Science Network Western Australia.
A Murdoch University marine scientist has just commenced an aerial survey of the western Kimberley coast.
It will comprise one of the studies intended to inform the management of the new marine parks network.
Professor Lynnath Beckley is taking high-resolution photographs of the coast from a light aircraft before analysing them for the physical presence of humans and their likely activities.
She says people counts are frequently neglected in ecological surveys.
“Generally we find out where the fish are, we find out where the whales are, [but] we actually don’t look where the people are,” she says.
She says the technique has been extensively used in fisheries surveys.
“We generally use 500 meters from the high tide mark as a cut off for our surveys.
“We cover that interface between the land and the sea, and we usually monitor vessels and what they’re doing out to about five kilometres from the coast.
“When we fly we photograph every single activity we see.
“All our digital photos are date-stamped [and] time-stamped against the flight line.
“We’ve got a GPS logger running so we’ve got [the] actual flight line.
“And then we’ve got some crafty software that we’re using now to bring the photos into a database and we identify all the activities in the photos.
“So for example I shoot a photo of the coast line, I know exactly where I am and I see three four-wheel-drive vehicles, three people standing in the shore fishing, two people lying in the sun burning themselves, and three kids swimming, then we detail all of those activities and yes, we map all that sort of stuff.”
She says it takes 2-3 hours to survey 4-500km of coastline.
There are three flight lines; Port Hedland to Broome taking in the Eighty-Mile Beach and Roebuck Bay; Crab Creek to Point Torment including the Dampier Peninsula coastline; and north of Point Torment, taking in the Buccaneer Archipelago and the Camden Sound coast.
“You get an accurate snapshot of where everyone is at the same time,” she says.
“You have people using the coast for recreation and for tourism, for cultural pursuits, for traditional things.
“Mostly people value the biodiversity … but people use that coast all the time, from traditional use, cultural use, to recreation use by the locals, tourists that come in—I think it’s a misnomer to think the western Kimberley coast is pristine.”
Notes: This is a WAMSI project, conducted by Murdoch University scientists under the direction of Prof Beckley.
This story pertains to deliveries in themes 1, 2 and 3 of the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.