By Erin Parke
Updated Tue Apr 9, 2013 11:39am AEST
Plans are being finalised for the biggest study of marine life along the Kimberley coast.
The Kimberley Marine Research Program will get underway in June, with more than 100 researchers and PHD students expected to descend on the region.
The program has expanded rapidly since the State Government allocated an initial $12 million in 2011.
Seven universities and research institutions have come on board, creating a total funding pool of around $30 million.
Program leader Chris Simpson says the studies undertaken will be vast in scope and run over six years.
“It’s a phenomenal range of programs, involving all the major scientists and scientific institutions in Western Australia and some from interstate and even overseas,” he said.
“Places like the Kimberley, probably one of the last great wilderness areas in a developed country, is very attractive to people to come and do science research , because it’s such a relatively unknown area.”
Dr Simpson says the program will allow governments to make better decisions about what development should be permitted in an area coming under increasing pressure from marine tourism and the oil and gas industry.
“It really comes back to those four words – better science, better decisions,” he said.
“If you have that understanding, then it allows you to make informed decisions around whether things are acceptable or unacceptable, and therefore should or shouldn’t be allowed to go ahead.”
The data gathered will also help the Department of Environment and Conservation devise management strategies for four marine park planned in the area, at Roebuck Bay, Eighty Mile Beach, Camden South and in the northern Kimberley waters.
The dozens of research projects will focus on understanding tidal movements, coral growth, and identifying “biodiversity hot-spots”.
Dr Simpson says researchers will also move beyond the study of flora and fauna to look at the current and historic use of Kimberley waters.
“We know there’s lots of tourism and recreation there, we know there’s pearling and aquaculture and fishing, and we’re trying to predict how those use patterns will trend in the future because that’s obviously important thing for managing the impacts of human use on the environment,” he said.
Co-ordinators are currently working with the Aboriginal communities that dot the region’s remote coastlines to ensure their arrival is understood and welcome.
Dr Simpson says harnessing local Indigenous knowledge is one of the main aims.
“There are a lot of Indigenous communities that have lived along that coastline for thousands of years and they’ve got incredible knowledge about their local areas,” he said.
“We’ve got a program that’s going to look at collating that knowledge, obviously with their help and agreement, and we hope to be able to use try to use that to try to protect and conserve the Kimberley.”
The researchers are gearing up to spend weeks at sea, aboard the 35 metre research vessel, the Solander.
Dr Simpson says it is an exciting time for the state’s marine science community.
“This program will make a big dent in the current knowledge gaps that we currently have,” he said.