New marine heatwave early warning system for the Australian aquaculture industry

Australia’s $3 billion fisheries and aquaculture industries will receive up to six months’ warning of damaging marine heatwaves under a national forecasting system developed by the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology.

Written by: Mike Foley /

The sea surface temperature around Australia has warmed by about 1 degree since 1910, according to the bureau, with eight of the 10 warmest years on record occurring since 2010.

The warming trend has increased the rate of marine heatwaves – when the sea surface temperature sits in the upper band of historical averages for at least five days. Marine heatwaves can stress fish, damaging the output of fish farms by reducing yield, quality and spreading disease. They are also a chief cause of coral bleaching, which is a major threat to coral ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef.

“By giving advanced warning, marine industries and managers of fisheries and aquaculture would be able to take action to minimise impacts of these damaging heatwaves on their stocks and marine resources,” said federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, whose department funded the $300,000 project.

With advance warning, aquaculture managers can harvest ahead of a temperature spike, relocate their operations or deploy short-term solutions such as water-cooling systems or shading for fish pens.

The modelling for the system, which is powered by the Commonwealth’s $77 million Cray XC40 super-computer, can also show which locations are most at risk of heatwaves and help pinpoint the most advantageous farm sites.

Australia’s marine industries, including aquaculture, tourism and marine engineering and boat building, contribute more than $50 billion a year to the economy and the government is forecasting this to grow to $100 billion by 2025.

While heatwave forecasting is already in place for the Great Barrier Reef, the new Australia-wide system will help environment managers anticipate and plan for damaging events in other sensitive areas and guide site selection for future marine protected areas.

Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said the warning system, announced during National Science Week, showed Australia was a “world-leading contributor when it comes to marine heatwave work”.


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