Helen Hunt

MSC Student

Project

Monitoring interactions between marine wildlife and commercial tourism vessels in Shark Bay, Western Australia

There has been rapid expansion of marine-based tourism worldwide, particularly those focusing on close-up encounters with wild cetaceans. Given the nature of this tourism- such that specific cetacean communities are repeatedly sought for prolonged, close-up encounters- there exists a potential for harmful consequences for targeted animals. Within the Shark Bay Marine Park, Western Australia, research has identified both short-term changes in behaviour as well as long-term declines in relative abundance of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp). Here commercial vessel-based dolphin watching began in Red Cliff Bay, Monkey Mia in 1993, with one tour operator, and a subsequent operator in 1998. Research outcomes led to a ministerial decision to reduce the number of licensed tour operators from two to one, within a 6km radius of Monkey Mia. Licenses, managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation, include spatial and temporal constraints for area of operation and the placement of a “black box” on the vessels. The ‘black boxes’ allow for the quantification of vessel movement, license compliance and rate of wildlife interactions. The “black box” data consists of GPS data collected over four years, at one minute intervals, along with additional information, e.g. travel speed, encounter and duration rates with marine fauna (dolphins, dugongs and turtles), and tour operator license boundaries. The ‘Black Box’ data is being used to address both applied and empirical questions. These include documenting: (1) the spatial and temporal footprint and compliance of tour operators; and (2) the spatial and temporal distribution of marine wildlife. This research will help test the efficacy of recent management intervention to reduce vessel-based interactions with dolphins.

Academic Record

2011 Current: MSc in Environmental Science. Supervisors: Dr. Halina Kobryn and Dr. Lars Bejder. Thesis title: Monitoring interactions between marine wildlife and commercial tourism vessels in Shark Bay, Western Australia

2010: Honours in Molecular Biology Murdoch University Thesis Title: Ancient DNA provides insights into population decline and genetic diversity loss in the critically endangered woylie (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi)
2009: Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences, minor in Animal Biology, Murdoch University

Memberships

Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA)

Employment

Ancient DNA Laboratory Research Assistant 2009-2010

Molecular Biology Research Assistant at Ondek 2010

Voluntary Work

Kingston University – London

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