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The challenge

Managing commercial and ecological interests in the Pilbara

The Pilbara region of north-western Australia is widely recognised for its unique and globally significant marine biodiversity.

A beach in the North West Shelf, Western Australia

To promote and advance the conservation of marine biodiversity alongside the management of commercial interests, CSIRO is conducting the first ever regional-scale assessment of the conditions of – and threats to – the Pilbara and its surrounds.

It is important to establish an overall view of the health the Pilbara's marine environment, so that we can best manage its use.

Our response

Partnerhips to ensure long term sustainability

The Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership (PMCP) was a partnership between CSIRO and The University of Western Australia (UWA). The PMCP was a five year study (completed in 2017) funded by the Gorgon Barrow Island Net Conservation Benefits Fund. The fund was administered by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and approved by the Minister for Environment after considering advice from the Gorgon Barrow Island Net Conservation Benefits Advisory Board.

This program collated existing information on the region, developed maps, and conducted studies on the connectivity and relationships between different marine habitats.

Research was been divided into three areas:

  1. Coral reef health, including patterns in reef community structure, reef resilience and reef recovery rates
  2. An assessment of the condition of fish and shark populations, habitat dependencies, food chain (trophic) interactions, and their role in maintaining reef resilience
  3. Environmental pressures, such as biological studies, impact of human activity and development, impact of natural disasters such as floods and cyclones, and patterns of diversity

Its anticipated that government, research, and industry bodies will use the research findings generated to inform future resource management and use, to ensure the long term commercial and conservation sustainability of the region.

The results

Information to support marine management and conservation

Using scientific and social processes the research team is:

  • undertaking regional scale assessment of conditions of, and threats to, marine biodiversity
  • evaluating the condition of coral reef ecosystems and fish and shark populations
  • identifying the most important processes driving variation in the ecosystem and understanding this variation in the context of natural and human-induced influences
  • identifying benchmarks (i.e. points of reference against which to measure changes) and thresholds (i.e. points below which the ecosystem risks altering to an undesirable state).

This project will provide the data and information to establish an ecosystem-wide baseline for environmental and industry monitoring programs that will underpin marine management in the region.

To find out more on what the research team is uncovering, visit the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership webpages.

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