Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project
The Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project (SBERP) is an international research collaboration led by the Heithaus lab with the goal of understanding the dynamics of one of the world’s most pristine seagrass ecosystems. In addition, SBERP strives to disseminate the results of the project to a wide audience through documentary films, the project website, curriculum and teacher resources for secondary schools. The lab’s work in Shark Bay provides the most detailed study of the ecological role of sharks in the world and has been used as an underpinning for affecting positive policy changes in shark conservation.
Shark Bay, in remote Western Australia, is one of the last large seagrass ecosystems virtually untouched by mankind. Almost 800 km (500 miles) north of Perth, Shark Bay’s remote location and small human population have protected it from the changes that have degraded most of the world’s seagrass ecosystems. Here, where populations of tiger sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and sea cows have thrived, the SBERP is endeavoring to determine how this system works so we will be able to make recommendations about how to protect and restore other marine communities. To learn more about SBERP’s research, visit our projects page. These pages are updated as new results come in so check back for the latest information from the field.
Right now, the lab is working on understanding how the bay is responding to a massive marine heatwave that resulted in a catastrophic decline (more than 80%) in the seagrass that forms the foundation of the bay and resulting negative impacts to sea turtles and other animals. As part of these studies the lab is conducting experiments to determine if the presence of tiger sharks is critical to the rebound of the bay.
SBERP is dedicated to using its research not only to enhance the conservation of marine ecosystems but also to educate the public, inspire and help train the next generation of marine scientists. To this end SBERP has worked with numerous film crews (National Geographic, Discovery, and others) to produce educational documentaries on Shark Bay. Also, SBERP has brought middle school science teachers to Shark Bay to participate in research and help design lesson plans and educational materials for their classrooms. For more information, or to receive lesson plans, videos, and other educational materials for your class or school please visit the SBERP teacher resources, species fact sheets, and photo & video pages. Be sure to check the K-12 Video Programs page of this site for SBERP video lessons and new videos.
Major funding for SBERP Projects has come from the National Science Foundation and NSERC Canada, but our work wouldn’t be possible without the generous assistance of a number of businesses, institutions, and individuals. For additional information as well as links to their web sites (where available) visit the SBERP sponsors section. If you would like to help support the lab’s research with a tax-deductible donation, please contact Mike Heithaus.