The Cottesloe Ecosystem Research Project
Cottesloe Beach is one of Perth’s premier landmarks, well known and much loved amongst locals and tourists alike. What many people don’t realise is that there is more to Cottesloe Beach than white sands and beautiful sunsets. Cottesloe Reef sits just offshore Cottesloe Beach, and is home to a thriving coastal ecosystem with an abundant and biodiverse set of flora and fauna. For example, diverse seagrass and algae populations allow for the presence of the Weedy Seadragon, and many species of fin-fish are also present on the Reef. All in all, a really dynamic ecosystem! What makes the ecosystem at Cottesloe Reef extra special is the proximity to Perth itself – very rarely does a major city have a flourishing and unique ecosystem so close to it. However, this proximity to Perth also places Cottesloe Reef at an increased vulnerability of negative anthropogenic influences such as overfishing, wastewater discharge and damage from boat-related activity.
As a result of the combination of high social importance and elevated vulnerability to human disturbances, much of Cottesloe Reef was declared a Fish Habitat Protection Area in 2001, with a principle aim of preserving aquatic biodiversity in the area. To achieve this, many potentially damaging activities like jetskiing, spearfishing and anchoring were prohibited in the area. The original plan that implemented the CFHPA underlined the fact that community involvement would be central to the success of the CFHPA in maintaining biodiversity. This has been underlined by groups such as Cottesloe Coastcare Association being highly involved with raising public awareness about the protection of the Reef.
In addition, undergraduate students from The University of Western Australia have conducted an annual field trip to study different components of the Cottesloe Reef Ecosystem as part of the “Marine Systems” (previously Intro to Marine Science) unit since 2007. Students are split into several groups that all study one component of the ecosystem. Students either focus on:
- the benthic primary producers (seagrasses and macro-algae)
- the invertebrate community (everything from nudibranches to anemones)
- the fish community (including the Weedy Seadragon and Port Jackson Sharks)
Students then collate their data and write up a report detailing the distribution of flora/fauna across the Cottesloe Reef ecosystem. This has essentially resulted in a series of reports benchmarking the type of organisms present in the area. However, from 2013 we have been shaking things up slightly, by publishing all student reports on this blog, AND doing comparisons to previous years! This way, we will be passing on the knowledge we gain in the field to anyone who is interested!