Anita Slotwinksi - Plankton Biologist, AusCPR Brisbane

The Australian Continuous Plankton Recorder (AusCPR) Survey is a joint project of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research (CMAR) and the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) to measure plankton communities as a guide to the health of Australia's oceans. The AusCPR Survey is part of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), a national collaborative program to observe Australia's marine environments. IMOS is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training.

The aims of the AusCPR survey are to:

  • map plankton biodiversity and distribution
  • develop the first long-term plankton baseline for Australian waters
  • document plankton changes in response to climate change
  • provide indices for fisheries management
  • detect harmful algal blooms
  • validate satellite remote sensing
  • initialise and test ecosystem models

Servicing and maintenance of the CPRs and analysis of the samples for the AusCPR survey will be carried out by staff based at the CMAR laboratories in Dutton Park, Brisbane and Floreat, Perth, and at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart. The dataset will be made freely available according to the IMOS data policy and should provide researchers and policy makers with environmental and climatic indicators on harmful algal blooms, eutrophication, pollution, climate change and fisheries.

Australia is unique in being bounded by warm-water poleward-flowing currents off both east (the east Australian Current, EAC) and west (Leeuwin Current) coasts. Although this results in generally low plankton and fisheries productivity, diversity is high and has affinities with the diverse tropical taxa of the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. AusCPR is currently observing the plankton along several routes using Continuous Plankton Recorders.

The EAC route extends from Brisbane (Queensland, latitude 27oS) to Adelaide (South Australia, latitude 34oS) down the east coast of Australia and follows the southward-flowing warm-water east Australian Current. This region is forecast to warm more than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere this century. This CSIRO-run route is towed bi-monthly by a commercial ANL vessel whose generous support is critical to the operation. Other routes are run by the CSIRO lab including the east coast of Tasmania and the cross Tasman to New Zealand.

The other set of routes are conducted between Australia and Antarctica in collaboration with the SCAR Southern Ocean CPR (SO-CPR) Survey led by the Australian Antarctic Division DEWHA since 1991. Tows are conducted on voyages of the RSV Aurora Australis. The Australian tows combine with tows from 14 other countries within the SO-CPR consortium producing a near circum-Antarctic survey. This provides access to plankton data beyond Australia helping to understand observed changes in a wider regional and global context.

The AusCPR Survey program will ensure that we monitor the long-term health of our oceans by listening to its biological heartbeat - the changes in the plankton.

IMOS AusCPR and SO-CPR samples June 2009 to November 2011