UWA Oceans Institute

Major project areas

Through collaborative and interdisciplinary research. The UWA Oceans Institute is supporting and promoting smart, sustainable and secure uses of the oceans to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing global population.

Our researchers are involved in a range of multidisciplinary projects that seek to address key challenges facing our oceans and communities through a comprehensive and connected approach to marine research.

Decommissioning offshore infrastructure

A multi-disciplinary approach to decommissioning offshore infrastructure continues to be strongly researched by UWA Oceans Institute members.

In the coming decades, the oil and gas industry is facing the prospect of decommissioning significant numbers of installations at the end of their lives. Tens of thousands of wells, thousands of platforms and many thousands of kilometres of seabed pipelines sit in the ocean, forming an underwater network of natural-resource infrastructure.

The UWA Oceans Institute has the multi disciplinary expertise to develop innovative and transformative decommissioning solutions that maximise the benefit to the marine environment and engineering capability and societal benefits, and minimise environmental damage, financial cost and risk to people and marine life. We work across a range of disciplines all of which are required in developing solutions to the challenge of decommissioning offshore infrastructure.

UWA Oceans Institute research suggests decommissioning is not a one-size-fits-all approach. While some offshore oil and gas facilities will respond better to complete removal there are other cases where they are best left in water or relocated to provide marine habitats ('rigs to reefs'). There is no optimal decommissioning solution and each piece of infrastructure brings with it its own unique cost, legal requirements and environmental considerations.

In the US and EU, where the oil and gas industry was established early, government and industry have already had to explore the scientific, engineering, economic, legal and environmental challenges of decommissioning. However, Australia's offshore oil and gas industry is younger and, as a result, the fate of decommissioned offshore infrastructure is still an emerging issue.

It is clear that further research is needed both in terms of engineering options and potential law reform to allow for in situ decommissioning in Australia, as well as work by marine scientists, economists and other social scientists including sociologists to explore community concerns.

UWA Oceans Institute decommissioning research continues to be at the forefront of this international marine issue with our members' expertise actively contributing to robust and relevant conversations with academia, government, industry and relevant society stakeholders.

Key publications

Renewable wave energy

Energy security is a critical issue in the twenty-first century and harnessing renewable energy resources from the oceans is an important component of the blue economy agenda in Australia and internationally.

The UWA Oceans Institute has a track record in the field of marine renewable energy and is well placed to provide solutions that draw upon its multi-disciplinary strengths. The breadth and depth of our research covers engineering, scientific and social science fields.

Unlike oil and gas developments, the technology for renewable marine energy is in its infancy. Although some of these technologies are more developed, they have not led to many commercial scale production facilities. Western Australia is one of the most promising wave and tidal energy locations in the world and UWA is at the forefront of multidisciplinary research in this field.

In late 2017, the Western Australia State Government awarded $3.75 million to UWA to establish a new wave energy centre in Albany. The Wave Energy Research Centre will put Western Australia at the forefront of offshore renewable energy research and technology, and help increase our knowledge and understanding of wave, tidal and offshore wind energy.

The UWA Oceans Institute has a recognised strength in seabed characterisation, foundation and anchoring design, operational and extreme hydrodynamics as well as wave resource and environmental impact assessment. Much of this work is undertaken through the UWA Oceans Institute, Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems (COFS) and UWA Centre for Energy.

The UWA Oceans Institute is also home to facilities necessary to conduct renewable energy research. These include the National Geotechnical Centrifuge Facility, the Dual Paddle 50m long Coastal and Offshore Wave flume (1.2m deep, 1.5m wide) and the oceanographic field instrumentation.

Members of the UWA Oceans Institute have expertise in energy law, public policy, corporate governance and marine environmental law. The Institute has the can conduct financial modelling of renewable energy options as well as broader economic analysis to capture economic analysis to capture economic and social impacts.

Other relevant areas of expertise include academics focused on issues such as social impact, science communication, community engagement and education and training.

Key publications

Marine resource economics

Marine resource economics addresses the interaction of people with the coastal and marine environment.

Economic modelling offers a framework to stitch together the social and scientific aspects of a policy or project or marine system, bringing different elements together in a common and quantitative language.

The Oceans Institute is engaged in multiple marine research initiatives that are aimed at providing advice about how a project or policy might perform, how to best manage a marine resource, and how people are affected by changes in marine management.

