Exmouth, across the Pilbara to Broome

[photo size=’small’ align=’right’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2012/05/dugongfeature.jpg[/photo]We’ve made some tracks on this trip so far – after leaving Perth we flew to Exmouth to see the whale shark festival and do some aerial survey work, drove down to Coral Bay to meet with Frazer McGregor and his mantas, and then motored back to Exmouth for a boat trip out to the northern part of the Ningaloo reef to spend some time with dugongs and bottlenose dolphins. During this initial part of the trip we’ve been able to collect a panoply of geolocated digital images, videos and audio and get them up on a public information map (PIM). An example of this map, with data from Exmouth, is embedded below. The baselayers for this map include the Australian governments own data on marine protected areas, and these data indicate that there is a significant focus on MPAs in the region. If you use the theme selector in the top right of the map and turn on the oil and gas theme, the story changes. Most importantly, the juxtaposition of these spatial data with our recent acquisitions uploaded to the map using social media sites in just a couple of days gives a good idea of the potential conflict amongst resources users in this region.

Exmouth Map

After Exmouth, we flew in a small plane across the southern section of the Pilbara to Port Hedland, an industrial oasis in the central part of this remote region. We flew over some pretty spectacular coastal habitat, that ranged from wide mangrove forests to open salt flats and vast beaches. Several groups of islands were visible out the port side of the aircraft as we flew along. Our stop at Port Hedland afforded us an opportunity to partake in a helo trip around the town, which gave us some spectacular views of the industrial infrastructure built out there. The human endeavor visible in Port Hedland matches the spatial scale of the Pilbara marine wilderness – it is simply awesome. Below is a map that illustrates some of the photos collected during the flight to Port Hedland and during the helo trip, and these pictures provide some detail on the interface between industrial activities and mangrove forest habitats in this location.

Port Hedland Map

We circled Port Hedland for about an hour and a half, then rebounded our plane and struck out for Broome. Our path took us offshore and over a new marine protected area that runs along what is called 80 mile beach. It’s an apt name, as the coastline below us and to our right was essentially one continual strip of sand that extended for miles. Maybe even more than 80. We photographed the coast and islands we passed over, and Tom even managed to tweet a picture from the plane at 9000ft – a testimony to the solid mobile phone infrastructure in this remote region. After about two hours we approached Broome over Roebuck Bay. We landed and made our way to our hotel, then walked down to Matso’s Brewery for dinner. Great ginger beer there!

Broome exceeded our expectations in terms of wildlife and citizens interested in contributing to a data collection program in the region. We met with several community members and demonstrated the social media mapping system (Tom tweeted pictures of some of these folks during the meetings, which were instantly dropped onto the map before their eyes). We took two boat trips while in Broome, the first gave us access to the shallow mudflats of Roebuck Bay and some mangrove habitat, and yielded sightings of snubfin dolphins and several species of seabirds. Also, as we came back in at the end of the day we motored under a growing cloud of flying foxes that has just woken from the day-long slumber. Our second day was even more dramatic, with close-up encounters with snubfin dolphins, humpback dolphins and flatback turtles. We also got several recordings of ocean sounds with our prototype hydrophone system. All in all two great days. Between boat trips we snuck in a visit to the Broome Wilderness Park, created inn part by Australian legend Malcolm Douglass. This trip gave use the opportunity to see some salt water crocs up close and personal, as well emus, dingos and other exotic Aussie wildlife. Pictures of these encounters are included in the map below.

Broome map

I’ve just returned from WA and spent a brief time with Lars and his wife, Michelle and Kate Sprogis – a PhD student in the MUCRU. We had some great indian food in Perth below the Bell Tower, and got to share some of the great things we saw and did on the trip with them. I’ll be posting a more detailed account of the trip and how we measure it’s success, but in the meanwhile, I’ve embedded a map that encompasses the entire range of our adventure below.

Full trip map