Sunset over the water at Oceanic Shoals
Sunset over northern Australia's Oceanic Shoals region . Image: Australian Institute of Marine Science
Deep water sponge gardens on the North West Shelf. Image: Australian Institute of Marine Science

Australia’s North and North-west marine bioregions feature diverse ecological communities, from rich sponge habitats to large populations of whales, turtles and sharks, including more than 150 protected species.

They host a suite of marine reserves and ecological features identified by the Australian Government as highly valued for their biodiversity or ecological function. Traditional owners have deep cultural connections to this area, including to sea country.

Regional economic activities include fisheries, pearling and aquaculture, defence, shipping, and oil and gas exploration and production. Ensuring the ecologically sustainable use of this area is a major national challenge for government, industry and the community.

Quality baseline data, and an understanding of natural variability and the impacts of human activities, are needed to guide and assess management interventions such as marine-reserve zoning, threatened-species recovery plans and industry regulation.

Guided by regular consultation with managers, industries, and other marine users, this project will collate existing information, and test the application of predictive models to provide baselines and understand biodiversity patterns and ecosystem processes. The work will focus on key Australian Marine Parks and Key Ecological Features, and will prioritise areas for further detailed studies in the North and NW Region.

Clear, effective information and tools developed in this project and made readily accessible through the Northwest Atlas will enable an evolution from precautionary management based on minimal information to more informed and effective management decisions based on scientific understanding.

For example the North West Atlas would support the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority by ensuring that Environment Plans submitted by the oil and gas industry have access to the most recent information. And in the event of a major accident, the atlas would provide industry respondents and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority with the information to prioritise response efforts in order to minimise impacts on important megafauna.

(Previous project title: - Ecosystem understanding to support sustainable use, management and monitoring of marine assets in the North and North-west regions)

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