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Marine plants and animals



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Great Australian Bight Marine Park

Marine Plants and Animals

The declaration of the Great Australian Bight Marine Park will enable this important area to be protected and managed as an internationally significant marine region.

The rich biological diversity of the Bight has been attributed to its geographical isolation, the unusual combination of warm and cold oceanic currents and the largest stretch of south-facing coastline in the southern hemisphere.

Its cool southern waters are a sanctuary for many types of marine creatures, including the endangered Southern Right Whale, the rare Australian Sea Lion, species of fish, molluscs, starfish, sea urchins and sea-cucumbers, many of which are found only in the Bight.

The Southern Right Whale The Great Australian Bight provides some of the most important breeding and calving sites to be found in Australia, and possibly the world, for the endangered Southern Right Whale.

The whales have a current world population estimated at between 1500 and 3000 individuals.

In winter the whales migrate to the Head of the Bight and form one of the largest, densest and most consistent aggregations and nursery areas for the species in the world, producing approximately one third of the total number of right whale calves born in Australian coastal waters each year.

In summer, the Southern Right Whales feed in the open Southern Ocean then move north to breed between May and October in the warmer waters of the Bight. Under the park's proposed plan of management, this area will be closed to boat access from May 1 to October 31 each year.

The Australian Sea Lion The Sea Lion is only found in Australian waters. It is listed as rare under South Australian legislation and by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). It also has special protected species status in Western Australia.

These non-migratory mammals inhabit a handful of coastal areas throughout southern and south-west Australia.

Their population ranges between 9900 and 12 400. There are between 613 and 774 living in the Great Australian Bight. The largest known mainland breeding colony of this species can be found in a cave at the base of cliffs at the Head of the Great Australian Bight.

Commercial hunting of the sea lions in the 19th Century resulted in a major decrease in their range, which once extended from Western Australia across to Bass Strait.

The sea lions feed on a wide variety of fish, small sharks, squid, cuttlefish and penguins.

Other Marine Animals and Plants The Blue Whale, Sperm Whale, Humpback Whale and Minke Whale also are commonly sighted along the Bight coastline. These whales are migratory and visit the temperate waters of the Bight during the Southern winter, to escape the colder waters in southern reaches of the Southern

Ocean.

Occasional residents of the Bight include the Killer Whale, the Beaked Whale, and several species of dolphin.

The Bight .is also rich with oceanic animals, such as the Southern Bluefin Tuna.

The Continental Shelf is an important part of the Bight that extends 120 to 170km off shore. Benthic refers to those animals and plants that live on the sea bottom. Studies have shown that the Bight is rich in benthic animals, including molluscs, 100 types of starfishes, sea urchins and sea cucumbers and 189 types of sea squirts.

The Great Australian Bight also supports a variety of marine plants, (algae and seagrass), notably a diversity of red algae. Many of these plants cannot survive outside the Bight's unique marine environment.

To date, scientists have recorded about 1200 types of seaweed, and 17 types of marine grasses.

Little penguins, species of albatross and petrels are some of the areas' special seabirds.

Further information: Public Relations and Marketing, Environment Australia, (02) 6250 0782