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

Coinciding with the start of National Science Week, the Ningaloo Outlookpartnership builds on research started in 2015 to collect information tosupport the management and conservation of the highly-valued marine andcoastal 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, withresults 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 wouldcontinue to deliver bold and innovative science to support sustainable oceanmanagement.

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

“Bringing world-class science together with Australian industry will increaseour understanding of Ningaloo and enhance the sustainable use of our marineenvironment, ensuring long-lasting benefits for the Australian community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Together with CSIRO, we are bringing real-world science to hundreds of schoolstudents and local community groups.

“This is a tangible way to deliver learning opportunities and increaseawareness of the reef.”

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

  • 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 ecologicaldatasets for Ningaloo Reef.

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

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