The world’s oceans challenge us to explore and discover what lies below, yet they also remain some of the least understood habitats on Earth. The seas provide the biggest space for animals and plants, and life is found from the surface to the deepest depths.
Researchers at the UWA Oceans Institute are uncovering the oceans' secrets and learning about the enormous oceanic biodiversity from the shallows to the deep sea floor. The better we understand ocean-based life, and the complex processes that sustain it, the better we can protect it and predict the effects of future change.
As the blue economy moves ever further off shore, scientific investigation must go hand-in-hand, although the challenges of ocean exploration can be formidable.
We must urgently develop new and innovative technologies to investigate the furthest reaches of our deepest oceans to understand, wisely utilise and protect our resources.
Our researchers are undertaking exploration and discovery across the following areas:
Biodiversity conservation is underpinned by research that determines how plants and animals are distributed in relation to the environment and how these distributions are influenced by human activities. The Oceans Institute is researching biodiversity to support policy decisions on marine protected areas, climate change mitigation, and environmental impact assessments. Our research spans ecology, population biology, behaviour, neurobiology and evolutionary biology with emerging approaches such as remote sampling and genomics becoming increasingly relevant.
The Oceans Institute has diverse expertise in conservation biology, both nationally and internationally. We have expertise in benthic habitats, reef fishes, pelagic fishes and sharks and marine mammals. Our work is both documentary in terms of distribution and abundance of marine wildlife, and process-driven in terms of ecological controls and environmental influences on biodiversity.
Our research directly contributes to the design of marine protected areas in terms of location and zoning, and provides the monitoring data needed to report on the response of marine communities to protection through time, as a way of assessing the value of the investment in marine protection. By improving our understanding of the processes that support biodiversity maintenance, our research provides decision-makers with a basis for improved protection.
Ocean wildlife is amongst the planet’s most diverse and elusive, from large sharks travelling thousands of kilometres, to turtles nesting on beaches and then disappearing for years at sea. Many of these species, such as turtles, whale sharks and seabirds are also iconic in that they capture the public’s attention and thus their support for ocean conservation. Iconic species often occupy important ecological roles and are threatened by habitat degradation, exploitation and climate change. Therefore, understanding their distribution, ecology, movements and both environmental and sensory drivers of behaviour is paramount to their management.
The Oceans Institute has diverse expertise in iconic species research. We conduct research on sharks and rays, turtles and sea snakes, seabirds and marine mammals to provide basic information on their abundance, distribution, survival strategies, sensory abilities and management.
Current research projects include understanding how iconic species, such as sharks, perceive and process their sensory world under different environmental conditions. These apex predators possess an impressive battery of senses evolved over a period of 400 million years, and are particularly adept at detecting a plethora of signals that indicate the presence of food, mates, predators and anthropogenic activity. Mid-water camera systems document the distribution and abundance of oceanic sharks, many of which are iconic and threatened, while research on the thermal thresholds of sea turtles provide crucial insights into how these marine reptiles respond to climate change. Tagging and tracking of a range of sea birds and sharks enables the monitoring of movement patterns often over large spatial scales, assisting in identifying the importance of specific habitats and the susceptibility of these iconic animals to changes in water temperature and coastal development.
Our research directly contributes to management of iconic species, many of which are nationally protected and/or vulnerable. By understanding their status, abundance, behaviour, movement patterns and habitat use, we support strategies for their management, including recommendations on protected areas, fisheries bycatch reduction, mitigation, their impact on biodiversity indicators and connectivity and their vulnerability to both natural and anthropogenic change.
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