Chapter 3 Conservation Values of the North-west Marine Region




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Chapter 3 Conservation Values of the North-west Marine Region

Marine Bioregional Plans will identify those components of marine biodiversity and heritage that are recognised as conservation values by the Australian Government. Knowing what the conservation values are for each Marine Region will help in making decisions about proposed developments and other ongoing activities.

For the purpose of marine bioregional planning, conservation values are defined as those elements of the Region that are either specifically protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) or the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, or have been identified through the planning process as key ecological features in the Commonwealth marine environment. Key ecological features are not specifically protected under the EPBC Act, although the Commonwealth marine environment as a whole is a matter of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act. Key ecological features are being identified as conservation values within Commonwealth waters to help inform decisions affecting the marine environment in each Marine Region.

Matters specifically protected under Parts 13 and 15 of the EPBC Act are recognised conservation values. In the North-west Marine Region, these include listed threatened, migratory and marine species, cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), Commonwealth marine reserves, Ramsar sites and places listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List. Historic shipwrecks are also identified as conservation values by virtue of their protection under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

The marine conservation values identified in this chapter will be the subject of assessment during the development of the North-west Marine Bioregional Plan to:

  • understand the threats posed by current and emerging activities;

  • determine priorities for mitigating these threats; and

  • provide guidance for future decisions under the EPBC Act on potential significant impacts on listed threatened and listed migratory species or the Commonwealth marine environment of the North-west Marine Region (see section 3.1 for definition).

The nature and location of conservation values will also be considered in the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as part of the National Representative System of MPAs (see Chapter 4). However, conservation values will not automatically be included in Commonwealth marine reserves. In accordance with the Regional Specifications (Section 4.2), only those marine conservation values for which spatial protection is both desirable and appropriate will be considered in developing the MPA network for the Region.

More information on the marine bioregional planning process in the North-west Marine Region can be found in Chapter 6.

3.1 Key ecological features of the marine environment

Under the EPBC Act, the ‘marine environment’ under Commonwealth jurisdiction is a matter of national environmental significance (see Section 23 of the Act). This means that any action that will have or is likely to have a significant impact on the Commonwealth marine environment must be referred to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts for assessment and approval. National guidelines have been developed to help in determining whether actions are likely to have a significant impact and can be found at
<www.environment.gov.au/epbc/guidelines-policies.html>.

The North-west Marine Bioregional Plan will identify and describe key ecological features of the North-west Marine Region’s marine environment. Once the Plan is finalised, these key ecological features will be considered in making decisions about whether an action is likely to have a significant impact on the Commonwealth marine environment.

For the purpose of marine bioregional planning, key ecological features of the marine environment meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • a species, group of species or a community with a regionally important ecological role (e.g. a predator, or a prey species that interacts significantly with a large biomass or number of other marine species);

  • a species, group of species or a community that is nationally or regionally important for biodiversity;

  • an area or habitat that is nationally or regionally important for:

    • enhanced or high biological productivity (such as predictable upwellings),

    • aggregations of marine life (such as feeding, resting, breeding or nursery areas), or

    • biodiversity and/or endemism; or

  • a unique seafloor feature with known or presumed ecological properties of regional significance.

Key ecological features in the North-west Marine Region have been identified by the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts on the basis of advice from scientists about the ecological processes and characteristics of the Region. A scientific workshop was conducted in September 2007, bringing together marine scientists with specific experience and expertise in the Region. The workshop explored what is currently known about the ecosystems of the North-west Marine Region, and the scientific understanding of likely interactions and ecosystem processes. The outcomes of the workshop are available at <www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/north-west>.

Chapter 2 identified features and areas of ecological importance in both State and Commonwealth waters within each provincial bioregion. The marine bioregional planning process focuses on matters within Commonwealth waters. Therefore, key ecological features have only been identified within Commonwealth waters of the North-west Marine Region.

