movement during COVID times been beneficial had a positive impact from an environmental perspective? – Paul Corrigan
Thomas Wernberg:

Probably too early to tell.

Matthew Fraser

Yes, I’d imagine we’ll be seeing a lot of this type of research over the next few years.

Tim Langlois:

There is evidence from some places in Australia of reduced human activity but the majority of observations in WA have been of increase human visitation and actives such as recreational fishing. There have been concerning reports of much greater fishing pressure in regional locations (SW, Shark Bay, Ningaloo) with associated pressures and problems. Shark Bay/Denham regional brought in reduced bag/possession limits for fish.
Once a marine park/sanctuary zone has been set up, whose role is it to enforce these restrictions? And how difficult is it to ensure that they continue to be protected? – Jemma Sargeant
Tim Lanlois:

Marine park/sanctuary zones typically come with government legislation that means the government has a responsibility to enforce the regulations. BUT in my personal experience with coastal no-take marine reserves I have seen the majority of successful compliance comes from local community support/acceptance of the no-take area. Having a no-take marine reserve next to a boat ramp or commercial fishing harbour is actually a good idea as the eyes on the water will look after it. Having a similar area in a remote/seldom visited location could result in low compliance (in my opinion).
Is ocean warming specifically affecting migratory patterns of megafauna? In particular, species hosted by WA costal ecosystems?
Ana Sequeira:

Ocean warming is having many effects on the marine environment and research has shown that many species that serve as prey for marine megafauna might shift their distributions thereby affecting marine megafauna. However it is hard to say explicitly as there is so much variability in the animal’s movement and the marine environment is also highly dynamic.
How are you managing collaboration among so many partners and what are your goals for the biodiversity COP 15 at Kunming in October and the climate COP 26 in Glasgow in November? How can you get marine issues higher on the two agendas, and what are the key arguments in promoting a combined approach to the two agendas of biodiversity and climate? – Nicholas Watts
Matthew Fraser:

On collaborations – we benefit from working at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre that houses researchers from UWA, AIMS, CSIRO and Fisheries, which makes collaboration much easier, and for collaborators further away videoconferencing works well.

As for how to get marine issues higher on the agenda – this is a very important topic! Locally, people seem to know how important marine ecosystems that surround them are, and at a national/international level we have to keep performing and translating our science as much as possible for decision makers. And I think it’s quite clear that biodiversity and climate and intrinsically linked (the seagrass blue carbon story is just one example of this) – we need to look at these agendas in combination, as decisions for one will impact the other.

Ana Sequeira:

Excellent question! It is a key aim of MegaMove to inform policy and biodiversity conservation – this matched key goals of the upcoming COP15 and COP26, and especially with the emerging objective to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030 and mitigate effects of climate change . We are currently working to provide an assessment of the potential for risk based on current exposure of marine megafauna to existing threats at a global scale including fishing, shipping, climate warming, and pollution. Promoting scientific results to get higher on the agenda will need to follow from broad dissemination of the scientific outcomes.

Tim Langlois:

working hard on this. I am concerned that targets such as 30% protection by 2030 can result in the creation of large protected areas in remote locations that will have minimal conservation impact (as they were already remote) and could then reduce the likelihood of creating protected areas in places that nature and society would more likely benefit from them.
Most of the speakers have talked about how their projects bring lots of different people/organisations with differing agendas. Do you have any tips for people wanting to bring different people together in this way in the future? – Jemma Maxton
Thomas Wernberg:

Maintain dialogue and be open and understanding of different perspectives.

Ana Sequeira:

My experience taught me that It is important to have a common objective that speaks to people and to be willing to drive the work forward.

Tim Langlois:

Shared goals and objectives – and an upfront discussion on the potential issues/findings that might lead someone/an organisation to want to not collaborate anymore.
You spoke about marine heat waves as an effect of climate change. Could you also speak to the issue of ocean acidification. How much of a risk is this to ocean ecosystems around southern Australia, and what can be done about it? – Paul Corrigan
Matther Fraser:

This isn't expected to impact seagrasses too much directly, and they benefit by taking up more CO2 from the water column. However, it will impact many of the animals that rely on calcification that live in seagrass meadows, so seagrass ecosystems as a whole could still be impacted.
Ocean acidification is a risk for coral reefs, Is it also a risk for kelp? If not what would prevent expect lost kelp beds being replaced further south? – Shane Love
Thomas Wernberg:

Ocean acidification is unlikely to have substantial direct effects on kelp and kelp forests, although there have been reports of sublethal effects on growth (slight positive) and reproduction (negative). However, ocean acidification might affect kelp forests indirectly by disproportionately affecting the growth rates (positive) of turf algae which compete with kelp for space and grazers such as snails (negative) which feed on turf algae. Rarely would this change in balance be the proximate cause kelp forest decline. However, they lower the resilience of the ecosystem such that turfs quickly can take over and prevent kelp forests from recovering if they are lost.
How are results from the national sea simulator influencing if at all your decisions for the future? – John Shah
Thomas Wernberg:

Not at all 😊. It's too broad and not so relevant – there have been no studies of kelp in the seasim as far as I am aware – only corals.