The Future Of

Marine Biodiversity | Prof Fred Wells & Prof Monique Gagnon

Episode Summary

Discover how ‘fish fingerprints’ are playing a key role in oil spills, and the impact of rising sea temperatures on marine life.

Episode Notes

In this episode, David Karsten is joined by Professor Fred Wells and Professor Monique Gagnon to discuss the impact of rising sea temperatures and oil spills on aquatic life. 

Significant changes in marine fauna along Perth’s coastline (00:01:02:03)

Impact of 2011 heatwave on the west end of Rottnest (00:04:12:12)

How fish fingerprints are helping identify oil pollutants (00:09:23:04)

Recovery of marine populations after the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea (00:19:54:22)

Positive trends in pollution reduction (00:21:26:23)

Learn more

Marine heatwaves decimate sea urchins, molluscs and more at Rottnest

Fish Fingerprinting: Identifying Crude Oil Pollutants using Bicyclic Sesquiterpanes (Bicyclanes) in the Tissues of Exposed Fish

Connect with our guests

Professor Fred Wells, Adjunct Professor, School of Molecular and Life Sciences, Curtin University

As senior curator of aquatic zoology at the Western Australian Museum for many years, Professor Wells developed a keen interest in tropical marine ecosystems and Western Australian marine habitats. He later moved to the WA Department of Fisheries where he led a research project on introduced marine pests. His research has included all major habitat types in the Western Pacific, with a particular focus on coral reefs and mangroves, and documenting molluscan assemblages in marine areas not previously investigated by scientists. He is the former President and a Lifetime Member of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, The World Scientific Society for Molluscs, and the Australasian Mollusc Society.  

Staff Profile


Professor Monique Gagnon, Discipline lead, Ecology, School of Molecular and Life Sciences, Curtin University

A prominent researcher in ecotoxicology, Professor Gagnon has led major research projects for industry, government and the Australian Research Council.  Her research focuses on the impact of accidental oil spills, petroleum exploration and production on fish health, endocrine disruptors, sewage treatment plants and urban runoffs, and the toxicity of drilling muds used in the petroleum exploration industry. She provides advice on drilling programs in sensitive marine areas like Botany Bay and Barrow Island. She also monitors the effects of anti-fouling chemicals on vertebrates and invertebrate populations. Professor Gagnon is an associate editor for the international peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Toxicology.

Staff profile


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Behind the scenes

Host: David Karsten

Content creator: Anne Griffin-Appadoo

Producer: Emilia Jolakoska

Social Media: Amy Hosking

Executive Producers: Anita Shore and Matthew Sykes

First Nations Acknowledgement

Curtin University acknowledges the traditional owners of the land on which Curtin Perth is located, the Whadjuk people of the Nyungar Nation, and on Curtin Kalgoorlie, the Wongutha people of the North-Eastern Goldfields; and the First Nations peoples on all Curtin locations.


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Curtin University supports academic freedom of speech. The views expressed in The Future Of podcast may not reflect those of Curtin University.

Episode Transcription

00:00:02:04 - 00:00:28:21
Host: David Karsten
This is the future of where experts share their vision of the future and how their work is helping shape it for the better. I'm David Karsten. Western Australia's coastline is a haven for diverse marine life and ecosystems from humpback whales to sea snails. The region is rich in biodiversity, but rising temperatures, invasive species and pollutants are all threatening the future of many forms of sea life and their habitats.

00:00:28:23 - 00:00:53:23
Host: David Karsten
In this episode, I was joined by Professor Fred Wells and Professor Monique Gagnon from Curtin's School of Molecular and Life Sciences. Professor Wells is researching the impacts of higher sea temperatures. And Professor Gagnon is an expert on aquatic pollution. We discuss the factors impacting marine biodiversity in Western Australia. Now, if you'd like to find out more about Curtin's research, you can visit the links provided in the show notes.

00:00:54:00 - 00:01:02:01
Host: David Karsten
Professor Wells, tell us how long you have been involved in longitudinal research along Perth's coastline.

