Team tease out reef se­crets

Pilbara News - - News - Louise Alling­ham and Tom Zaun­mayr

A lazy old tur­tle, an un­der­wa­ter ro­bot and a lot of fish count­ing are all in a day’s work for a team of re­searchers work­ing to un­lock the se­crets of the Nin­ga­loo Reef.

The Nin­ga­loo Out­look pro­gram, a joint ven­ture be­tween BHP Bil­li­ton and the CSIRO, has so far tagged more than 60 tur­tles, lemon sharks, whale sharks and other un­der­wa­ter crea­tures, con­ducted more than 7km worth of fish count­ing and sur­veyed about 12,000ha of deep reef.

CSIRO Nin­ga­loo Out­look project leader Matt Van­derk­lift said the team were now look­ing at gain­ing a bet­ter in­sight into for­ag­ing pop­u­la­tions of tur­tles, with tag­ging start­ing last Sun­day at the Whale­shark Fes­ti­val.

“When the ba­bies hatch they go out to sea — we call it the lost years,” he said.

“They spend four or five years out at sea — who knows where — and then when they’re about five years old ... they’ll come in and then they spend their time in the la­goons feed­ing on sea grass and sea­weed and grow­ing up.”

Mr Van­derk­lift said they also hoped to tag a larger fe­male to be able to “close the loop” be­tween nest­ing sea­sons.

As for the lazy tur­tle, a tag on the aptly named Geoff has been trans­mit­ting for a year now and he has moved a grand to­tal of 1km in that time.

“Com­pare him to the nest­ing fe­males — so we’re talk­ing about a 100kg an­i­mal and they’re work­ing hard to get up on to the beach and dig­ging their (body) and af­ter­wards they’ve got to swim,” Mr Van­derk­lift said.

“It’s kind of funny when you have Geoff the male who doesn’t move and then the fe­males who are do­ing all the work who have to swim.”

BHP Pe­tro­leum se­nior en­vi­ron­ment and reg­u­la­tory spe­cial­ist Tim Cooper said the out­look pro­gram had pro­vided some en­cour­ag­ing data on the health of the reef and its in­hab­i­tants to date.

“The CSIRO sci­en­tists here haven’t seen any ev­i­dence of coral bleach­ing here on Nin­ga­loo,” he said.

“That has been re­ally in­ter­est­ing, con­trast­ing with what peo­ple have been re­port­ing on the Great Bar­rier Reef.”

Mr Cooper said the con­nec­tion Ex­mouth res­i­dents had to their lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment was un­like any­thing he had seen else­where in Aus­tralia.

Pic­ture: Louise Alling­ham

The CSIRO’s Mat Van­derk­lift and Tim Cooper from BHP Pe­tro­leum.

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