The latest research highlights from the UWA Oceans Institute

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January 2023


Authored: by: Josh Bonesso & Camille Grimaldi


Director's Introduction


Dear Oceans Institute Community,

Welcome back to our members after a well earned break and holiday season. Wishing you all a productive start to the new year, and we look forward to sharing your research highlights and successes throughout 2023. 

We commence January with another special Research Highlights edition of the Oceans Institute's eNewsletter. This month we feature highlights from OI and AIMS@UWA Post-doctoral Researcher Dr Camille Grimaldi, who is utilising her expertise in reef hydrodynamics to investigate coral reef resilience within the Exmouth Gulf bio-region of Western Australia. 

The OI will be providing a number of Research Highlights editions throughout the year, showcasing examples of the outstanding research across the Institute, and demonstrating the diversity and impactful work of OI members.
We invite OI members from across UWA and our partners/collaborators to contact or to have your research  featured. We are keen to share your successes with our extensive ocean community! 


Dr Christophe Gaudin
Director, Oceans Institute


Dr Camille Grimaldi 
AIMS@UWA Post-doctoral Research Associate

About the researcher: 

Camille Grimaldi is a Post-doctoral Research Associate within the AIMS@UWA alliance. She recently completed a PhD in Physical Oceanography at the University of Western Australia in 2021 deciphering oceanic drivers of reef hydrodynamics, connectivity and thermodynamics of a remote coral reef atoll off Western Australia's north-west shelf

Investigating Oceanographic Drivers
of reef resilience in WA's Exmouth Gulf 

The success of coral restoration depends on a range of physical and biological processes that govern how reef organisms interact with their environment. As such, a team of marine researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Western Australia's (UWA) Oceans Institute are investigating the environmental drivers of restoration effectiveness on degraded coral reef ecosystems. The multidisciplinary project, an AIMS@UWA alliance collaboration, jointly supported by the  Minderoo Foundation and its Minderoo Exmouth Research Lab (MERL), are targeting their attention on nearshore marginal reefs of the western Exmouth Gulf, in North-Western, Western Australia. 

Over the course of the collaboration, Camille, a Post-doctoral researcher specialising in coral reef hydrodynamics, has been deploying oceanographic instrumentation across Bundegi Reef, a nearshore fringing reef system 15 km north of Exmouth township. These deployments have included current profilers, pressure and temperature loggers - critical in gathering high-resolution data on a range of important environmental parameters in the area. With the help of numerical modelling, those measurements will help answer two key questions: (1) what is the optimal placement of restoration structures based on most favourable environmental conditions and (2) what physical factors (e.g. tide, waves) drive coral larval connectivity pathways within the study region to optimise the capacity of the reefs to be both effective coral recruitment sites, and once established, act as potential larval source sites to supply neighbouring reef areas.

The aim of the research is to understand the natural variability of reef systems and identifying environmental conditions that promote coral reef resilience and recovery, which is pivotal to advancing our ability to conserve and manage coral reefs. Given the future trajectory of coral reefs under warming ocean conditions (e.g. increased bleaching frequency/intensity), insights into the environmental drivers of resilience in marginal ecosystems (like Bundegi) and their clear-water counterparts (e.g., Ningaloo Reef), will be important in the future strategic management and restoration of these critical marine ecosystems.  

Why Exmouth Gulf Reefs? 

Exmouth Gulf Reefs (including Bundegi Reef located within the Ningaloo Reef World Heritage Area) have been subjected to severe extreme weather events such as marine heatwaves and cyclones, which, for example, have caused living coral abundance to decrease. With some of these reefs showing reduced recovery following these impacts, including dramatic loss in coral cover and increased rates of degradation. Understanding the oceanographic circulation of the area can help us understand key mechanisms for coral reef resilience and recovery from disturbances. Those results will provide timely and critical insights into the Exmouth Gulf environment, as a new marine park is to be established to preserve the region’s unique environmental and cultural values. 

Aerial image of the western coastline of Exmouth Gulf. Unlike the clear-water western coastline of Cape Range Peninsula, the Exmouth Gulf is home to many marginal coral reef systems, that experience unique environmental conditions (Photo credit: Victorien Paumard). 
AIMS@UWA Post-doctoral Research Fellow Camille Grimaldi has been deploying sophisticated oceanographic instrumentation off Bundegi Reef, Exmouth Gulf to understand drivers of coral reef resilience (Photo credit: Camille Grimaldi, AIMS@UWA Post-doctoral Researcher). 

“We hope to provide insights into the Exmouth Gulf environmental conditions to guide coral reef restoration efforts.”