Table 3.1 identifies the key ecological features of the North-west Marine Region recognised during the development of this Bioregional Profile, and summarises the rationale used to identify a specific feature as a conservation value in the Region (Chapter 2 provides further context for understanding the role of different features in the ecosystem). The collection of further and finer-scale information during the next stage of the planning process will improve our understanding of key ecological features in the Region. This information will also be used to confirm and refine the key ecological features identified during the profiling stage of the process and will underpin the analysis of threats facing the marine environment over the next 10–20 years. The North-west Marine Bioregional Plan will include a refined list of key ecological features.

Fourteen key ecological features have been identified so far within the North-west Marine Region. These include unique geomorphic (seafloor) or topographic features, as well as areas or habitats that are considered to be regionally important (Table 3.1). Figure 3.1 identifies the location of the key ecological features.

Figure 3.1 Key ecological features of the North-west Marine Region




Table 3.1 Key ecological features of the North-west Marine Region

Key ecological features1. Carbonate banks in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf

2. Limestone pinnacles in the Bonaparte Depression

3. Commonwealth waters surrounding Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island

4. Commonwealth waters surrounding Scott and Seringapatam reefs

5. Demersal slope fish communities

6. Canyons on the slope between the Argo Abyssal Plain and Scott Plateau

7. Commonwealth waters adjacent to Quondong Point

8. Ancient coastline at 125 m depth contour

9. Glomar Shoals

10. Commonwealth waters surrounding the Rowley Shoals

11. Exmouth Plateau

12. Canyons on the slope between the Cuvier Abyssal Plain and the Cape Range Peninsula

13. Commonwealth waters surrounding Ningaloo Reef

14. Wallaby Saddle

Sharks

Bony Fish

Sea Snakes

Marine Turtles

Birds

Dugongs

Cetaceans

TotalsImportant AreasShark Bay – Dirk Hartog Island

Ningaloo Reef – North West Cape

Exmouth Gulf (including Muiron Islands)

Serrurier Island

Thevenard Island

Montebello – Lowendal – Barrow islands and surrounding waters

Mangrove Islands

Onslow to Dampier Archipelago

Dampier Archipelago

Port Hedland

Bedout Island

Eighty Mile Beach – Roebuck Bay

Mermaid Reef – Rowley Shoals

Quondong Point

Lacepede Islands

Kimberley coast

Adele Island

Bonaparte Archipelago

Scott Reef

Browse Island

Ashmore Reef – Cartier Island

Montgomery Reef

Cape Dommett

Joseph Bonaparte Gulf


Provincial bioregions IMCRA v.4.0Northwest Shelf Transition

Northwest Shelf Transition

Timor Province

Timor Province

Timor Province, Northwest Transition, Northwest Province

Timor Province

Northwest Shelf Province

Northwest Shelf Province, Northwest Shelf Transition

Northwest Shelf Province

Northwest Transition

Northwest Province

Northwest Province, Central Western Transition

Northwest Province, Central Western Transition, Central Western Shelf Transition, Northwest Shelf Province

Central Western Transition

Listed Threatened Species

Endangered

-

-

-

2

1

-

1

4RationaleResting area – humpback whales

An important resting area for migrating humpback whales, particularly for females and calves on their southern migration. Also home to resident populations of bottlenose dolphins.

Breeding and feeding area – marine turtles

Supports the largest breeding population of loggerhead turtles in Australia and the third largest in the world. Dirk Hartog Island has been identified as critical nesting and internesting habitat for loggerhead turtles. Shark Bay has been identified as a critical feeding habitat for loggerhead and green turtles.

Breeding area – seabirds

Wedge-tailed shearwaters, bridled terns, Caspian terns, and roseate terns breed in this area.

Breeding and feeding area – dugongs

The Shark Bay population of dugongs is thought to be one of the largest in the world and is estimated to include approximately 10 000 individuals. Feeding area – whale shark

This is the main known aggregation area in Australian waters for whale sharks, where they feed on concentrations of krill and zooplankton.

Breeding area – marine turtles

North West Cape is a major green turtle nesting area and an important nesting area for loggerhead turtles. Resting area – humpback whales

An important resting area for migrating humpbacks, particularly for females and calves on their southern migration.

