Watermans Bay: researchers start moving into southern hemisphere’s largest marine research centre


Dr Verena Schoepf with Kimberley coral in tanks. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d472798
Watermans Bay: researchers start moving into southern hemisphere’s largest marine research centre
Dr Verena Schoepf with Kimberley coral in tanks. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d472798

RESEARCHERS are moving into the southern hemisphere’s largest Indian Ocean marine research centre on the Watermans Bay coast, which has recently undergone a $13 million refurbishment.

The Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) tackles a range of key research projects, from the effects of warming oceans due to climate change, sustainable fish farming to the sensory systems of sharks.

A refurbished former fisheries building, the centre is part of UWA’s $63 million Ocean’s Institute in collaboration with the WA Fisheries Department, CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

UWA Oceans Institute director Erika Techera said it was the largest marine research centre in the southern hemisphere in terms of size, breadth of research and number of researchers.

“We have about 300 researchers across the Watermans Bay facility and the UWA facility,” she said.

“We also have many different disciplines including fish biologists, coral reef experts and oceanographers.

“An important aspect of research is looking at seagrass species close to Perth because they are habitats for many species and they can protect the coast from erosion.

“As we have climate change and more extreme weather events whatever protection we can get is important.”

Professor Techera said the facility’s proximity to the ocean allowed for seawater to be pumped directly into the centre for experiments.

“This allows for a greater range of experiments that you couldn’t usually do at a university campus,” she said.

“Another benefit is that UWA PhD students get to work directly with WA Department of Fisheries and the CSIRO which can bring an added dimension with research and link it to real world applications.

“I think the bigger picture is how we make all of that new knowledge we are exploring feed into management practices for WA Fisheries Department and the broader picture of ensuring ocean health in WA.”

UWA research associate Verena Schoepf is currently working on a project at the centre to discover how resilient Kimberley corals can cope with the warming effects of climate change.

“I hope to identify the mechanisms that enable these corals to be so resistant and look into whether we can take these corals and locate them to different reefs for restoration purposes which might be an option in the future,” she said.

Dr Schoepf said while the Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching attracted most of the national media attention, WA reefs in the Kimberley were also significantly affected.

“Aerial surveys found that in the southern Kimberley all of the reefs had about 50 per cent bleaching; some of the offshore reefs bleached up to 90 per cent,” she said.

The centre received a $1 million state government grant last month, which will allow for six new laboratories to support aquaculture projects.