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Turtle go-slow zone extensions needed

23 June 2017

James Cook University marine scientists are calling for an extension of go-slow zones in turtle habitats to reduce boat strikes on the threatened creatures.

JCU’s Dr Takahiro Shimada was part of a joint team from JCU and the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection that created and implemented the study. They tracked 18 green and 20 loggerhead turtles, in some cases for more than two-and-a-half years.  

He said the team concentrated on the Moreton Bay area of Brisbane, as this is where most turtle strikes happen in Queensland. Dr Shimada said that many shallow and all deeper areas in the bay are not go- slow zones.

“At the time the regulations were brought into effect, it wasn’t possible to track turtle habitats as accurately as we can now. So we set out to document where the turtles actually are,” he said.

The scientists found the turtles they tracked were present throughout the bay, and stayed mostly in water less than five metres deep.

“On the east side of the bay, most of their habitat is covered by go-slow zones, but almost none of their habitats in the rest of the bay are covered,” said Dr Shimada.

He said turtles are at risk when they surface to breathe, rest or when basking at or near the surface. They can also be struck when there is not enough depth for a hull or motor to pass over them safely. Dr Shimada said the animals were not agile enough to get out of the way of a fast-approaching vessel.

“We know that reducing the speed of boats significantly decreases the risk of collisions with turtles and dugongs and other air breathing animals,” he said.

Dr Shimada said that if all shallow zones in Moreton Bay were designated as go-slow zones, nearly half or more of the turtle habitats could be protected.

“If we did that and added a small buffer zone from shallow water extending into deeper water, up to 95 percent of the habitat would be covered.” 

Dr Shimada said the team were very mindful that human recreational and commercial use of Moreton Bay was valuable and that it was inevitable that compromises would have to be made.

“Effective management for recovery of a population doesn’t necessarily require the elimination of a particular source of mortality but rather that the mortality is low enough to allow the population to recover. Management agencies will need to balance the needs for reducing boat strikes with the use of the resource by the community,” he said.

Contact: Dr Takahiro Shimada


M: 0474 116 789

Images: Video of Dr Shimada demonstrating the ‘rodeo method’ of turtle capture here.

Dr Shimada  works at JCU’s Townsville campus. 

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Distant fish relatives share looks

14 June 2017

James Cook University scientists have found evidence that even distantly related Australian fish species have evolved to look and act like each other, which confirms a central tenet of evolutionary theory.

Dr Aaron Davis from the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) at JCU said the phenomenon, known as convergent evolution, happens when different fish adopt similar lifestyles and evolve through time to look very similar.

Scientists used techniques such as scanning electron microscopy and x-ray imaging to investigate species’ bodies and feeding mechanisms.  

“The study highlighted some really striking similarities in characteristics like tooth and jaw structure and body shape between Australian freshwater grunters and several other marine fish families when they share feeding habits,” said Dr Davis.  

Convergent evolution is one of the fundamental predictions of evolutionary theory. The JCU research was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society Bjournal link (and highlighted on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website link).

It identified significant convergence in body form between Australian freshwater terapontid grunters and several distantly related marine fish families separated by 30-50 million years of evolution.

Dr Davis said Australia’s freshwater fish are quite unique.

“We don’t have lots of the freshwater fish families we see elsewhere because of our long geographic isolation from other continents. Most of our freshwater fish have actually evolved from marine fish groups that have invaded and adapted to Australian freshwaters over millions of years.”

He said this meant Australian freshwater fish provided a rare testing ground for theories about evolution and the role of factors such as habitat, diet and competition in shaping evolutionary processes.

“It matches our expectations regarding evolution, but we haven’t seen this process documented at such broad habitat and time scales all that frequently, so it’s quite exciting,” he said.

Contact: Dr Aaron Davis

M: 0457 300 195


Link to pics taken with a Scanning Electron Microscope.

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Research for an oil (palm) change

In recent research, scientists have developed a technique that shows great promise for helping oil palm growers optimise production and reduce environmental impacts. The research, carried out by doctoral candidate Lénaïc Pardon, focused on crop yield, nitrous oxide emissions and nitrogen leaching.

The findings are published in the latest edition of Field Crops Research.

Co-author Associate Professor Paul Nelson of James Cook University said oil palm is an important food crop, meeting about thirty per cent of the global demand for vegetable oil.

“This will be a valuable tool and can be used in on-farm decision making. It will give growers information that will help them make decisions that are good for both productivity and the environment.”

“Many of the oil palm growers we dealt with had an interest in doing the right thing environmentally, but until now it has been difficult for them to predict how changes in management might affect their productivity and environmental impact, and determine what trade-offs might be involved.’

Mr Pardon and his colleagues simulated the impacts of management and site conditions on nitrogen cycling, using data from three plantations. The simulation simultaneously predicted changes in productivity and environmental impacts associated with different cropping practices, such as fertiliser application and sowing of legume cover crops.

Dr Nelson said that oil palm is a highly productive source of vegetable oil that can be managed in an environmentally sound way.

“We need to keep in mind that producing the same amount of vegetable oil from an alternative crop requires approximately seven times the area of land that oil palm is currently grown on.

“Science has an important role to play in improving the productivity and sustainability of tropical agriculture. This research involved a team of scientists from Australia, France, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia who collected and analysed the large amounts of data required.

“The technique will be particularly useful for growers of environmentally certified palm oil, which is produced without clearing of primary forests, with transparent and fair agreements with landowners and good land management practices.”

The research was carried out in partnership between James Cook University, the French Agricultural Research and International Cooperation Organization (CIRAD), the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), AgroParisTech, SMART Research Institute and the Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association, with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the French National Research Agency (ANR).

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Dr Yangang Li completes one-year research placement at TropWATER

Dr Yanfang Li has successfully completed a one-year research placement with TropWATER, JCU. Dr Li is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow from China supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has been working with Professor Eric Wolanski on a number of projects. In her time down-under Dr Li studied and modelled:

  • The Fly River plume intrusion into the Torres Strait
  • The intrusion of warm water from the Gulf of Carpentaria into the Torres Strait and the northern Great Barrier Reef during the 2016 mass coral bleaching
  • The pelagic ecosystem and ecohydrology of Liazhou Bay, a large bay in the Bohai Sea, and in particular the importance of annual jellyfish blooms on local fisheries
  • The water circulation in the Bohai Sea and Bohai Strait

Research highlights include demonstrating using the SLIM model that the archipelago of small islands in the southern Bohai Strait controls the flushing of the Bohai Sea. Dr Li also showed that the the 'sticky water' effect demonstrated to exist in the Great Barrier Reef also applies to the Bohai Strait in China, truly a paradigm shift in China oceanography. We wish Dr Li all the best and look forward to future collaborations.

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