UWA Oceans Institute

Multidisciplinary expertise

The strength and potential of the UWA Oceans Institute resides in its ability to call upon its breadth and depth of marine expertise.

The Institute’s core disciplines are marine biology and ecology, physical oceanography and ocean engineering, but its research reaches into the health and social sciences, particularly through marine environmental law, resource economics, history and archaeology.

In each of these disciplines, new knowledge advances our social and economic development and wellbeing.

Brought together, the capabilities have the capacity to solve major challenges, delivering significant societal benefit.

Ocean engineering, innovation and enterprise

The Blue Economy is a promising sector for economic growth. The Oceans Institute brings together researchers from offshore, geotechnical and coastal engineering as well as resource economics and business to develop innovative and multidisciplinary solutions for a sustainable blue economy.

Using world-leading testing facilities and numerical models, our members conduct research on, for example, offshore fixed and floating structures, fluid-structure interaction, seabed characterisation, waves, extreme hydrodynamics and asset management.

Specific areas of research address the performance and risk factors of offshore foundation systems, hydrodynamic load on structures, scour around structures and pipelines, port development and logistics.

Through close collaboration with industry partners, our researchers deliver applied solutions for marine renewable energy, oil and gas and coastal infrastructure and operations.

Examples include the development of novel anchoring systems for wave energy devices, assessment of the integrity of offshore and deep-sea structures, the design of floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facilities, as well as the development of electric and autonomous vehicles for ocean operations.

Researchers in the Business School work on innovation and enterprise, optimum governance structures and strategic leadership. If technological developments are to be commercialised then efficient and effective business solutions are critical.

Marine species, ecosystems and management

Healthy marine environments are at the core of sustainable global development. To sustainably manage complex marine ecosystems, it is critical to understand biological and ecological processes.

Our researchers study the marine environment on a species and ecosystem level, and work in the tropical and temperate waters off the Western Australian coast, as well as nationally and internationally.

Using state-of the-art techniques such as stereo-video cameras, animal tagging and specialised laboratories, our researchers study the physiology, ecology and behaviour of marine species.

This research includes, for example, coral reef ecology, fish ecology, microbial ecology, marine plant ecology, spatial ecology, benthic ecology and marine neurobiology as well as research on seabirds, reptiles and invertebrates.

Our researchers also study marine food-web interactions, nutrient cycles and the impacts of climate change including ocean acidification and global warming.

We strive to achieve a holistic understanding of marine ecosystems through our research. This helps us to inform better strategies to safeguard marine conservation and restoration as well as to manage human activity.

Our researchers are involved in key, global research projects to support, promote and improve the development of sustainable management of marine resources.

Human health, biomedicine and water quality

The oceans host a range of opportunities for human health, beyond nutritional benefits from seafood.

Unlocking the genome of marine organisms has opened the door to ground-breaking innovations for a range of industries such as food, cosmetics and bio-medicine.

Researchers at the Oceans Institute explore usages for living marine resources – from entire organisms to molecules to genomes - to benefit human health and well-being.

This necessarily involves biomedical engineering focusing on better diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease, as well as translational engineering and medicine.

Climate change will have further impacts on human health as, for example, disease vectors change and medical researchers focus on predicting and addressing these challenges.

Other researchers also focus on the adverse impacts of human activity on the oceans and human health such as contaminants, pollution and diseases. Examples of this research include the fate and transport of decomposing seagrass wrack in coastal waters, groundwater nitrogen plumes in coastal waters and water quality management.

Water quality issues are critical for coastal and estuarine health, to support opportunities for aquaculture and to ensure uses of the ocean for recreation and tourism can be sustained.

Ocean and coastal dynamics, observations and modelling

Reliable marine forecasts and knowledge of the physical marine environment are vital to all human activities in the oceans and coastal zones. The Oceans Institute hosts a range of academics who conduct research into the fundamental physical, biological and bio-geochemical processes occurring within the oceans and the coastal zone.

Our scientists use state-of-the-art field instrumentation, physical laboratory experiments, remote sensing as well as computer models to understand the impacts of climate change, sea level rise and extreme events across a range of scales from the nearshore zone to larger-scale studies of shelf systems and ocean basins.

Examples of this research include the implications of global change such as marine heat waves and ocean acidification, oceanic and coastal responses to tropical cyclones and storm surges, the dynamics of large-scale currents as well as the transport of key material along the coast by ocean processes (e.g. contaminants, larvae, and nutrients).

The research conducted at the Oceans Institute improves computer models to better predict, for example, the role of the ocean in climate models, wave and sediment processes in reef environments and marine hazards such as storm surges and tsunamis.

The improved prediction of present and future ocean conditions is critical to support a wide range of ocean applications from forecasting ocean climate variability, to the risks and impacts of contaminant spills, ocean hazards, maritime safety and to assessing the resilience of marine ecosystems.

Maritime histories, coastal communities and ocean values

Human culture and history are inherently linked with the coasts and oceans, which impacts upon our relationships with the ocean today as well as our management approaches.

The Oceans Institute involves a range of academics from various disciplines that explore the human dimension of the oceans.

Researchers in this area of expertise are social scientists from the fields of maritime archaeology, environmental history, Indigenous and cultural heritage management, anthropology, maritime crime, coastal zone management, marine ecosystem management as well as recreational and commercial fisheries management.

This area of expertise concerns the human relationship with the ocean over time and seeks to identify how social interactions and values can be harnessed to benefit people, coasts and oceans.

This area of research explores the human interactions on, around, and with the ocean addressing contemporary issues such as management of the land-water interface, imperatives of marine management in Small Island Developing States, identification and protection of tangible and intangible heritage and the drivers of negative human behaviour such as piracy.

Ocean governance, policy and economics

Sustainable management of the oceans requires good governance, policies and economic incentives. The Oceans Institute involves a range of academics from various disciplines working in these areas.

Predominantly, these scholars are social scientists in fields such as law, justice and regulation, public policy, international relations and politics, economics, human geography, business management and workforce planning, and psychology.

Specific areas of governance expertise include law of the sea, marine environmental law, fisheries regulation, energy law, and tourism regulation.

The Oceans Institute covers a wide range of topics in marine policy and economics, including optimal management of marine systems, benefit cost analysis, community preferences and values, social license, market analysis, policy evaluation, market based incentives, and productivity and risk analysis.

In this context, economic frameworks and models provide a platform to integrate multi-disciplinary data from the natural and social sciences to quantify outcomes, which is particularly useful when providing advice on the performance of a project, policy or management plan.