Five years ago, all that was there was the barren sandy seabed.
Today, the area is teeming with vibrant colour, exotic coral and hundreds of marine species, including an array of fish species like trevally, coral trout, cod and mangrove jack.
What has caused this dramatic transformation? The deployment of the six large, repurposed steel structures and nearly 50 concrete purpose-built modules that makes up King Reef – the fastest developing artificial reef in Australia!
This latest spectacular video footage by underwater photographer Violeta J. Brosig from Blue Media Exmouth captures the rich biodiversity that has grown on the reef and seen the number of fish species observed on the reef rise to more than 100.
In 2018, a collaboration between Recfishwest, the Exmouth local community, DPIRD, BHP, NERA, Subcon and Curtin University resulted in King Reef – the first integrated artificial reef deployed in the southern hemisphere covering an area of 27,000m³ – roughly the area of five footy ovals.
With ongoing support from Woodside Energy, the reef has rapidly transformed the area from an underwater desert into a marine oasis with coral trout, bluebone, spangled emperor, red emperor, mangrove jack, cod, Spanish mackerel and even sailfish seen patrolling around the reef.
An array of species are now commonly sighted by locals and tourists, spicing up the fishing opportunities and species diversity throughout the Gulf.
Exmouth Tackle and Camping owner Steve Riley, who was instrumental in turning vision of a repurposed reef in Exmouth Gulf into a reality, said it provides great fishing for fishers in small boats.
“King Reef is a very easy and accessible spot to fish and it’s brimming with life, so it’s perfect for small boat owners to get out for a fish,” he said.
“Our record time for reaching the reef, having a troll and having two Spanish mackerel in the boat is seven minutes, that’s how good the fishing has become there!
“Red emperor, amberjack and Rankin cod were barely reported at all throughout Exmouth Gulf before King Reef’s deployment, now these species are trickling outwards from the structure in great numbers and snorkelers have reported seeing red emperor in only four metres of water within the Gulf. It’s an unexpected, but welcome surprise.”
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “King Reef is a perfect example of how repurposed structures like these can quickly create productive, abundant underwater habitats. It is a huge credit to the Exmouth community and all our partners who have helped bring this dynamic reef system to life.
“Deploying habitat enhancement structures like King Reef is an internationally recognised and scientifically proven method to increase the productivity of our oceans. We are looking forward to seeing more of the structures creating new vibrant marine habitat like this in other parts of WA in the near future.”
Check out more stunning imagery captured by Blue Media Exmouth below, showing the thriving fish and coral reef communities!
With 78 boats brimming with 266 competitors all hoping to catch the biggest Spanish mackerel at the recent MACK10K competition in Onslow – our Fishing for Science table was jam-packed with macks!
The annual competition, hosted by the Ashburton Anglers Fishing Club, attracts scores of avid fishers who travel from far and wide across WA to the coastal Pilbara town, with its pristine waters providing the perfect playground for competitors and for various mackerel and billfish species to thrive.
With impressive prizes up for grabs across more than 17 categories and with Recfishwest once again working in collaboration with DPIRD Research Scientist Paul Lewis, our crew collected scientific data from dozens of Spanish mackerel that were brought to the weigh-in station.
Thanks to the contribution of the friendly and helpful competitors, our Fishing for Science program, supported by Woodside North West, collected data from a whopping 76 Spanish mackerel, including their weight, length, condition, sex and maturity stage.
“The number of Spanish mackerel samples collected for Fishing for Science at this year’s MACK10K is the most fish donated since the Fishing for Science program was initiated, so a huge kudos to the Onslow locals who are clearly passionate about helping us better understand this species,” said Recfishwest Senior Operations Officer Sam Russell.
In addition to our Fishing for Science program, DPIRD’s Paul Lewis took the otoliths from the 76 sampled fish on the filleting table for further scientific analysis. The finalised data will then be used in conjunction with commercial catch data to provide a clearer assessment of the Spanish mackerel stocks in the Pilbara Management Area.
“The biggest mackerel caught this year at the MACK10K (23.90kg landed by John Higgens) would be around 14 years old and that is normally the maximum age we see from Spanish mackerel each year at this competition from analysis of the otolith bones,” said Paul.