Breeding area – marine turtles

The Muiron Islands off North West Cape have been identified as critical nesting and internesting habitat for loggerhead turtles and also support a major green turtle rookery.

Breeding and feeding area – dugongs

A population of approximately 1000 individuals has been recorded in the Gulf, although numbers are thought to have decreased after the destruction of seagrass beds during Cyclone Vance in 1999.Breeding area – marine turtles

A major nesting area for green turtles and may also be a foraging area for this species.

Breeding area – birds

Caspian terns, little terns, wedge-tailed shearwaters and ospreys breed on Serrurier Island and nearby Airlie Island.Breeding area – marine turtles

Supports a significant flatback turtle rookery and small numbers of green turtles.

Feeding area – marine turtles

Feeding area for green turtles.Resting area – humpback whales

Resting area for migrating humpback whales. Also has resident populations of common bottlenose dolphins and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins.

Breeding area – marine turtles

Green, hawksbill and flatback turtles regularly nest in this area. Occasional nesting by loggerhead turtles has also been recorded on Barrow Island. Barrow Island and surrounding waters within a 20 km radius have been listed as critical nesting and internesting habitat for green turtles and also support an important flatback turtle rookery. The Montebello Islands and surrounding waters have been identified as critical nesting and internesting habitat for both flatback and hawksbill turtles. Varanus Island (part of the Lowendal Islands) and surrounding waters have been identified as critical nesting and internesting habitat for hawksbill turtles and supports an important flatback turtle rookery. Summer mating aggregations of green turtles occur to the west of Barrow Island and within the Montebello Island group.

Feeding area – marine turtles

Possible green turtle foraging grounds occur over the Barrow Shoals off the south-east coast of Barrow Island. Hawksbill turtle feeding grounds occur in the Mary Anne and Great Sandy Island groups to the south of the Barrow Shoals. There is also some evidence that juvenile flatback turtles use the Barrow Island region as developmental habitat.

Breeding area – birds

These islands support significant colonies of wedge-tailed shearwaters and bridled terns. The Montebello Islands support the biggest breeding population of roseate terns in Western Australia. Ospreys, white-bellied sea-eagles, eastern reef egrets, Caspian terns, and lesser crested terns also breed in this area.

Feeding area – seabirds

Observations suggest an area to the west of the Montebello Islands may be a minor zone of upwelling in the Region, supporting large feeding aggregations of terns. There is also some evidence that the area is an important feeding ground for Hutton’s shearwaters and soft-plumaged petrels.

Feeding area/staging post – migratory shorebirds

Barrow Island is ranked equal tenth among 147 sites in Australia that are important for migratory shorebirds. Barrow, Lowendal and Montebello islands are internationally significant sites for six species of migratory shorebirds, supporting more than one per cent of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway population of these species. Aggregation area – marine turtles

Aggregations of male green turtles occur on the Mangrove Islands prior to the nesting season. However, the purpose of these aggregations is unknown.Breeding area – birds

Islands between Onslow and the Dampier Archipelago are important nesting sites for wedge-tailed shearwaters, roseate terns, crested terns, Caspian terns, bridled terns, ospreys, eastern reef egrets, beach stone-curlews and white-bellied sea-eagles. Breeding area – marine turtles

Rosemary Island and all surrounding waters within a 20 km radius have been identified as critical nesting and internesting habitat for flatback turtles. The island also supports the most significant hawksbill turtle rookery in Western Australia and one of the largest in the Indian Ocean. Dampier Archipelago also supports major green and flatback turtle nesting sites.

Breeding area – birds

Important nesting areas for wedge-tailed shearwaters, bridled terns, fairy terns, roseate terns, Caspian terns, eastern reef egrets, beach stone-curlews, ospreys and white-bellied sea-eagles. Breeding area – marine turtles

Important flatback turtle rookeries occur at Port Hedland and Cape Thouin. Critical nesting and internesting habitat for flatback turtles has also been identified at Mundabullangana Beach.Breeding area – seabirds

Bedout Island supports one of the largest colonies of brown boobies in Western Australia. Masked boobies, lesser frigatebirds, roseate terns and common noddies also breed in the area. Breeding area – marine turtles

Major rookery for flatback turtles.

