Team tease out reef secrets
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.
The CSIRO’s Mat Vanderklift and Tim Cooper from BHP Petroleum.