“We consistently see a strong class of fish every third year and Spanish mackerel reach legal size within about two years. 2019 was a particularly strong recruitment year for Spanish mackerel to thrive off the Pilbara coast and we thankfully saw that flow through to 2022 and 2023.”
A big Recfishwest thanks to the Onslow fishing community and Woodside North West who strongly support our Fishing for Science program, Paul Lewis who worked tirelessly to collect the data and the Ashburton Anglers for their hospitality during this great annual competition.
Outside of our core funding contribution from recreational fishing licence fees via DPIRD, a growing range of valued partners are helping us do more for West Aussie fishers in 2023. Without additional support for projects that make fishing better, we couldn’t do as much as we do in Australia’s largest state making fishing better for 700,000 fishers each year.
We would also like to thank our 2022/23 Business Supporters, who contribute to our organisation and the work we do on the ground in WA – a massive thank you to those businesses. You can check out our Business Supporters here. If you would like to be a 2023/34 Business Supporter, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a look at our 2023 Supporting Partners and the programs they are supporting to make fishing better in WA:
Shimano – community and sustainability
Shimano is supporting sustainable fishing practices in WA, through its backing of the Recfishwest fishing rules app with near to 90,000 users of the latest version! Shimano’s support helps ensure the app remains free for everyone and plays a vital role in the sustainability of our fish stocks.
Our SunSmart Fishing Clinics are also proudly supported by Shimano, seeing a need to support grassroots fishing and get WA kids in the outdoors wetting a line. Recfishwest SunSmart Fishing Clinics introduces children and families to fishing, getting people outdoors, promoting sustainable, safe fishing practices and connecting families to the fish they catch.
The partnership with Shimano also extends to helping us run and promote our Salmon Slam competition – the biggest land-based fishing comp in Australia! The comp taps into the mighty salmon run up the WA coast, helping fishers get onto one of the world’s best land-based sportfish on some of the world’s best beaches.
Department of Local Government Sport and Cultural Industries – industry investment
The State Government, through the Department of Local Government Sport and Cultural Industries, is a major supporter of Recfishwestand our aspirations of achieving top shelf governance and representing fishing communities through greater participation and providing enhanced opportunities and experiences for all West Aussies.
Fisheries Research Development Corporation (FRDC) – research and development
FRDC supports Recfishwest’s quest to better understand how we can enhance marine habitats through repurposing alternative and recycled materials to form productive artificial reefs in local WA waters. Man-made structures in the marine environment are scientifically proven to create fantastic fish habitats which can as a result play an important role in providing fishing communities access to abundant fish stocks and great fishing.
Traditionally, reef projects around Australia have been funded by public money through government agencies, in particular regional development, research or fisheries grants. More recently in WA, new reefs such as Exmouth’s King Reef (pictured above), have been brought to life through funding partnerships between government, not-for-profit and other private/industry sectors. Finding ways and protocols to source alternative materials to create habitat enhancement structures is critical in maximising the benefits artificial reefs can create for our oceans and communities.
FRDC funding is helping us to investigate how we can do this more effectively through our research project Artificial Reefs: Suitability of recycled materials for integration into purpose built artificial reefs for enhancing marine productivity, biodiversity and social outcomes.
Woodside –community and sustainability
Woodside is supporting Recfishwest’s activities in North-West WA through a number of community programs, which are outlined below.
Fishing for Science (Dampier, Onslow and Exmouth)
Fishing for Science is a community–focused program giving regional fishers a better understanding of the fish species that underpin their prized fishing experiences. Operating mainly through fishing tournaments, this kind of engagement program promotes greater community stewardship of the ocean and its resources. It also empowers fishers to play a more informed role in the management of our fisheries.
Community fishing clinics (Dampier and Cossack):
Recfishwest fishing clinics introduce children and families to fishing, getting people outdoors, promoting sustainable, safe fishing practices and connecting families to the fish they catch – nurturing great stewards of the marine environment for now and the future.
Recfishwest connecting with Aboriginal groups and communities in the North-West (Dampier, Onslow, Exmouth) through fishing:
Recfishwest is building our capacity to better understand local Aboriginal people’s culture in WA and bring theirs and the fishing communities together around common interests and values. Connection between cultures is best fostered through shared values, such as a love for fishing as a way of life, access to fishing areas and the sustainability of fishing environments.
