Welcome to the Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project

Shark Bay, Australia

Recent News

  • The SBERP store is now open. Sweatshirts, t-shirts, travel mugs, and other gear with the SBERP logo. Proceeds go directly to SBERP research.
  • Congrats to Dr. Derek Burkholder on defending his PhD!

Derek Burkholder Transplants

  • The Special Issue of Marine and Freshwater Research on Science Guilding Management of Subtropical Embayments featuring Shark Bay and Florida Bay is out!
  • The SBERP video-enhanced lesson is available! This lesson lets students join the researchers for a variety of missions from seagrass to tiger sharks. Check out the teacher resources page to view the videos and download the materials. We are currently working on an update!
  • SBERP research was featured in a report on the importance of sharks for healthy marine ecosystems that was produced by Oceana.org
  • PhD student Cindy Bessey completed her field work on the role of herbivorous fishes in structuring the seagrass communities.
  • PhD student Rob Nowicki is headed to the field season to investigate the causes and consequences of a major seagrass dieoff in Shark Bay.

Michael Parry and Ben West

Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project

Shark Bay Photo from Satallite
Shark Bay, Australia

Marine ecosytems around the world are quickly being changed by humans. Seagrass beds are disappearing and populations of sharks, turtles, and sea cows are declining at an alarming rate. In order to protect and restore critical coastal ecosystems, we need to understand the ecological role of these species and determine how coastal ecosystems, like seagrass beds, functioned before people intervened. Only with this information can we predict how human uses of the oceans will change them and how we can begin to restore already damaged systems.

The Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project is an international research collaboration with the goal of understanding the dynamics of one of the world's most pristine seagrass ecosystems. In addition we strive to disseminate the results of our work to a wide audience through documentary films, this website, and curriculum and teacher resources for secondary schools.

Tiger Shark
Tiger shark with an animal-borne video and
environmental data collection system.

Innovative Research

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 thrive, the Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project 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. Some of the questions that we are investigating include:

  • What is the role of tiger sharks in the seagrass ecosystem? How do they influence the behavior of their prey (dolphins, dugongs, turtles, cormorants, sea snakes)?
  • Could tiger sharks help to structure the dynamics of the seagrass community itself by changing when, where, and how turtles, dugongs, and fishes graze the seagrass?
  • How do species change their diving behavior when under threat of predation?
  • Are behavioral responses of prey to tiger sharks more important ecologically than the number of prey tiger sharks kill?
  • What factors (escape behavior, habitat characteristics, abundance of sharks) determine how prey respond to tiger sharks?
  • How does the species composition, abundance, and nutritional quality of seagrasses vary across Shark Bay and between seasons? Are these patterns influenced by grazers and grazer responses to sharks?
  • How abundant are sharks, turtles, dugongs, and fishes in a pristine seagrass community?
Loggerhead Turtle
Loggerhead turtle with a time-depth recorder
attached to its shell to record its diving behavior.

An international collaborative project involving researchers from Florida International University and Simon Fraser University, SBERP, has just begun to unravel the workings of the bay. Visit our PROJECTS page to learn more about what we have learned and what projects we are working on now. These pages will be updated frequently so check back for the latest information from the field. Check back in April for new videos showing research in action and featuring our latest findings.

Tagging a spotted eagle ray
Tagging a spotted eagle ray

Outreach and Education

SBERP is dedicated to using our research not only to enhance the conservation of marine ecosystems but also to educate the public and inspire and help train the next generation of marine scientists. To this end we have worked with numerous film crews (National Geographic, Discovery, and others) to produce educational documentaries on Shark Bay. Also, we currently are bringing 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 our TEACHER RESOURCES, SPECIES FACT SHEETS, and PHOTO & VIDEO pages. Be sure to check back occasionally for brand new videos and lesson plans.

Tagging a spotted eagle ray
Western shovelnose ray


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. We offer them sincere thanks and provide additional information as well as links to their web sites (where available) in our SPONSORS section. If you would like to help support the non-profit Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project with a tax-deductible donation, please contact Dr. Mike Heithaus.

Special thanks to Bombardier Recreational Products and Evinrude Engines and Jopalo Boats for their recent donations for our new research vessel Blowfish II! As always, our deepest gratitude to ASPEN PARKS' MONKEY MIA DOLPHIN RESORT without whom none of our work would be possible.

All photographs copyrighted; Images may be used for educational purposes. For use in other forms contact Mike Heithaus