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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

6 March 2009

Marine mammals research grants on offer

Environment Minister Peter Garrett has invited applications for a share in $1.5 million in grant funding for priority marine mammal research – a key part of the Government's commitment to creating the largest international whale research program in the world.

Mr Garrett said the funding, available through the Australian Marine Mammal Centre co-located at Hobart's Australian Antarctic Division, would be used for projects that would help answer important questions about Southern Ocean whales.

“The Australian Government is resolutely opposed to commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling in all its forms. We do not believe that you need to kill a whale to study it, however we also know that real, non-lethal scientific research can tell us so much more about whales and other cetaceans and the threats they face, including from climate change,” he said.

“That is why, in addition to pursuing a robust reform agenda for the International Whaling Commission, we have dedicated about $32 million over the next five years to work with the other nations of the Commission on a non-lethal research partnership that will demonstrate once and for all that we can have science without needing to kill a single whale.

Humpback tail

Humpback whale tail at Hervey Bay. Image courtesy of Mark Farrell.

“The marine mammal research grants currently available will be targeted to address the most pressing marine mammal conservation needs not just in whales but also scientific questions relating to dolphins, seals, sea lions and dugongs.”

As well as almost doubling the value of grants that had previously been available, the Minister said in this 2009 funding round, longer-term projects up to three years duration would be considered rather than the previous one-year time frame.

Applications are invited for research proposed that support Australia's national and international whale and marine mammal priorities, and include looking at:

In 2007/2008, 11 marine mammal projects were funded through the Australian Marine Mammals Centre.

These included projects to estimate the abundance of migrating humpback whales; develop a new computerised fluke matching database for humpback whales photographed off the east coast of Australia; decrease marine mammal bycatch in fisheries; increase the accuracy of dugong population estimates; and investigate the winter foraging ecology of the southern elephant seal, the Weddell seal and the Antarctic fur seal.

More information on the Marine Mammals Research Grants is available from www.marinemammals.gov.au

Queensland fishery under improved management

A Queensland fishery will be able to continue exporting for a further three years under improved management arrangements following Queensland's response to an independent expert review.

Great white shark

Great white shark at the Great Barrier Reef. Image courtesy of Mike Ball and Rodney Fox.

“The new management arrangements that the Queensland Government has put in place for the East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (ECIFFF) will help to ensure the ecological sustainability of the fishery, including the sustainable harvest of sharks in the Great Barrier Reef,” the Environment Minister Peter Garrett said.

Mr Garrett said the ECIFFF would operate as a Wildlife Trade Operation subject to 18 conditions and 14 recommendations.

“The ECIFFF is a Queensland-managed export fishery that operates largely within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, meaning it must be assessed for export approval and protected species accreditation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act),” he said.

“In approving continued exports from the fishery, I have imposed a number of new conditions on its management arrangements, including measures to address data requirements in the fishery and to ensure the harvest of shark species is sustainable.”

To inform his decisions under the EPBC Act, Minister Garrett called for an Independent Expert Review of the ECIFFF’s proposed management arrangements in September 2008.

“Based on the Queensland Government's response to the outcomes of the review, I have made the decision to extend the export approval for the fishery for three years.

“The public was invited to provide comments on the new management arrangements, and I have considered these in making my decision.

“During the next three years, I will be closely monitoring the progress made by the Queensland Government in meeting the conditions I have placed on export approval.

“I am confident that the management arrangements that Queensland has implemented, in conjunction with the strict conditions placed on export approval will ensure sustainability for the fishery.”

Australia disappointed by Scandinavian whaling quotas

The Australian Government has expressed its extreme disappointment at the decision by Iceland and Norway to maintain and potentially increase their annual whale harvest.

Minke whale

Dwarf minke whale on the Great Barrier Reef. Image courtesy of Matt Curnock.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Iceland’s interim government had maintained its predecessor's commercial whaling quota increase for 2009 of 150 fin whales and 100 to 150 minke whales a year over the next five years. Similarly, Norway has renewed its whaling quota for 1052 minke whales in 2008, up from 796 in 2006.

Mr Garrett said the news was further evidence that the status quo in the gridlocked International Whaling Commission was unacceptable and in urgent need of reform, with countries continuing to increase their whaling quotas unilaterally.

“The Australia Government is absolutely opposed to commercial and so-called scientific whaling and we are actively working diplomatically and through advancing reforms in the International Whaling Commission to ensure the global moratorium is upheld by all nations,” he said.

"In the same way as we condemn Japan's whaling program in the name of science, we urge the governments of Iceland and Norway to cease commercial whaling immediately."

Mr Garrett said Iceland announced in May 2008 that it would resume commercial whaling less than a year after it had announced to the world it would cease the practice.

“I will be writing to Iceland's interim Minister of Fisheries, Steingrimur Sigfusson, urging him to reconsider,” he said.

Mr Garrett said the news was particularly distressing given the fin whale was listed as endangered on the internationally-recognised IUCN Red List.

Norway continues to undertake commercial whaling under an objection to the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

Great Barrier Reef further protected with wetlands funding

As part of World Wetlands Day 2009, Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke have announced a $500,000 funding boost for wetlands along the Great Barrier Reef coast.

Reef slope

Colourful reef scene at the Great Barrier Reef. Image courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The funding is part of the Rudd Government's Reef Rescue initiative, under Caring for our Country.

Caring for our Country is taking a new, coordinated approach to environmental management in Australia, built on a set of consistent national targets.