00:01:02:03 - 00:01:13:14
Professor Fred Wells
Well, that's an interesting question because I started off at the museum in 1976 and it wasn't longitudinal then, but now 46, 47 years later, it is longitudinal. That turns out to be quite a long time.

00:01:13:15 - 00:01:18:03
Host: David Karsten
You must have seen just a massive raft of change in those different spots along the coastline.

00:01:18:05 - 00:01:28:06
Professor Fred Wells
The job of the museum and I was there for 30 years was to document the fauna of Western Australia. So coming from overseas, it was a third of a continent.

00:01:28:08 - 00:01:31:03
Host: David Karsten
And so only a small task really, they say.

00:01:31:05 - 00:01:53:19
Professor Fred Wells
Well, tiny, Yeah, but it was good and it gave me an opportunity to go places that you never think of and do things you would never think of. We had a trip to the Kimberley one time. We named 46 Islands. But who would ever think that you’d name an island. So it's been a very longitudunal study and year to year since, but it's been interesting.

00:01:53:21 - 00:02:05:05
Host: David Karsten
Well, here in Perth, in the coastline along Perth, you have been focused on the invertebrates underwater there whose populations have been affected over time. In what ways and which populations are we talking about?

00:02:05:07 - 00:02:35:16
Professor Fred Wells
Well, back in 1982, I think it was, the Fisheries department was concerned about abalone. Abalone was a new interest to people. And in those days people were collecting abalone. They had no idea how many where what they were doing. So they banned collecting abalone and other molluscs on the platforms, platforms like Cottesloe, Triggs, Waterman, but Watermans was a reserve, and they asked us to look at the molluscs, the sea shell group, to see what was happening.

00:02:35:16 - 00:02:48:16
Professor Fred Wells
So we started then in 1982, the Leeuwin current was only described in 1980, so it had no real knowledge of how the systems were working here, and it's developed incredibly since then.

00:02:48:18 - 00:03:03:04
Host: David Karsten
We're talking over 40 years now. Professor Wells, what were the key points during that time period where you noticed some, according to your research, catastrophic change? Has it been incremental or have you noticed plunges in populations of these different mollusks and invertebrates?

00:03:03:10 - 00:03:20:17
Professor Fred Wells
Well, the job of the museum was to look at different parts of the state, and it depended pretty much on the funding that was available. So I moved around. But back in 2007, I was at Fisheries At that time. We looked at the same platforms that we looked at in the 1980s and got pretty much the same result.

00:03:20:17 - 00:03:38:05
Professor Fred Wells
Same species with their densities may differ a little bit, but it's pretty much the same. Then we went back in 2021 with Monique and others, and the West End of Rottnest changed dramatically, but inshore, Triggs, Cottesloe, Waterman had hardly changed at all.

00:03:38:06 - 00:03:39:12
Host: David Karsten
So what was going on?

00:03:39:13 - 00:04:12:12
Professor Fred Wells
Well, as I said, the Leeuwin current was only described in 1980. So one of the first jobs that we did was to go on to the west end of Rottnest. We knew that there were tropical species in the West End because people have been collecting and bringing in for identification and then we ourselves have collected some. But it turns out the Leeuwin current comes down the coast, hits the west end of Rottnest, but doesn’t come inshore So the West end of Rottnest is very much influenced by the Leeuwin current. And then in 2011 there was a huge heat wave along the marine environment here.

00:04:12:12 - 00:04:18:05
Professor Fred Wells
There were others, but that was the big one. We think that's what caused the change. And at the West End of Rottnest.

00:04:19:22 - 00:04:26:14
Host: David Karsten
So there's a change in temperature and it's evident when looking at the declining populations that it's a pretty frightening discovery, isn't it?

00:04:26:16 - 00:04:49:02
Professor Fred Wells
Well, that's frightening. It's also surprising because if you stand at the lookout, on Cape Vlamingh or looking down on Radar Reef looks okay. You know, you see things down. Yeah, that's good. It's beautiful. But when are you going to go down there and start counting, measuring the number of individuals? And it’s all just disappeared. 90% gone. So it came as quite a shock, really.