Research projects include:

    Optimal management and resource allocation, including managing recreational fishing at Ningaloo, and strategies to reduce nutrient pollution on the Great Barrier Reef.
    Benefit-cost analyses of marine eco-tourism, including evaluation of shark-diving tourism in Palau, the Maldives and Semporna.
    Benefit-cost analyses of ecological habitat restoration, including shellfish and seagrass habitats.
    Social licence to operate for marine industries, including mining, tourism and fisheries.
    Evaluation of community preferences for marine conservation and management, including measuring community values for marine parks, community values for coastal assets affected by coastal hazards, social acceptance of marine biodiversity offsets, and comparisons of how the general public value the marine environment relative to marine scientists.

Research in marine resource economics is undertaken by Oceans Institute members at the Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy (CEEP), UWA.

Key publications

Fish, fisheries and offshore subsea infrastructure

The University of Western Australia Oceans Institute conducts world class research in the development and application of remote video technology for surveying fish assemblages and bio fouling marine growth on and around offshore subsea infrastructure, this includes baited remote underwater stereo-video systems (stereo-BRUVS) and scientific analysis industrial remotely operated vehicle (ROV) footage.

With multidisciplinary research strengths that span marine science, economics and social sciences – researchers at the Institute can provide essential information on the value of offshore infrastructure to commercial and recreational fisheries.

The Institute works closely with commercial fishers, Recfishwest, Fisheries, WAFIC and Subcon to research alternative decommissioning strategies including partial removal, relocation and augmentation to benefit the fishing and diving communities whilst ensuring minimal risks to the environment.

Baited remote underwater stereo-video systems (stereo BRUVs) can be deployed alongside subsea infrastructure (e.g. pipelines and well heads) and in adjacent natural habitats from the shallows to depths < 200m.

This method is particularly effective at sampling predatory (often commercially and recreational targeted) fish species, as it uses bait to attract animals to the camera systems.

Stereo-BRUVs also sample a broader suite of fish than other techniques, including omnivorous and herbivorous species.

Stereo-BRUVS are an accurate, efficient, cost-effective and statistically powerful took for sampling fish assemblages. Modifications of the technique have also enabled mid-water and deep sea surveys of fish.

The Oceans Institute is equipped with a full high-definition stereo-BRUVs for efficient use of field time with high replication and large spatial coverage.

Our experience in the ecological analysis of underwater video imagery is important to the oil and gas industry where video imagery is collected through ROV inspections of subsea infrastructure such as platforms and pipelines.

The ecological value of industry collected ROV still photos and video is immense and often collected in locations and on a scale unobtainable by scientists.

There is a clear need to understand the habitat value of subsea infrastructure and how these structures influence fish populations, particularly in the context of informing best practice for decommissioning.

Our research team have broad experience in statistical design, analysis and modelling, report writing, data presentation and quality control and assurance.

Key publications

Marine megafauna movement

Researchers at the UWA Oceans Institute are advancing the field of marine movement ecology with the aim of enhancing the sustainable and effective use of marine resources, conserving biodiversity and better understanding the movements of animals in the ocean.

Technical advances make this an exciting time for animal movement studies.

Due to the great distances these animals travel throughout their lifetimes and at varying depths of the ocean, getting a precise understanding of their movements can be challenging. Recent advancements in technology such as the creation of new sensors, analytics and visualisation tools mean that better data can be collected to reveal the collective behaviour of large marine animals.

The economic and ecological value of this research will help to set global standards and increase national capacity for the analysis of large ecological datasets, as well as support the conservation and management of economically important, charismatic and threatened species.

To adequately conserve and protect marine megafauna, reliable data is needed to understand where these animals are located in space and time.

Marine megafauna such as sharks, whales and turtles can be impacted by developments in the oil and gas industry, ocean pollution (including plastic and noise), port infrastructure, coastal and offshore fisheries and shipping. However, the extent of such impacts are currently unknown, due to our limited understanding of how, where and why these highly migratory species move.

Advancing scientific knowledge of marine megafauna movement patterns and ecology will provide industry and regulators with more accurate data that can be used in the design of environmental protection legislation and to help minimise impacts from anthropogenic activities.

Marine megafauna movement also plays a crucial role in the global transport of nutrients in the ocean. The long distance migrations of these animals, spaning thousands of kilometres of open ocean, are integral to the mixing of nutrients from cold rich waters of the deep to the warm, nutrient poor surface. Therefore, understanding marine megafauna movement will also increase our understanding of ocean mixing.

Key publications