Pristine Great Southern Reef a new ‘hope spot’

Daryna ZadvirnaAlbany Advertiser
Phd student Carly Portch and Great Southern Marine Research Facility manager Wiebke Ebeling at Frenchman's Bay.
Camera IconPhd student Carly Portch and Great Southern Marine Research Facility manager Wiebke Ebeling at Frenchman's Bay. Credit: Laurie Benson/Picture: Albert Pessarrodona., Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

The Great Southern Reef is set to gain global attention and attract more researchers to Albany after receiving international recognition.

US not-for-profit ocean conservation organisation Mission Blue named Australia’s Great Southern Reef as the new “hope spot” last week.

University of WA Oceans Institute researcher Sahira Bell, who nominated the GSR for its new title, said it was described as one of the world’s unique temperate reefs and had earned its title because of its extensive kelp forests.

“Some of the most pristine sections of the Great Southern Reef are along Australia’s south coast — the stretch between Albany and Esperance,” she said.

In the past few years, areas like Two Peoples Bay and Frenchman Bay have been a focus for researchers from the UWA’s Oceans Institute.

“Here, the dense kelp forests drive productivity and life on the reef,” Ms Bell said.

Marine life at Little Beach.
Camera IconMarine life at Little Beach. Credit: Albert Pessarrodona.

Current research in areas around Albany focuses on the health of the kelp forests, understanding the local drivers of reef fish distribution, and ways to harness renewable energy from the ocean.

UWA Great Southern marine research facility manager Dr Wiebke Ebeling said kelp might seem underwhelming but it was hugely important.

“It has a very narrow preference for water temperature, so it’s a really good indicator for water health, but also how much our ocean warms due to climate change as we will see it reflected in the kelp population,” she said.

Dr Ebeling said the reef in the Albany region had a lot of potential and should attract more researchers to the city’s UWA marine facility.

“Now that the GSF has been given this badge, it will obviously draw lots of research interest and our new facility here would be the natural home base for any field work happening in the region,” she said.

But Ms Bell said the preserved and untouched nature of sections of the reef between Albany and Esperance was “a double-edged sword.”

“It attracts scientists from all around the country who seek to understand these healthy ecosystems that remain virtually untouched and unexplored,” she said.

“But presently, the sections along the continental shelf are relatively unmapped, making it difficult for large-scale research ventures to take place.”

“In fact, it’s estimated that the last time these areas were mapped were by Flinders in the early 1800s.”

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