00:04:49:02 - 00:04:55:03
Host: David Karsten
Is that change in temperature affecting those populations specifically or is it affecting their food source?

00:04:55:05 - 00:05:15:21
Professor Fred Wells
It's affecting everything. The 2011 heatwave created a lot of interest in the marine science community. There was a lot of work done on what the effects were, their effects on the ecology of marine ecology. There's a lot along the entire West Coast between North West Cape and Cape Leeuwin, so that was a massive change. And this is just the icing on the cake, if you will.

00:05:15:21 - 00:05:18:08
Professor Fred Wells
It's a small part of a much bigger change.

00:05:18:09 - 00:05:25:23
Host: David Karsten
How does that affect the food chain? What feeds on the species that were being affected, such as mollusks and clams, starfish and the like?

00:05:26:00 - 00:05:51:01
Professor Fred Wells
Well, you get fish come in rock lobsters come in at night on those platforms. Other species depend on what's on living on the platforms, and they're not there. But the interesting part to me is that Trigg and Cottesloe of the inshore platforms everything just looks normal. So it's the west end of Rottnest and that is very much as far as we know, the West end of Rottnest Cape Vlamingh and Radar Reef, not Rottnest as a whole.

00:05:51:03 - 00:05:58:05
Host: David Karsten
It's so odd really. Isn't it just fascinating that there are such varying conditions in potentially the one location?

00:05:58:07 - 00:06:21:13
Professor Fred Wells
Well we knew that to start with because when we did a study in 1982, just after Leeuwin current was described, the West end of Rottnest had twice as many tropical species since the East End or as inshore. But if you look at density and biomass, it was much more important. So it wasn't just a number of species, but it was the number of individuals and and how big they were.

00:06:21:15 - 00:06:26:16
Host: David Karsten
So the Leeuwin current has increased in temperature. Is that the conclusion you've drawn?

00:06:26:18 - 00:06:52:18
Professor Fred Wells
Well, the West Coast is a hotspot for increasing sea surface temperature, but I think from the 1950s to about 2011, we're talking about 6/10 of a degree. But the 2011 heatwave was like three degrees up to five degrees Celsius for a short period of time. A short period, I mean, months. So it's not a permanent increase, but it has created probably a permanent change in some of our environments.

00:06:52:20 - 00:06:55:05
Host: David Karsten
So the temperature has gone back since then.

00:06:55:05 - 00:07:06:15
Professor Fred Wells
It goes up and down. Yeah, there's an increasing number of heatwaves worldwide, an increasing number, but also intensity, the heatwaves. So that the catastrophic consequences become worse.

00:07:06:15 - 00:07:19:08
Host: David Karsten
So there are three different marine environments. Does the Leeuwin current flow past all three? Or does it taper off at one point? And if that's the case, are those environments being affected differently by that rise in temperature?

00:07:19:08 - 00:07:40:09
Professor Fred Wells
They're being affected differently. I'm not an oceanographer anymore, but you have the current coming across the Pacific. It's a huge equatorial current coming to the West when it hits the Australasian area, sort of bifurcates, some of it goes down south, becomes East Australian current, so it goes north into the North Pacific area, but it's because it's so strong.

00:07:40:11 - 00:08:08:17
Professor Fred Wells
There's an Indonesian through flow. Some of that comes through the islands of Indonesia and that's big enough to generate the Leeuwin current. It's from memory, a half a meter higher than the sea surface level at north west Cape. Then it is at Cape Leeuwin what's flowing downhill in a sense. So we have the three different biogeographic areas and the Leeuwin current forms off the north coast comes down the West coast and then it turns left and has been measured as far as Tasmania, remnants of it.

00:08:08:19 - 00:08:12:00
Professor Fred Wells
So yes, in a sense it does influence the entire state.

00:08:12:02 - 00:08:16:18
Host: David Karsten
Have you had the opportunity to look at the effects at different points along the coastline?

00:08:16:19 - 00:08:33:07
Professor Fred Wells
I've done bits and pieces in different parts of the state and I've worked a lot of roles, for example, but other people have worked on other areas, so that's pretty well understood now. But again, it was only described in 1980. So we're talking, only forty-three years ago, a lot of this is really new stuff.