Healthway – community SunSmart fishing clinics
Recfishwest SunSmart fishing clinics are proudly funded by Healthway promoting the SunSmart message under a long-running partnership. These clinics have been running successfully for more than 20 years. The primary purpose of Recfishwest SunSmart Fishing Clinics is to introduce children and families to fishing, getting people outdoors, promoting sustainable, safe fishing practices and connecting families to the fish they catch – helping them become better stewards of the marine environment.
BHP – community
BHP has partnered with Recfishwest by providing funding for the future deployment of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in local Port Hedland waters. FADs are a great type of fishing experience designed to attract larger pelagic species such as dolphinfish and tuna. These species are fast–growing, abundant and a great source of protein for the tables of WA fishing families.
DAIWA – community
Daiwa is again supportingRecfishwest’sStatewide community fish stocking program. Well-planned, practical, science-backed fish stocking and stock enhancement activities can support great fishing for the Western Australian community and Daiwa is helping us achieve this vision.
Santos – Community and Capacity Building
Santos is supporting the expansion of Recfishwest and its capacity in the Pilbara through an on-the-ground representative based in the Karratha/Dampier community. This will help foster more engaged and better represented fishing communities in WA’s North-West. Recfishwest’s move into the Pilbara was discussed and supported as a positive development with local stakeholders.
We are always open to welcoming new partners on board to help us enhance fishing in WA while helping achieve their objectives through a strong working collaboration with Recfishwest and fishing communities. We have an array of programs that need support right across WA so if you’d like to help make fishing better, get in touch.
Recfishwest’s recent fishing clinic in the Pilbara town of Cossack was a major hit with the local community, enthusiastically attended by kids, adults and Elders alike all eager to wet a line!
Taking place on beautiful Ngarluma land, the fishing clinic, run by Recfishwest, with the support of the Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Foundation Ltd, Roebourne Hub Community Resource Centre, Woodside Energy and DPIRD, saw at least 40 kids and adults arrive by buses supplied by the Yaandina Community Services and Real Employment for Aboriginal People (REFAP) to one of Cossack’s popular fishing platforms.
As soon as the next generation of young fishers turned up and saw the rods and hand lines perched against the rocks waiting for them, they excitedly sprinted over itching to get casting!
Recfishwest acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land and sea, and we pay our respect to Elders past, present and future. We recognise the strength, resilience and capacity of traditional custodians in managing and caring for the land and sea. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to life in WA.
Running for around five hours, it was clear that none of the fishers wanted to take breaks either! Attendees fished non-stop and landed great species such as golden trevally, bream, honeycomb cod, estuary cod and others.
Around 30 rods and 15 hand lines made available from Recfishwest were handed out to attendees and our team was kept busy baiting the hooks of fishers, who were happily educated and entertained with fishing tips and bites.
With a strong connection and knowledge of sea country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities share many of the same values as recreational fishers and those in and around Cossack were no exception!
The care for the sustainability of these species was evident by all of those attending the clinic, with a majority of fish caught and carefully and quickly released back into the pristine waters.
Recfishwest’s Sam Russell said, “We had just as much fun coordinating this fishing clinic as the friendly kids and Elders did in wetting a line. Their connection to the land and sea and passion for fishing was abundantly clear and it was awesome to see fishing bringing people together in this way,” said “There was plenty of fish biting and seeing everyone coming together and catching a few was one of those moments that make doing what we do so special – we can’t wait to come back next year.”
Danielle East, Woodside Communities Advisor for Corporate Affairs in Karratha, said, “The event was incredibly successful and the feedback we have received from participants has been very positive. Community members are already asking when there will be another clinic!” said Danielle.
“We certainly would like to see more of these types of activities in the future. The knowledge sharing that was made possible from this event was invaluable. Not only the information the Recfishwest team could share with community, but the knowledge the Elders were able to share with Recfishwest was very useful too.”
Our Recfishwest team are also excited to head back to Cossack next year and engage with community members.
“We’d like to thank NYFL and the Roebourne community for their warm welcome and Woodside Energy for funding this program, none of this would have been possible without all of you guys.”