UWA Oceans Institute

Building Resilience

Our experts

We are heavily dependent on our oceans for a variety of uses, including food, transport, energy, tourism and ecosystem services, but the world’s oceans are facing unprecedented challenges.

Building ecosystem and societal resilience is important because at some stage our oceans must resist these impacts or risk moving beyond critical tipping points. We must understand our ocean ecosystems and equip communities, decision–makers and industries with the knowledge needed to prepare for future threats and challenges to our oceans, and enable them to resist and recover from major ocean disturbances and climate-related stressors.

At the UWA Oceans Institute, we work to boost resilience by building knowledge and taking a long-term approach to understanding the risks facing our oceans and their ability to recover. We are investigating how our oceans will respond to the threats of ocean warming and acidification, overfishing, sea level rise and climate-related impacts to protect marine biodiversity.

Our researchers are exploring resilience across the following areas:

Fisheries and food security

Fisheries and food security

Ocean-derived protein is globally significant in its contribution to food security, with over 20% of human-consumed protein derived from fisheries. Global fish catches have increased exponentially, with these increases driven largely by technological innovation and spatial expansion of fisheries. Fisheries production has plateaued and is now declining, where there are less global fisheries considered to be sustainably exploited. There is also increasing evidence that climate change will negatively affect fisheries production. With continued human population growth, securing sustainable sources of protein is fundamental to development goals. In this context, sustainable aquaculture development will potentially be a key part of the solution.

Research Expertise

Fisheries-related research within the Oceans Institute includes understanding the processes that drive overexploitation of fish populations and the application of this knowledge to the recovery of these fish populations. By examining the broader ecosystem impacts of fishing and interactions between fisheries and the environment, we can better inform management strategies. Our research documents the status of exploited species, nationally and internationally, and the impact of management strategies (e.g. implementation of marine protected areas, licensing of high-capacity fishing vessels). We are also evaluating impacts of climate change on fisheries’ productivity and are involved in key, global research projects to support, promote and improve the development of sustainable aquaculture. We use innovative technologies for fisheries-related research including mid-water and seabed baited remote underwater video systems.

Problems we solve

Fundamental to ensuring food security is assessing the status of exploited species to support management decisions. Documenting the impacts of historical environmental variability on exploited species allows us to predict their response to future climate change with respect to growth and distribution. Our use of mid-water and seabed video systems to document the abundance and size structure of exploited species allows us to determine their status. Aiming at increasing aquaculture production in Australia, we are researching how to adopt ecosystem approaches to aquaculture development and to make use of marine spatial planning tools to account for the multiple uses taking place in our marine environments. The subsequent development of sustainable aquaculture areas will not only assist delivery of food security but also increase employment opportunities.

Conservation of marine habitats

Conservation of marine habitats

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Understanding our dynamic coasts

Understanding our dynamic coasts

The coastal zone is vital to Australia’s livelihood, with nearly 90% of Australians living within 50 km of our extensive (>35,000 km) coastline. Our coasts are under increasing pressures from continued coastal population growth coupled with the threat of rising sea levels that places an estimated $50 billion worth of coastal infrastructure at risk within Australia alone. The dynamics of the coastal zone also play a fundamental role in shaping our coastal ecosystems and nearshore water quality, by controlling the exchange of heat, nutrients, larvae, contaminants, and other material with the deeper ocean. An improved understanding of coastal dynamics is required to improve management of the coastal zone as well as develop strategies for adapting to coastal changes, which is critical not only to our economy but also our way of life.

Research Expertise

Oceans Institute scientists conduct research into the fundamental physical, chemical, and biological processes occurring within the coastal zone. This ranges from increasing our understanding of how beaches respond to storms and sea level rise, the impacts of ocean acidification on coral reefs, improving coastal water quality and biodiversity, to extracting Australia’s abundant wave energy to produce clean energy. This research expertise includes capabilities such as advanced numerical modelling as well as laboratory and field experimentation using state of the art instrumentation found nowhere else.

Problems we solve

The multidisciplinary research expertise within the Oceans Institute facilitates innovative approaches to answer both basic and applied science questions. Problems directly addressed by our coastal zone researchers include assessing the dynamics of coastal hazards, mitigation of long term beach erosion, understanding the causes of coral bleaching in Western Australia’s iconic coral reefs, improving models of coastal damage from extreme events such as tropical cyclones, restoration of critical coastal marine habitats, and enhancing the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas.

Impacts of climate variability

Impacts of climate variability

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Ecosystem health and biosecurity

Ecosystem health and biosecurity

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