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Scientists Investigate Marine 'Heatwave'

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AUSTRALIA - An unprecedented marine heatwave being experienced along the Western Australian coastline will come under the spotlight at a meeting of scientists next month, hosted by the Department of Fisheries in conjunction with CSIRO.

Marine experts from around the State will be joining forces to review both the physical and biological aspects of the “heatwave”, which appears to have some major implications for fish and invertebrate species along the continental shelf.

The Department of Fisheries’ Acting Research Director, Dr Dan Gaughan said above average water temperatures had been recorded off the WA coastline since the final quarter of 2010, and an extensive patch of very warm water had moved southwards over a period of several months.

“In February 2011, surface temperatures were more than 3°C above average for this time of year over a large area extending from Ningaloo to the Abrolhos and to over 200km offshore, while an area extending from Exmouth to the Capes and 500km offshore was more than 2°C warmer,” said Dr Gaughan.

“In some cases these are the warmest sea temperatures ever recorded for these regions and they appear to have been influenced by a stronger than usual Leeuwin Current over summer, associated with the very strong La Nina event.”

Dr Gaughan there had been a number of fish kills along the mid-west coast and in the Abrolhos, Kalbarri and Leeman areas. Rock lobster and abalone deaths had also been reported in areas of warmer water associated with calm conditions.

“The Department of Fisheries is already investigating this phenomenon but the workshop, being hosted in conjunction with the CSIRO, will help researchers further understand the links between oceanography and the physical environment, as well as the effect on marine populations,” he said said.

“It will also help them better understand any impact on people who have a vested interest in these resources.”

Dr Gaughan said the aim of the forum was to share information collected by marine scientists and other stakeholders, including commercial and recreational fishers, to ensure the causes and effects of the “heatwave” were fully understood and properly interpreted.

“If we can improve our understanding of the temperature tolerances of different fish and plants in the wild, we can determine which species we need to focus on in our research when considering the effects of potential future temperature anomalies.”