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Mining billionaire hopes multi-million dollar research centre will reverse reef’s decline

Andrew Forrest has opened a multi-million-dollar research facility in Exmouth with the aim of putting Western Australia at the front of the global pack in conservation research.

The Minderoo Foundation’s Exmouth Research Laboratory officially opened yesterday, right on the doorstep of the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef.

The Minderoo Foundation chairman and mining billionaire said the health of the reef was declining due to climate change, pollution and overfishing.

“That jewel in the crown, Ningaloo Reef, itself has been going backwards and deep research will turn that around,” Dr Forrest said.

The lab will examine the impacts of climate change on various species and the environment.(

ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson 

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Dr Forrest said the new lab would be one of the best of its kind in the world.

“Research will begin to focus now on a global basis into the Ningaloo Reef and into the surrounding Indian Ocean — research that we can all be proud of,” he said.

A large male sea snake rests his body along several rocks underwater.
More than 20 species of sea snake can be found in Western Australian waters.(

ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson

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‘Pent-up demand’

Hundreds of locals, tourists and scientists headed to the lab for the opening tour and were able to view ribbon-shaped sea snakes, jellyfish and coral in tanks.

The lab features more than 200 square metres of aquarium space, allowing for a diverse range of experiments that can be custom designed depending on different research needs.

The lab has both wet and dry spaces for general lab work, with the dry lab equipped for genetic experiments like DNA and RNA extraction.

Water tanks filled with coral, illuminated by fluorescent lights.
Multiple water tanks inside the laboratory, where coral is being heat-tested.(

ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson

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While the Ningaloo Reef and surrounding waters have been the focus of marine research for many years, research facilities had never been established in Exmouth before.

Flourishing Oceans chief executive Tony Worby said the new lab would provide scientists with much-needed support.

“There’s been, in a sense, a pent-up demand for this kind of facility here, just because of how important the marine environment here is,” he said.

A grey-haired man in a branded polo shirt stands smiling in front of a scientific aquarium.
Tony Worby says the new facilities will help boost research into protecting marine environments.(

ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson

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Climate change focus

Dr Worby said research at the lab would centre around how climate change was affecting marine environments.

“We’re in a difficult situation all around the world at the moment with coral reefs bleaching much more frequently than they used to, and frequently enough that they don’t really have enough time to recover in between those bleaching events,” he said.

Dr Worby said the lab would help scientists get ahead of the curve and start researching early enough to counteract the impacts of climate change on vulnerable species and environments.

“If we did ever get to a point where some kind of intervention was required in order to ensure areas that were damaged could be re-established, then we’d like to have done the work well before we need to know the answers to those questions,” he said.

A small jellyfish swimming in a tank.
Jellyfish and other sea creatures are being researched at the facility.(

ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson

)

Dr Worby said the lab’s opening was a much-needed step towards conserving the Ningaloo Reef and others around the world.

“We work with the state government, we work with traditional owners, we’re working with all of the ocean’s stakeholders here in the community to ensure that the science we support through the lab will have practical outcomes and lead to better ocean conservation measures,” he said.

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