Turtles, sharks, and plastic pollution will be part of a new $7 million partnership between Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and BHP to study Ningaloo Reef, Australia’s largest fringing coral reef.

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Turtles, sharks, and plastic pollution will be part of a new $7 million partnership between Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and BHP to study Ningaloo Reef, Australia’s largest fringing coral reef.

Coinciding with the start of National Science Week, the Ningaloo Outlook partnership builds on research started  in 2015 to collect information to support the management and conservation of the highly-valued marine and coastal environment.

Research already conducted has discovered:

  • Analysis of turtle nail clippings revealed a turtle’s diet changes with age and size, changing from seagrass when young to seaweed and jellyfish as they grow.
  • Tracking whale sharks revealed the first whale shark mating attempt ever seen in the world, as well as journeys of thousands of kilometres, faster diving at night, and up to a depth of 1.7 kilometres.

Marine debris surveys carried out along the shoreline and on the reef, with results showing Ningaloo Reef as one of the cleanest reefs in the world.

Existing research will continue, with new research to include:

  • Deepening our understanding of turtles - including developing methods to estimate their abundance, and tracking their movements to and from nesting beaches
  • Address a global knowledge gap by collecting samples that will enable an estimate of adult whale shark abundance in the NE Indian Ocean
  • Extending long-term observations on coral reef health and estimates of reef growth.
  • Investigating deep reefs, the animals that live there, and the environmental influences critical for maintaining these habitats 

Dr Larry Marshall, CSIRO’s Chief Executive Officer, said the partnership would continue to deliver bold and innovative science to support sustainable ocean management.

“Our treasured environmental wonders are vital for our own wellbeing as well as the economy,” Dr Marshall said.

"Bringing world-class science together with Australian industry will increase our understanding of Ningaloo and enhance the sustainable use of our marine environment, ensuring long-lasting benefits for the Australian community.

“Ningaloo Outlook highlights the importance of collaboration to deliver exciting and innovative science to address key challenges we face as a nation, while boosting our enviable global advantages in ecotourism to our natural wonders.”

Ningaloo Reef stretches for 300 kilometres and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the Australian economy.

Research investment to date means we now know more about Ningaloo Reef than ever before.

Graham Salmond, BHP Country Manager Australia Petroleum said BHP were thrilled with the success of the first phase of the Ningaloo Partnership and are excited to see what could be achieved over the next five years.

“We recognise the importance of Ningaloo Outlook to increase awareness of the Reef’s ecological and economic values,” Mr Salmond said.

“Ningaloo Reef is home to many ocean wonders and is an asset for the local and national community.

"Together with CSIRO, we are bringing real-world science to hundreds of school students and local community groups.

"This is a tangible way to deliver learning opportunities and increase awareness of the reef.”

Other key findings from research conducted at Ningaloo Reef from 2015-2020 include:

  • Using ultrasound and satellite tags to identify and track the entire migration of egg-bearing female turtles.
  • The first-ever detailed habitat maps of five deep water reef areas at Ningaloo.
  • The discovery of 12 million mushroom corals, believed to be the largest number of individuals ever found in one location.
  • Using the latest in ocean technology to track terrain of shallow and deep reefs in detail like never before. We found hard coral has increased at some locations at Ningaloo Reef since 2015.

The extensive research carried out so far contributes to long-term ecological datasets for Ningaloo Reef.

These datasets provide critical baselines to track any changes to the marine ecosystem and to support marine park management.

A Program Highlights Report 2015-2020 has been released as part of today’s announcement.

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