Marine Management Research Group

Murdoch University offers a Bachelor of Science with a range of majors including Marine Science, Biological Science, Environmental Science, Environmental Management and Conservation & Wildlife. In addition, minors such as Fisheries Science, Marine Biology and Applied Statistics are offered. Students completing these courses find employment as fisheries biologists, marine ecologists, limnologists, conservation scientists and environmental consultants. Details about these courses can be found at

In addition, a  range of graduate certificates, diplomas and coursework MSc options are available with details at:

Post-graduate Research
Murdoch University and the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems offer an array of opportunities to complete Honours, Masters or PhDs. We currently have numerous post-graduate students studying various aspects of marine, estuarine or freshwater ecosystems.

Marine Management Research Group

Established in 2002, the Marine Management Research Group conducts a range of research projects in the Indian Ocean that generally provide the science that underpins management decisions. Over the past two years work has focussed on assessing human use of the remote Kimberley coast, examining the pelagic larval phase of the rock lobster phyllosoma larvae, krill and chaetognaths of the Leeuwin Current, habitat mapping and conservation planning at Ningaloo Reef and planning for the second International Indian Ocean Expedition.

Human use of the Kimberley coast
During 2013 and 2014, as part of the WAMSI Kimberley Marine Research Programme, much effort was put into conducting monthly aerial surveys along the remote Kimberley coast in order to map spatial and temporal patterns of human use in this region. Prof. Lynnath Beckley, Dr Claire Smallwood and Dr Emily Fisher completed >45 low altitude survey flights around the Dampier Peninsula between Broome and Derby, along Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach, and also in Camden Sound and the eastern Kimberley region. These surveys identified and geo-referenced both shore-based and boat-based activities, including recreational fishing, throughout much of the region. In addition, a comprehensive review of the potential impactsof this use was undertaken by Dr Joanna Pearce, an analysis of boat launching at Entrance Point boat ramp was conducted by Cameron Desfosses, and Prof. Beckley, Dr Fisher and Harriet Davies completed a desk-top study estimating cumulative visitation by expedition cruise vessels to this remote part of the coast. MSc student Cole du Plessis has started examining the temporal variability in this cruise vessel visitation.

Plankton research
Following on from an experimental study of the feeding preferences of rock lobster phyllosoma larvae which indicated that chaetognaths were a favoured prey item, Pearse Buchanan completed his Honours thesis during 2013 on the chaetognaths of the Leeuwin Current system. He examined plankton samples collected from 22°-34°S in shelf to oceanic waters and found clear zoogeographic patterns and several new distribution records for Australian waters. As part of the FRDC biological oceanography of rock lobster larvae project, the results of an extensive survey of prey fields in the SE Indian Ocean off Western Australia was published in the Journal of Plankton Research.

Alicia Sutton continued her PhD study on the zoogeography and ecology of krill in the SE Indian Ocean. She has completed her examination of krill diversity and abundance in plankton samples collected throughout the Leeuwin Current system, Ningaloo and Kimberley waters. These data fill a gap in her GIS collation of all published distribution records of krill in the Indian Ocean which she is using to link zoogeography with oceanography across the basin. In addition, she has been examining the trophodyamics of krill in the Perth Canyon using fatty acids and isotopes.

Max Wellington has started his Honours project investigating neustonic prey availability for seabirds across various meso-scale oceanographic features near the Abrolhos Islands. Shona Jennings has commenced her MSc project investigating oceanographic conditions in the Indo-Australian Basin between Java and NW Australia, the only place where the economically important, but severely depleted, global stock of Southern Bluefin Tuna spawn.

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Benthic habitats and climate change resilience of Ningaloo Marine Park
Led by Dr Halina Kobryn, the project on high resolution mapping of the benthic habitats in Ningaloo Marine Park using hyperspectral imagery was completed in 2013 with the publication of a major paper in PlosOne. This work has already been used to support research on the distribution patterns of fishes at Ningaloo Reef. Honours student, Harriet Davies, has recently completed a study using these data and high resolution human use data for Ningaloo Marine Park to investigate climate change resilience features and adequacy of the current zoning in the park.

International Indian Ocean Expedition
Prof. Lynnath Beckley continued as the Australian representative on the international scientific committee of the SIBER programme which focuses on sustained biogeochemistry and ecosystem research in the Indian Ocean. In this role, she hosted an Indian Ocean National Forum at Murdoch in April 2014, attended various Indian Ocean reference group meetings in India, China and Mauritius and was invited to participate in a SCOR working group to write the science plan for the second International Indian Ocean expedition (2016-2020). This has been recently ratified by the 140+ countries of the International Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the Expedition will be officially launched in India in November 2015. With Australia’s new research vessel Investigator now commissioned, it is expected that it will be able to participate in Indian Ocean research voyages as part of the Expedition.

Whale Shark research

For over two decades Murdoch researchers, led by Brad Norman, have been monitoring the Whale Sharks of Ningaloo Marine Park. This long-term research has led to over 1000 individual Whale Sharks being indentified, and recent research is examining their movement patterns using acoustic telemetry, satellite tracking and daily diaries. Honours student Lisa West recently completed her theiss on the feeding ecology of this iconic species.

Stumpy A-001

Foxfish otolith chronologies

Ellen Boylen has recently completed her Honours Project investigating the effects of selected environmental parameters on the otolith growth of the long-lived labrid, the Foxfish (Bodianus frenchii). Her supervisors were Peter Coulson, Adrian Hordyk, Ian Potter and Norm Hall.