- Dr Camille Grimaldi (AIMS@UWA)

How Resilient are Bundegi Corals?
Uncovering the heat stress response from population to genetic scales

In addition to understanding oceanographic drivers of heat-resistance, the team has established permanent quadrats across Bundegi Reef to capture coral population dynamics, including changes in percent coral cover, health metrics (i.e., changes in coral colour) and species composition across the sites.

AIMS@UWA PhD Student Declan Stick, Lead Scientist Dr Luke Thomas, Dr James Gilmour and Dr Carolina Castro have also been collecting coral nubbins (fragments) from across Bundegi Reef to conduct heat-stress experiments at the MERL aquaria facilities. Here, corals will be subjected to a variety of different temperature anomalies to provide fine-scale insights into population-level variability in heat-resilience within this specific area of the Exmouth Gulf. 

The Ultimate Goal

It is the fine-scale genetic response paired with spatial-scale oceanographic conditions that researchers will use to better predict and forecast reef-scale resilience to thermal stress, and how to better enhance the management and restoration of degraded reef ecosystems in the face of future environmental change.  

The OI looks forward to sharing the outcomes of this collaboration. Stay tuned for up-coming results in early 2023! 


“We want to work out which corals might survive climate change, and foster an environment for which they can thrive in.”

- Dr Luke Thomas (AIMS@UWA)
Researchers conducting coral population assessment and health monitoring surveys across Bundegi Reef, Exmouth Gulf (Photo credit: Carolina Castro, AIMS Post-doctoral Researcher). 

This project is supported by the Oceans Institute, AIMS and Minderoo Foundation. 


Oceans Institute News
Keep up-to-date with all the latest stories

Beach walkers invited to help penguin research

A Western Australian Marine Science Institution project, led by a scientist from The University of Western Australia, is inviting people to help penguin research while getting fit. Read more here

Spotting plastic waste from space and counting the fish in the seas: here’s how AI can help protect the oceans

You’ve seen the art AI image generators can create, and you may have played with natural language AI chatbots. AI’s exceptional pattern recognition can trawl through satellite images and map the tonnes of plastic pollution threatening our seas. Read more here

Albany to ride ocean energy wave

Albany’s potential to be a super power when it comes to harnessing clean energy from oceans has been backed by two new reports which outline the Great Southern region’s internationally superior offshore energy resource and the ‘Value in Waves’ for WA’s future economy. Read more here

They say we know more about the Moon than about the deep sea. They’re wrong.

This article by Professor Alan Jamieson and Dr Prema Arasu, from the Minderoo UWA Deep Sea Research Centre, with Thomas Linley, from Newcastle University originally appeared in The Conversation.
Read more here. 

Science influences art in marine inspired exhibition

An art exhibition that fuses scientific knowledge with creative inspiration is set to open later this month in Albany.
Immerse will feature artworks by 20 MIX Artists from the Great Southern that showcase a unique art-science collaboration between contemporary artists and marine scientists working in the region Read more here. 

Oceans Events 

Feb 2
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

OceanOmics Centre - Guest Seminar

About the event:

Evolution, connectivity, and resilience in deep-sea chemosynthetic-based ecosystems 

Presented by: Maeva Perez (PhD Candidate)

Venue: IOMRC Auditorium

The industry is ready to exploit the mineral resources lying on the seafloor and the issuing of mining permits is imminent despite concerning knowledge gaps about the key evolutionary and ecological processes at play in these ecosystems.
In the eastern Pacific, deep-sea chemosynthetic-based communities are characterized by dense aggregations of vesicomyid clams (in hydrocarbon seeps) or tubeworms (in hydrothermal vents) which both rely on chemolithotrophic bacteria for their nutrition. In the clams these symbionts are transmitted directly to the next generation through the eggs whereas in the tubeworms the symbionts are acquired de novo from the environment.
What are the consequences of the symbiont transmission mode on their evolution? How are the free-living symbiont populations connected? What can we learn from the host epigenomes? 

A partnership of the:

March 12
10:00 am - 3:00 pm

University of Western Australia OPEN DAY

About the event:

Interested in studying at The University of Western Australia?

Come along to the annual open day to discover how you can achieve your study and career goals with us. Explore our campus and talk to our academics, graduates and get to know what UWA has on offer. Be the first to know as we roll out more details by signing up below! Plus, if you’re planning on traveling to Perth specifically for this event, we will provide you with even more details on where to stay and things to do while you’re here!

Where to find us (Oceans Institute):

The Oceans Institute stall and representatives will be located in the EZONE Interactive Laboratory Space on the Ground Floor. Look out for the OI banner or ask one of UWA's friendly staff for directions! 

Register your interest below!

CRICOS Provider Code: 00126G