Exmouth residents can this week learn more about the North West’s marine environment by taking a tour of the Solander research vessel.
Operated by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Solander is the largest research vessel based in Western Australia, spending up to 300 days per year working in waters between Exmouth and Darwin.
This week some of the scientific insights and discoveries made aboard the ship will be shared with local residents as the Solander opens its decks to visitors on August 9.
Equipped with wet and dry laboratories and the ability to mount sophisticated camera and geoscience equipment to video and map reefs and the ocean floor, Dr Steve Rogers from AIMS in Western Australia said the Solander undertakes wide ranging research.
“We cover virtually the whole range of marine tropical science,” Rogers said.
“AIMs scientists [aboard the Solander] study coral reefs, submerged shoals, whale sharks, marine fauna … and seabed geomorphology.”
The Solander’s Exmouth visit this week and the vessel’s launch in 2007 come alongside increased efforts to promote the value of Western Australia’s extensive reefs and shoals.
Visited by dolphins, whales and whale sharks and with more than 200 species of corals and 460 species of reef fish, the Ningaloo Reef rivals the Great Barrier Reef for beauty and diversity.
Despite this, scientists are able to study the Great Barrier Reef from a network of coral reef research centres, while in Western Australia there are no comparable facilities anywhere between Perth and Darwin.
Since its founding in early 2011, however, a website supported by AIMS called Ningaloo Atlas has been trying to aid research at Ningaloo by acting as a central location for academics to share and find links to scientific papers about the reef.
The Ningaloo Atlas is also increasingly attempting to share that scientific knowledge with the public.
As part of this drive, it has organised a collection of leading scientists to give public talks at the Exmouth Game Fishing Club on August 9, once the tours of the Solander vessel are finished.
These include talks on sharks, whale sharks, dolphins, jellyfish, demersal fish and even ways to help look after the reef as a volunteer.
The Solander vessel is also a regular participant in Ningaloo research projects, including reef studies and the tracking of whale sharks using acoustics.
With taxpayers funding AIMS and the Solander, Dr Rogers said it was important to share this with the community.
“Our key stakeholder is the Australian public and our remit is to deliver economic, social and environmental benefit,” Rogers said.
“A major focus of AIMS at Ningaloo is to inform the community about how our work is hopefully benefiting the long term sustainability and management of the reef.
“The economic wellbeing of the community is obviously tied closely to the reef in this part of the world.”
Details of the Solander tours and Exmouth talks can be found at www.ningaloo-atlas. org.au or by phoning Nick Middleton on 0437 619 456 – tour reservations are required by Tuesday August 6.
GRAPH BELOW: The level of scientific interest in the Great Barrier Reef versus Ningaloo Reef as gauged by the amount of search enquiries on scholarly site Web of Science. Source: Ningaloo Atlas.