Otoliths already collected by Steve Cossington during his Honours Degree between 2004 and 2006 were utilised in Ellen’s research. The widths of successive growth increments, measured on sectioned otoliths, were detrended to remove any age related growth declines but preserve any climate signals, in order to construct the mean increment chronologies (MIC) for the B. frenchii populations at Rottnest Island on the south-west coast (Indian Ocean), and Esperance on the south coast (Southern Ocean). Aged individuals spanned 60 years, between 1953 and 2004. The MIC for the Esperance population was most strongly correlated with the Fremantle sea level, a measure of the strength of the Leeuwin Current, suggesting that warmer waters brought to the south coast by a strong Leeuwin Current positively influence otolith growth. In contrast, the MIC for the Rottnest population, was closely correlated with summer sea surface temperature.


Genetic connectivity

Connectivity refers to the exchange of individuals between the assemblages of a species in different locations. An understanding of connectivity is fundamental to being able to assess and manage fisheries. Genetic assessments of the connectivity of a range of iconic species, including Black Bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri), Western Australian Salmon (Arripis truttaceus) and Blue Swimmer Crabs (Portunus armatus), have been completed in the past. Work in this area is continuing with Michelle Gardner’s PhD research on Baldchin Groper (Choerodon rubescens) and Australasian Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus). This work was funded by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution. In 2014, Honours student Brenton Pember also completed a preliminary analysis of genetic connectivity in the Grass Emperor, Lethrinus laticaudis. These projects are being conducted in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries, Western Australia.

Further reading:
Moore, G.I. & Chaplin, J.A. (2013) Population genetic structures of three congeneric species of coastal pelagic fishes (Arripis: Arripidae) with extensive larval, post-settlement and adult movements. Environmental Biology of Fishes 96: 1087-1099.

The oldest fish in Western Australia: Bight Redfish

Bight Redfish is an important recreational and commercial fish species in southern Western Australia, however, little is known about its biology. Over the past four years, ~12,000 samples have been collected from the recreational and commercial fishing sectors in waters between Cape Naturaliste and the WA/SA border by researchers at Murdoch University (Peter Coulson and Ian Potter) and the Department of Fisheries (Jeff Norriss, David Fairclough, Tim Leary and Gary Jackson). These samples are being used to determine the age and growth, as well as the timing and duration of spawning of this species and, importantly, the length and age at maturation. Preliminary results for this State NRM funded project suggest that there is a decline in reproduction from west to east, which coincides with an increase in the length and age at maturity. Another important finding is that, like many other species in waters off the south coast, Bight Redfish is extremely long-lived, attaining a maximum age of 84 years, which makes it the oldest fish aged in Western Australian waters.

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Bight Redfish

Southern Calamari

Jake Chandler is currently investigating the reproductive biology of Southern Calamari (Sepioteuthis australis) in south-western Australia for his Honours Degree under the supervision of Peter Coulson and Steve Leporati. This project is the first of its kind to employ recreational fishers to donate samples of a cephalopod in the “Send us your squid” program. Jake’s Honours project is part of a larger Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund project led by Peter Coulson, which aims to shed light on the biological characteristics of this recreationally and commercially important species.

The daily growth rings present in the statoliths, prepared by sanding and polishing both sides to give a thin transverse section, are being used to age individuals in order to determine growth and longevity. Preliminary results from over 3,300 samples collected by recreational and commercial fishers and by researchers from Albany on the south coast, Geographe Bay and Cockburn Sound, indicate that the growth and maximum size of Southern Calamari increases with increasing latitude (i.e. increasing gradient from warm to cooler waters). If you’d like to get involved, email Peter at


Comparisons of the diet of five species of flathead

This study has determined the extents and basis for variations in the composition of the prey ingested by the abundant species of a family highly adapted for ambush predation, i.e. Platycephalidae, in a region (south-western Australia) where that family is found in different habitats and environments. Dietary data were thus collected for Leviprora inops and Platycephalus laevigatus from seagrass in marine embayments and for Platycephalus westraliae from over sand in an estuary. These were then collated with those recorded previously for Platycephalus speculator from over sand and in seagrass in an estuary and for Platycephalus longispinis from over sand in coastal marine waters. While crustaceans and teleosts together dominated the diet of all five species, their percentage volumetric dietary contributions varied greatly, with those of crustaceans ranging from 7% for L. inops to 65% for P. speculator and those of teleosts ranging from 29% for P. longispinis to 91% for L. inops. The investigators of this project include Peter Coulson, Margaret Platell, Bob Clarke and Ian Potter and funding was provided through FRDC.

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Yellowtail Flathead (image: P. McKeown)


Historical perspectives of fisheries exploitation in the Indo-Pacific

Historical knowledge has an important role in addressing the problems facing marine capture fisheries today. The growing awareness of the value of historical perspectives underpinned the History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP) project, a 10-year global research collaboration concerned with the long-term interaction of humans and the marine environment. HMAP Asia forms one of the 12 regional case-studies, and specifically addresses a lack of knowledge about the history of fishing and the historic impact of human activity on marine environments in Asia and Oceania. At a time when overfishing and declining fish stocks remain pressing problems for marine scientists and fisheries managers, the task of establishing baselines that expose the full extent of ecological change is as important as ever; understanding the scale and extent of historic change is a necessary first step towards achieving  ustainability in marine capture fisheries. Historical Perspectives of Fisheries Exploitation in the Indo-Pacific represents an important step in what we hope will be ongoing international research on the marine environmental history of Asian and Pacific seas.

Further reading:
Christensen, J. & Tull, M. (eds.), Historical Perspectives of Fisheries Exploitation in the Indo-Pacific, MARE Publication Series 12, DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-8727-7_1, © Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014.



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