00:08:33:09 - 00:08:54:22
Host: David Karsten
Well, that increase in temperature is one set of pressures put on a marine environment, but the other is pollution. Professor Gagnon you've been studying the effects of pollution and also doing some amazing work in terms of identifying sources of pollution as something that is affecting us just as much here on the coast of Western Australia as it is globally.

00:08:54:24 - 00:09:15:12
Professor Monique Gagnon
Fortunately, the coast of Western Australia is quite pollution free. There is some local source of pollution, but not major source of pollution then we have not been affected very much by major events like oil spills, for example. So we have quite the pristine coastline. It’s quite healthy from the contaminants point of view.

00:09:15:14 - 00:09:23:04
Host: David Karsten
You've looked into fish fingerprints. I really want to know more about that. What does that entail in terms of identifying polluters and pollutants?

00:09:23:04 - 00:09:53:17
Professor Monique Gagnon
Well, there is a research that we have conducted in collaboration with Dr. Steve Rowland from Plymouth University, as well as Dr. Francis Spilsbury. And Dr. Allen – Scott – is from Curtin University, where we wanted to determine if the fish that are exposed to oil can have the fingerprint from the original oil. And that comes from the fact that when we have an oil, we can analyse it and produce a chromatogram

00:09:53:19 - 00:09:59:04
Professor Monique Gagnon
with the peaks that will identify the oil, every oil will have a set of peaks.

00:09:59:07 - 00:10:00:09
Host: David Karsten
What is a chromatogram?

00:10:00:15 - 00:10:27:24
Professor Monique Gagnon
A chromatogram is a graph that is generated by chemical analysis, and it's a little bit like an electrocardiogram with peaks, but the peaks are all over the place and different and those peaks would be different from every oil. So when the oil is spilled into the environment, we try to match what we collect in the environment to the original oil suspected of being spilled.

00:10:27:24 - 00:10:56:21
Professor Monique Gagnon
That's what we call the regular fingerprint. Now, oil, especially in Western Australia is quite light. That means it will dissipate in the environment quite rapidly. By the time we arrive on site to collect a sample, very often there is very little oil left or it's very degraded. There is some that has evaporated into the atmosphere, some oil goes into the water, some that is degraded by the UV rays from the sun.

00:10:56:23 - 00:11:12:04
Professor Monique Gagnon
So those peaks on the chromatogram look quite different from the original oil that were spilled. So it is difficult to make the relationship between the oil that was spilled and the sample that we collect in the environment.

00:11:12:04 - 00:11:13:12
Host: David Karsten
So how do you solve that?

00:11:13:14 - 00:11:47:13
Professor Monique Gagnon
Yeah, well, we identified a family of compounds that we call the sesquiterpanes and its compounds that are present in all oils. And those compounds occur in different amounts in each oil. So again, the signature, the amount of sesquiterpanes in each oil will be different according to the oil that was spilled. And those molecules have one part which is hydrophilic, which means it likes water.

00:11:47:13 - 00:12:27:06
Professor Monique Gagnon
So it will dissolve in the water and one end of the molecule which is lipophilic, which means it likes the lipids. Therefore those contaminants, when they are in the water or in the food of the fish, they will accumulate in the lipid of the fish and not be metabolized, which means later on, when there is an oil spill, instead of collecting an oil in the environment that has been degraded and changed in composition, we can actually look in the lipid of the fish to see if the signature of those sesquiterpanes is similar to the oil that is suspected of being spilled.

00:12:27:08 - 00:12:30:19
Host: David Karsten
So Professor Gagnon is that confirmed and proven?

00:12:30:21 - 00:12:56:02
Professor Monique Gagnon
Yes, it has been proven. It has been published in the literature review by experts. And we even went further by discovering an older type of molecules, the family of molecules, again, that we call the diamondoids, which we can double confirm the origin of the oil. It's a family, again, of compound that is accumulated in the lipid of the fish, and that's metabolized very rapidly.

00:12:56:04 - 00:13:06:17
Host: David Karsten
That's an astonishing step forward. And a really exciting development. How can this become part of policy or as part of procedure for investigating spills.