The Ministers said Reef Rescue was helping natural resource management groups, government and non-government organisations, industry and farmers in the reef's catchment to work together to protect and improve local wetlands.

“Wetlands in coastal catchments are vital to the health of the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Garrett said.

"Like the kidneys of the environment, wetlands play such an important role in filtering water moving from the catchment into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, absorbing pollutants, providing habitat and on the coast, wetlands also help protect our shores from wave action.”

Mr Burke said farmers already understood the importance of improved land management practices and were leading the way.

“Farmers will be the first affected by climate change and they will continue to adapt the latest research and development to improve sustainability on-farm,” he said.

“Many of Queensland's wetlands are situated on private land so the Australian Government will continue to support landholders in managing those wetland systems.”

For further information go to www.nrm.gov.au

International Polar Year celebrated

Australian Antarctic scientists joined with polar researchers around the world to celebrate two years of intensive, internationally coordinated scientific research for the International Polar Year (2007-2009), which officially ended on 25 February 2009.

Star fish and sea cucumber

Some of the star fish and sea cucumber collected during a Census of Antarctic Marine Life voyage. Image courtesy of the Australian Antarctic Division.

A celebration was held in Geneva, Switzerland, coinciding with the release of the report, The State of Polar Research. This report provides an overview of the collective impact of international and interdisciplinary research conducted during the IPY, and the future of polar research.

During the IPY, five Australian-led research projects (see below for details) made significant advances in scientific understanding in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

For all projects the IPY provided an opportunity to collaborate with scientists from different nations and different scientific disciplines, enabling research on a larger and more comprehensive scale than ever before. The Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML), for example, coordinated ships from 18 nations, sampling life across large, diverse and unexplored regions of the Southern Ocean and continental shelf.

Similarly, the Climate of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean (CASO) project drew together 25 international projects to develop a circumpolar snapshot of the physical environment of the Southern Ocean.

Many of the projects gathered information which has been, or aims to be, stored in broadly accessible databases. These data are a key IPY legacy and will be invaluable for future research and, in some cases, will provide benchmark information against which environmental change can be observed.

A number of observational systems and associated infrastructure were also established, and equipment installed, which will enable continued and long-term research. Some research, such as that conducted during CAML and the Aliens in Antarctica project, has already instigated practical changes that will assist future conservation of the Antarctic environment.

As well as building relationships with new and existing scientists, science students and research institutions, Australian IPY scientists also engaged with the general public. A range of public outreach and education activities were conducted, including IPY days, school visits, and the creation of web blogs and educational and scientific websites.

Altogether, the success of the Australian projects in delivering on the four major goals of the IPY – advances in polar knowledge, a legacy of infrastructure and observational systems, inspiring a new generation of scientists, and public outreach – will ensure the scale, success and broad understanding of Antarctic research, made possibly by the IPY, will continue.

For further information about Australia's IPY projects contact media@aad.gov.au

Reprinted with permission from the Australian Antarctic Division.

Revelation in coral disease research

The complexities of coral disease are starting to be unravelled with the key revelation that a similar mechanism that causes cholera in humans may be causing White Syndrome (WS) in coral.

White syndrome in coral

White syndrome in coral. Image courtesy of Cathie Page and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Mr Meir Sussman, a postgraduate student at James Cook University (JCU), working with AIMS scientist Dr David Bourne, coral biologist Dr Bette Willis at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and colleagues from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the Palau Coral Reef Center, have published a paper showing for the first time how bacterial WS kills coral.

A bacterial zinc-metalloprotease enzyme has been revealed as central in the WS disease process. The enzyme carries out a two-pronged attack, first causing whitening of coral tissue as symbiotic algae are targeted, and subsequently causing coral tissue lesions. This two-stage process leads to the distinctive appearance of bands of white coral skeleton typical of the disease.

The enzyme disturbs the ability of the symbiotic algae living in coral to carry out photosynthesis and breaks down the symbiosis between the coral and the algae, leading to death of the coral. The bleaching caused by WS is distinct from that caused by thermal stress.

Unlike bleached corals which can recover from short-term temperature stress, WS causes the infected coral to die, though lesions may stop progressing if the coral can mount an immune response.

The research team published pioneering work last year that uncovered the bacterial cause of WS, specifically certain members of a common family of aquatic bacteria known as Vibrios. Another member of the Vibrio family causes cholera in humans.

While there are many kinds of Vibrio bacterial species, only a small group carrying the gene for the zinc-metalloprotease enzyme can cause WS. This enzyme is a powerful weapon as it disrupts basic processes in target organisms at a cellular level. This mechanism of attack against cells is similar to the one used by the Vibrio bacterial species that causes cholera.

“This study is the first to investigate the clinical effect of the enzyme zinc-metalloprotease on corals,” Dr Bourne said.

More work needed to be done, he said, to determine the exact process by which the enzyme affects the way the algae photosynthesise within coral and the extent to which the temperature of the surrounding water plays a role in helping the enzyme do its work.

Coral diseases are of increasing concern to marine scientists, particularly in the light of other sources of stress for corals such as warmer seawater.

“Coral diseases have been detected along the length of the Great Barrier Reef, worryingly so in healthy reefs with high coral cover,” Professor Willis said.

In other parts of the world, notably the Caribbean, coral disease has been a major factor contributing to the decline of coral reefs, which in some places have undergone ecological "phase shifts" from coral to algal-dominated ecosystems.

The report can be found at: www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2637982

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