Marine science, connectivity, and research cooperation in the Arafura and Timor Seas
Tonny Wagey (Arafura Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Program) and Karen Edyvane (Arafura Timor Research Facility)

Australia’s ‘near pristine’ northern seas and marine biodiversity encompass the shallow, continental seas of the Arafura and Timor Seas (or ATS), sharing its waters with three close, regional neighbours – Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste.  Within these semi-enclosed seas, shallow, continental shelves (i.e.  Arafura Shelf, Sahul Shelf), semi-enclosed gulfs (i.e.  Gulf of Carpentaria, Joseph Bonaparte Gulf), and also sea level changes, have resulted in strong, regional-level connectivity in oceanographic processes and biodiversity, particularly, in the movements of pelagic and migratory species.  In addition to shared fisheries stocks, globally significant populations of migratory protected species (i.e.  turtles, dugongs, cetaceans) are found throughout the ATS region, with major oceanographic highways, such as Indonesian through-flow (which connects the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean), providing major migratory pathways for these species.  Despite encompassing some of Australia’s most remote and sparsely populated coastlines, marine conservation and ecosystem-based management in the ATS region faces major challenges from lack of information and ecosystem-level understanding as well as critical trans-boundary threats and management issues in the region (i.e.  climate change, illegal fishing, marine pollution, bio-security, loss of protected species, habitat degradation, poverty alleviation, weak institutions and governance, indigenous rights and interests, economic development and food security).

The strong regional ecological connectivity and major trans-boundary challenges of the ATS has resulted in, increasingly, the development of cross-jurisdictional management frameworks (e.g.  fisheries, biodiversity), regional conservation initiatives (i.e.  ‘Coral Triangle Initiative’, ‘Arafura Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Plan’, etc.), and also, regional marine scientific cooperation.  In the face of the major trans-boundary challenges in the ATS region, marine science collaboration and regional partnerships will play a crucial role in helping to improve our understanding of this globally significant marine ecosystem.

Primary aims of the symposium are through presentations and discussions: (a) to highlight current regional marine science programs, projects and partnerships in the Arafura and Timor seas; (b) to identify key marine science knowledge gaps and priorities; and (c) to explore and identify future opportunities for regional marine science cooperation.

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