00:13:06:19 - 00:13:38:05
Professor Monique Gagnon
When we investigate a spill, there's always a large number of parameters from the social point of view. The logistic point of view, political point of view is very important as well. Doing those chemical analysis to identify what is the original oil, to confirm it and demonstrate that there is not any other oil that has come in contact with the environment contributes to the weight of evidence to be able to identify the polluter that must pay.

00:13:38:07 - 00:13:45:16
Host: David Karsten
The polluter that must pay. That's very much a theme and motivator of your work. Has this now been identified as a legitimate tool?

00:13:45:18 - 00:14:13:19
Professor Monique Gagnon
Yes. Yes, it has been identified. We still need to do some work in this regard. We know that those molecules accumulate in the lipid of the fish. Now we want to know will they accumulate in the lipid of sessile organisms such as oysters and bivalve in the environment? Because the fish move around and depending on the species of fish that we deal with, it could be argued that the fish has moved 20-30 KM And it was a different oil.

00:14:13:21 - 00:14:25:11
Professor Monique Gagnon
If we can now identify the same day accumulation of those compounds, the sesquiterpanes and the diamondoids, in sessile organisms, it will again add to the weight of evidence.

00:14:25:13 - 00:14:34:16
Host: David Karsten
So there are two distinct pressures on populations of invertebrates off the coast of Western Australia that you're both experts in. How did you join forces?

00:14:34:20 - 00:15:03:07
Professor Fred Wells
Well, in 1991 we had a workshop in marine biology at Rottnest. One of the unexpected results was finding that some of the brain snails, the genus Conus and the guys who worked on it was guy called Kong. He found that the reproductive system was being affected by tributyltin, which is used in boat paints. So it's an anti foulant to stop stuff from growing on the hulls of ships, but it gets into the marine environment and creates all sorts of problems, one of which is the reproductive system of snails.

00:15:03:07 - 00:15:30:04
Professor Fred Wells
Such activity was used worldwide. It was banned in small vessels under 25 meters by the EPA in Western Australia in 1993. We looked at it in 1996 and there was some improvement in the snails at that stage. But then Monique and I got together 25 years later and looked at how the snails were going around after it was a progressive series of state national and international regulations on tributyltin to be used in new vessel paints.

00:15:30:06 - 00:15:31:19
Host: David Karsten
So it's it's now banned globally.

00:15:31:20 - 00:15:47:17
Professor Fred Wells
Well in international shipping it is by the International Maritime Organization. So that covers most of your big ships, small coastal vessels. Individual countries may not be covered, but we looked at it 25 years later and the snails had all recovered. So that was good.

00:15:47:19 - 00:15:52:02
Host: David Karsten
A great outcome. Are you still collaborating on research to this day?

00:15:52:04 - 00:16:22:23
Professor Monique Gagnon
We are doing invertebrate research together and we are assessing variety of anthropogenic pressure on various environments. Just like our recent study, at Cottesloe, Trigg and Waterman's, which has demonstrated that those platforms are actually quite healthy, despite the fact there is road runoff, there is the stamping pressures from people walking on the reef or collecting shells, etc. and a lot of sunscreen on those invertebrates.

00:16:22:23 - 00:16:29:20
Professor Monique Gagnon
Despite all this, they look quite healthy, probably thanks to the good water exchange that is occurring on those platforms.

00:16:29:22 - 00:16:44:00
Host: David Karsten
Professor Gagnon, you studied originally in Quebec, correct? In 1970, it was an oil spill off the coast of Nova Scotia. Was that ever spoken about in your childhood and the effect that had on the local wildlife there? That was the SS Arrow.

00:16:44:02 - 00:17:11:19
Professor Monique Gagnon
No, this is not something that has been discussed, but I did read some documents, some articles that were showing that because this environment is quite cold and summer is quite short, there's very little degradation of that oil. And some colleagues have collected some samples of oil between the rocks where there's not a lot of bacterial growth and not a lot of light or water movement to help with the degradation.