Feeding area/staging post – migratory shorebirds

Eighty Mile Beach and Roebuck Bay are two of the most important areas in Australia for migratory shorebirds. The area regularly supports up to 500 000 birds at any one time, with more than 850 000 birds using the area annually. The area is an internationally significant site for 20 species, regularly supporting more than one per cent of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway population.

Breeding and feeding area – cetaceans

Roebuck Bay is thought to be an important area for Australian snubfin dolphins and other inshore dolphin species.Breeding area – seabirds

Red-tailed tropicbirds, white-tailed tropicbirds and little terns breed in this area.

Feeding area/staging post – migratory shorebirds

Sand cays of the Rowley Shoals may be important resting and feeding sites for migratory shorebirds. Feeding area – marine turtles

Feeding area for flatback, loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles.

Aggregation area – cetaceans

High densities of migrating humpbacks as well as false killer whales, pygmy blue whales and dolphins. Breeding area – marine turtles

The Lacepede Islands and surrounding waters within a 20 km radius have been identified as critical nesting and internesting habitat for green turtles, supporting the largest green turtle rookeries in Western Australia.

Breeding area – seabirds

The Lacepede Islands support some of the largest brown booby colonies in Western Australia. Lesser frigatebirds, bridled terns, roseate terns and common noddies also breed in the area. Calving area – humpback whales

The main calving area for the West Australian population of humpback whales is centred around Camden sound but extends to south of Broome and north of the Maret Islands. High densities of migrating humpbacks are observed in Pender Bay.

Breeding and feeding area – cetaceans

Shallow coastal waters and estuaries along the Kimberley coast, particularly Pender Bay, Beagle Bay and tidal creeks around Yampi Sound and between Kuri Bay and Cambridge Gulf are important areas for Australian snub-fin dolphins and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. Breeding area – seabirds

This area supports large colonies of brown boobies and lesser frigatebirds as well as smaller populations of red-footed boobies, masked boobies and lesser crested terns. Breeding area – marine turtles

The Maret Islands and other islands of the Bonaparte Archipelago including the Montalivet islands, Albert Island and the Lamarck Islands support significant green and flatback turtles rookeries. Breeding area – marine turtles

Supports a small but genetically distinct breeding population of green turtles.

Feeding area/staging post –birds

Scott Reef is an important staging post for migratory shorebirds and a foraging area for seabirds including roseate terns, lesser frigatebirds and brown boobies. Breeding area – marine turtles

Major rookery for green turtles.

Aggregation area – cetaceans

Offshore waters surrounding Browse Island support a larger number of cetacean species than any other area on the Western Australian coast, including large pods of oceanic dolphins, pygmy killer whales, false killer whales, melon-headed whales, minke whales and pilot whales. May also be a feeding area for blue whales. Breeding area – marine turtles

Critical nesting and internesting habitat for green turtles, supporting one of three genetically distinct breeding populations in the North-west Marine Region. Low levels of nesting activity of loggerhead turtles have also been recorded here.

Feeding area – marine turtles

Supports large and significant feeding populations of green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles. It is estimated that approximately 11 000 marine turtles feed in the area throughout the year.

Breeding and feeding area – dugongs

Ashmore Reef is thought to support a small (less than 50 animals) but genetically distinct population.

Breeding area – seabirds

These islands support some of the most important seabird colonies on the North West Shelf including colonies of bridled terns, common noddies, brown boobies, eastern reef egrets, frigatebirds, tropicbirds, red-footed boobies, roseate terns, and lesser crested terns.

Feeding area/staging post – migratory shorebirds

Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island are important staging areas for many migratory shorebirds. Feeding area – marine turtles

Records of green turtles, and possibly other species.Breeding area – marine turtles

Major rookery for flatback turtles.
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