‘Marine heatwave’ review provides valuable lessons

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Marine scientists are collaborating to better reveal the causes and consequences of the recent marine heatwave along WA’s West Coast.

During a recent Department of Fisheries workshop, participants committed to producing scientific papers and sharing information that would help researchers better understand the unusual event earlier this year that was responsible for fish, lobster and abalone deaths along the mid-west coast and in the Abrolhos, Kalbarri and Leeman areas.

Acting Director of Research Dr Dan Gaughan said, in some cases, these were the warmest sea temperatures ever recorded for these regions.

'There were also significant amounts of coral bleaching along WA’s Coast,' Dr Gaughan said.

The Department of Environment and Conservation and others, including Fisheries, CSIRO and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) research staff have been recording the impacts.

'About 80 marine scientists and managers from around the State attended the workshop and further work is now being done on topics such as coral bleaching, oceanography and range extension of some marine species along the West and South coasts.'

Dr Gaughan said the collaboration is being supported by the Department of Fisheries and CSIRO, to explore possible causes and effects of the ‘heatwave’ phenomenon.

'An extensive patch of very warm water grew and moved southwards over several months from November 2010, before starting to dissipate in late March this year,' he said.

'It caused rare sights, like the appearance of some unusual species, such as whale sharks and Spanish mackerel, in waters off our Southern coastline.

'They appear to have been influenced by a very strong La Nina event that caused masses of tropical water to flow through Indonesia and maintained high temperatures as it moved south.

'The scientists now have a better idea of the review process and they will be working together in the coming months to ensure details around the marine heatwave are properly recorded.'

Dr Gaughan said much of the information on ‘strange occurrences’ along the West and South Coasts, which was presented at the workshop, originated from fishers or other members of the public who contacted Department of Fisheries’ staff or other agencies.

'We also want to trial a system to better collate such public observations in the future,' he said.

Department of Fisheries WA website