00:17:11:19 - 00:17:26:00
Professor Monique Gagnon
And it was 4 to 5 years later at a time the oil between those rock crevices was identical to the original oil. So there was no degradation occurring because it's quite a cold environment.

00:17:26:02 - 00:17:28:13
Host: David Karsten
So Canada is a great place to store oil.

00:17:28:15 - 00:17:32:03
Professor Monique Gagnon
Ah it would be yes.

00:17:32:05 - 00:17:40:10
Host: David Karsten
So what actually pushed you and motivated you in this direction? You've been specialising in this field for almost the entirety of your academic career.

00:17:40:10 - 00:18:04:07
Professor Monique Gagnon
Yeah, I have worked for 30 years with oil spill. When I was studying in high school. I was always interested in pollution. I grew up in a very clean, environment, but I was quite shocked by seeing the pollution around and wanted to do something about it. As I grew up, there was a few oil spill that occurred and I was interested in seeing how can we solve that?

00:18:04:07 - 00:18:21:11
Professor Monique Gagnon
How can we evaluate the effects? This is very difficult to evaluate and manage the effect because usually oil spill occur in open oceans or on the coastline and they are large scale. What we can do is be prepared to manage the effects, should an oil spill occur.

00:18:21:13 - 00:18:26:17
Host: David Karsten
Did you have an opportunity to get on the ground on location and look at these events firsthand?

00:18:26:19 - 00:18:55:24
Professor Monique Gagnon
absolutely, yes. For example, when Australia had the 2009 Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea, northern Australia, we spent several years going back on a vessel where we will be collecting fish and looking at the impact of the oil spill, on reproduction, on the health of the fish as well. Because what we do to evaluate the impact of an oil spill is that we use what we call biomarkers.

00:18:55:24 - 00:19:15:02
Professor Monique Gagnon
They are similar to when you and I go to the pathology clinic, they will take samples of urine, blood, etc. and they will do tests on it and then they will give you your health status. We do the same thing with the fish we collect biopsies, we get them to do the test, and then we can see if the fish is healthy or not.

00:19:15:02 - 00:19:36:13
Professor Monique Gagnon
So we went back for many years on a vessel in the Timor Sea collecting fish in the area of the spill as well as outside the area and getting them to pass a health test to see if they were healthy and recovering. So that's one reason why I really like the research that I do, is that I'm paid to go fishing.

00:19:36:15 - 00:19:54:20
Host: David Karsten
Professor Wells spoke earlier about seeing the tangible effects of taking that toxin out of the environment and watching a population recover. How long does it take in your experience for a population of fish to actually recover in terms of stocks and health after a catastrophic oil spill?

00:19:54:22 - 00:20:17:02
Professor Monique Gagnon
We could see in the case of the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea that the fish were affected, they were exposed, but they were not affected at the point where they were ill enough to stop reproducing or slow their growth. For about two years and a half. We could see some signs of exposure in the fish, but not ill effects.

00:20:17:02 - 00:20:39:23
Professor Monique Gagnon
So we can see that about two year and a half was the time in the situation where the fish would have recovered. But I have to mention that in Australia the oils, the crude oil that we carry around that we extract are typically quite light, which means they will evaporate rapidly, they will dissolve in the water, they will dissipate rapidly into the environment.

00:20:39:24 - 00:21:01:03
Professor Monique Gagnon
And adding to that is that the waters are quite warm, which helps the oil to dissipate. So that was a good scenario to minimise the impact of oil on the environment and where it occurred it was 80 to 120 meter deep. So there was a lot of dissolving and spreading into the water column.

00:21:01:05 - 00:21:04:04
Host: David Karsten
In terms of oil spills we got lucky really

00:21:04:06 - 00:21:19:16
Professor Monique Gagnon
Yeah. If we have to have an oil spill, that was a good situation to have a light oil warm temperature away from the shoreline. It was the best situation we can imagine. If we have to have an oil spill later, hopefully this will not happen again.

00:21:19:18 - 00:21:26:23
Host: David Karsten
What have you seen in terms of what we're doing as a human population in relation to our pollutants? Are we getting anything right?

