Thursday, 7 November 2013

A community taskforce which has seen researchers from The University of Western Australia work with volunteers and other organisations to tackle toxic algal blooms in Broome's Roebuck Bay has won the 2013 Southseas Oceans Hero Award.

The Broome Lyngbya Taskforce won the award for ‘bringing together the community to discover the role of nutrient inputs in the proliferation of noxious algae in Roebuck Bay'.

The taskforce, made up of local and indigenous volunteers working with UWA and other bodies, was spurred into action by recurrent noxious algal blooms in the area.  The toxic blooms impaired the use of the coastal waters and signalled a problem with the ecosystem's health.

The group carried out two successful years of stormwater monitoring at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods, making significant inroads in the fight to protect Roebuck Bay's stormwater and groundwater from the blue-green algae, Lyngbya.

Lyngbya majuscula is filamentous blue-green algae producing blooms that are toxic to marine life, pets and humans, who can suffer severe skin and respiratory illness upon exposure.  Lyngbya blooms form slimy aggregations that can also suffocate seagrass meadows in shallow waters and lead to the loss of valuable habitat for marine species.

Whereas Lyngbya blooms have been related to nutrient inputs and stormwater flows elsewhere, the puzzling fact about the blooms in Roebuck Bay is that they started to occur before the first stormwater flows.

Through a research program spanning two field seasons, the volunteers developed a citizen-based science program to identify the sources of the nutrients causing these blooms.  They identified nutrients in stormwater and groundwater flowing into Roebuck Bay.  As a result, the likely source of nutrients was identified as waste water treatment and disposal sites.

Professor Carlos M. Duarte, director of the UWA Oceans Institute, said the project showed what Western Australians could achieve when engaging science to improve the health of their oceans - precisely what the Southseas Oceans Heroes awards aimed to celebrate.

"The award has identified a citizen group, that brought together western and indigenous groups, committed with the use of science for the improved stewardship of our oceans," Professor Duarte said.

The project, to be completed by next year, is expected to provide a better understanding of the threat that nutrient-enriched stormwater runoff and groundwater discharge poses to Roebuck Bay's biodiversity, indigenous and economic values.

Associate Professor Ryan Vogwill, of UWA's School of Earth and Environment - who leads the task force - said the group's work was significant because it had allowed the identification of anthropogenic nutrient sources contributing to Lynbya blooms, which threatened Roebucks Bay's considerable biodiversity, indigenous heritage and economic values. However, there was still much more work to be done.

"Now we know what the source of nutrients is, we need to look at where in the Bay the nutrients will end up and consequentially where the Lyngbya may spread to," Associate Professor Vogwill said.  "This will allow us to begin active management to protect Roebuck Bay."

Broome Lyngbya Taskforce members are: UWA, the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DpAW) - West Kimberly district, the DPaW/Yawuru joint management team, Curtin University, the Broome Shire and the Roebuck Bay Working Group. The work has been funded by Rangelands NRM Western Australia.

The Southseas Oceans Hero Award is sponsored by Southseas Limited, a premium Australian aquaculture company and international leader in sustainable abalone aquaculture.  The award was established by the UWA Oceans Institute and the WA Oceans Community, a citizen-based group supporting the improved understanding of our oceans, to recognise the achievements of individuals and community groups in promoting the stewardship, understanding and conservation of the ocean.

The 2013 award will be presented this Sunday, November 10, at the " Celebrating Oceans Initiatives 2013 " event to be held at the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

Media references

Winthrop Professor Carlos Duarte (UWA Oceans Institute)  (+61 8)  6488 8123
UWA Public Affairs  (+61 8)  6488 7977  /  (+61 4) 32 637 716


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