Flourishing Oceans31 Jan 2023

OceanOmics assesses marine biodiversity off Cocos Islands

Minderoo Foundation’s OceanOmics research program’s expedition to the Cocos (Keeling) Island group (18 November – 20 December, 2022) was the program’s tenth voyage off the coast of Australia gathering baseline information to establish a better understanding of the unique biodiversity in our ocean.

Using advanced environmental DNA (eDNA) technologies, the scientists aim to characterise marine wildlife, monitor fishing activity and assess ecosystem health in the region.

The Commonwealth Government recently established new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) at the Christmas and Cocos Islands. However, due to the remoteness of the islands, the current state of marine biodiversity in the area is not yet well understood.

As part of this expedition, Minderoo OceanOmics also engaged with community stakeholders to show how eDNA – the floating fragments of genetic material found in seawater – and genomics can become powerful tools for MPA management and fisheries monitoring.

Approximately 870 water samples were collected from almost 2,000 litres of water over the course of the expedition. This included samples collected underway along the ~2800 kilometre transect from the Western Australian coastline to the boundary of the new protected area, samples traversing the deepwater and boundary regions of the MPA and a comprehensive sampling within the lagoon environments.

Some sampling sites are within the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s (DPIRD) long-term reef monitoring sites so that the team will be able to interpret the results within the context of currently available data. It will also enable them to assess how reef composition relates to changes in fish assemblages using eDNA.

The data collected will provide insights to help forecast how fish communities might change as the area evolves under current and future climate change and fishing pressure scenarios.

The expedition also deployed two Argo floats, provided by CSIRO as part of an international program that collects information about the ocean using a fleet of robotic instruments that drift with the currents and move up and down between the surface and a mid-water level.

Key findings, including information about fish communities, are expected to be available by March 2023.

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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