Expedition at Wilsons Promontory

Northern Pacific sea star Asterias amurensis survey

The Northern Pacific seastar, Asterias amurensis, was first discovered at Tidal River within Wilsons Promontory in 2012. The sea star presents a significant threat to the Marine National Park as it rapidly reproduces and is a veracious predatory that can cause significant ecological change and is difficult to eradicate once established. Eradication occurred with early detection of an outbreak at Inverloch, Victoria.  The monitoring of Wilsons Promontory will enables similar responses.  This year marks the second consecutive survey at Wilsons Promontory.

The monitoring sites included in the survey were of various habitats known to be favourable to the Northern Pacific seastar, including sand, burrow mounds, seagrass and scallop beds habitats. New sites were also investigated with an offshore site inspected and found to contain elegant soft corals in sediment.

High definition towed video cameras was used to inspect to small scale monitoring sites for A. amurensis. In a first for Wilsons Promontory, large scale sites where observed by Australian Marine Ecology’s autonomous vehicle, Phoenix

Underwater Autonomous Vehicles (AUVs) are underwater robots that work without the control of an operator. In research, scientists can fit cameras, sonar and a variety of sensors to the AUV to capture a range of data. Typically data is collected much more rapidly,  more safely and in many cases in a more accurate fashion than traditional methods.  AUV Phoenix is our new upgraded Iver2-580 autonomous underwater vehicle and boasts;

  • Two on-board computers allow for autonomous undersea navigation and data recording;
  • Depth, compass, GPS and doppler velocity log (DVL);
  • Yellowfin three frequency sidescan sonar;
  • Two onboard cameras;
  • Iridium satellite communications; and
  • Teledyne Benthos through-water data modem.

Phoenix collected high definition footage for A. amurensis detection and side scan data of transects for mapping purposes which allowed the team to achieve other objectives while it completed its missions.

Invasive species survey at Refuge Cove

Refuge Cove, on the east coast of Wilsons Promontory, offers a sanctuary against the prevailing south westerly weather for recreational boaters and commercial vessels alike. This attribute, coupled with the aesthetic value of the location, means there is a high vessel visitation rate and an inadvertent risk of introduction of exotic species. This year marks the second consecutive survey of Refuge Cove, on behalf of Parks Victoria.

Day 1

Under an unusually sunny sky and with an esky full of ginger beer the expedition started with a mirror calm exit from Port Welshpool. Heading down the east coast of the Prom, the team was welcomed into the Marine National Park by its iconic islands and mountains thundering up into the clouds. On route to base camp at Refuge Cove, we made several stops to use drop video to inspect monitoring sites for any presence of A. amurensis.

With only a few hours of light remaining RV Orca II was made shipshape and we steamed further south around the lighthouse to the infamous Roaring Meg. There we met with Deakin University staff in their vessel Yolla and Parks Victoria in Sea Eagle. Yolla had been doing a multi beam sonar survey of the Marine Park, uncovering some unusual and special topographical features. More information on this project can be found at;


With the sun now assertively slipping into the horizon it was time to beat back up to Refuge Cove and the Rangers hut for a hot meal and a well deserved rest.

Day 2

An early start the next day brought an astonishing sunrise though the mouth of the Cove.

This was made more perfect by the gentle presence of a single juvenile Burranan dolphin, Tursiops sp. 

After wearing out the shutter button on all of our cameras we prepared the drop camera and AUV Phoenix, ready to explore the southern waters of the Wilsons Promontory. 

Continuing further around the Prom we started our hunt for A. amurensis.  In Norman and Leonard Bays we deployed AUV Phoenix to conduct the first ever large scale AUV missions at Wilsons Promontory. Phoenix collected high definition footage and sidescan data in a fraction of the time it would take a field team using other methods.

While AUV phoenix was doing its missions, we continued further west to inspect sites at the stately Great Glennie island group. Using the drop video, the new site revealed a cascade of giant boulders plunging into the deep, mirroring the boulder strewn shoreline above

 By this time we were once again chasing sunlight and so began the long haul back around to Refuge Cove to prepare for the last day of the expedition.

Day 3

The morning greeted, us, as usual, with stunning views of the rising sun that seemed to improve the flavour of our instant coffee. After waiting for sufficient sunlight, we began the Refuge Cove invasive species survey. Completion of the survey marked the end of the expedition to Wilsons Promontory. In total we had inspected more than 50 locations of various habitats types for A. amurensis and completed an invasive species survey of Refuge Cove. With the wind freshening and sea rising we made our trek back to Port Welshpool to end our first expedition and to plan the next.

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