00:21:26:23 - 00:21:47:16
Professor Monique Gagnon
Yeah, there is hope. There is hope because around the planet there's a lot of systems that are there to watch the amount of pollution or follow up the amount of pollution, like the mussel watch system where mussels are collected around the world, mussels are really good accumulators of contaminants and they are collected around the world on a periodical basis.

00:21:47:16 - 00:22:17:05
Professor Monique Gagnon
And we can see that there is actually a reduction in the amount of contaminants that those mussels accumulate. So we are using less contaminants, releasing them less into the environment and that's good. And when it comes massive transport of contaminants like oil in 2020, very low sulfur fuel oils have been introduced. Traditionally, the vessels were powered by an oil that was 3.5% sulfur.

00:22:17:07 - 00:22:45:10
Professor Monique Gagnon
Now the maximum they can have is 0.5%, which means they are much less polluting for the atmosphere, especially where there is a lot of port activity. However, this oil between the reservoir, where it is extracted and when it is used, undergoes a different cracking process, which means the oil has different characteristics. And we do not know at this point how these oils behave in the environment.

00:22:45:12 - 00:23:05:04
Professor Monique Gagnon
The Mauritius oil spill was the first oil spill in the world that involved very low sulfur fuel oil. But due to the isolation of that country, there is very little research that has been done on the impact of that oil spill. I have not visited Mauritius, but we have collaborators that are sending us samples.

00:23:05:04 - 00:23:10:08
Host: David Karsten
Professor Wells, your professional life has been largely based here in Western Australia.

00:23:10:14 - 00:23:12:19
Professor Fred Wells
I’ve been here 46, almost 47 years.

00:23:12:23 - 00:23:19:09
Host: David Karsten
What is it about this place, this coastline that is continued to fascinate you and keep you so intrigued?

00:23:19:11 - 00:23:41:24
Professor Fred Wells
I grew up in Panama, in Central America, where we had two oceans and I thought, You can't top that. I could go from one to the other in 90 minutes. And I did. You know, I would collect seashells on one coast in the Caribbean and then same day collect in the Pacific Ocean. But here you've got a third of a continent just in Western Australia, 20,000 kilometers of coastline.

00:23:42:01 - 00:23:57:03
Professor Fred Wells
That when I came, was essentially unexplored. UWA had one marine biologist and fisheries had a number of people, but they were targeted at specific fisheries and the museum had a broad brief of exploring a third of a continent.

00:23:57:05 - 00:23:59:12
Host: David Karsten
So this was 1976. Were we still whaling then?

00:24:00:08 - 00:24:05:14
Professor Fred Wells
Yeah, I've been on the whaling station, on the fencing dock. Once they brought in whales there.

00:24:05:16 - 00:24:11:01
Host: David Karsten
It's been a long and storied career and a pretty engaging place from a professional point of view it sounds like.

00:24:11:03 - 00:24:32:10
Professor Fred Wells
it's fascinating. Yeah, we've brought in over the years people from other parts of the world who work here and join us in researching WA and everybody has been very much impressed by basically a very unpolluted coastline, extensive with the three different biogeographic regions. I'm only talking about the shallow water. You get down deeper in the water and it's still very much unexplored.

00:24:32:10 - 00:24:41:05
Host: David Karsten
And Professor Gagnon, your time has in parallel, been just as long here in Western Australia. What is next for you in terms of your research?

00:24:41:07 - 00:25:03:09
Professor Monique Gagnon
I'm looking forward to this to get this new type of oil, the very low sulfur fuel oil, and how we can fingerprint those oil and to see how we can identify the oil of origin that has been spilled. Because despite all the precautions that are taken to avoid oil spills, unfortunately, they will probably happen again. And we need to be prepared.

00:25:03:09 - 00:25:10:14
Host: David Karsten
It's a very worthy mission and it's one that we have no doubt that you'll have success in. Thank you very much for your time today, Professor Gagnon. And Professor Wells, thank you very much.

00:25:10:19 - 00:25:11:21
Professor Monique Gagnon
For having us.

00:25:11:23 - 00:25:26:10
Host: David Karsten
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