Meet Logan Hellmrich (right), pictured here with CSIRO Research Officer Nick Mortimer! Logan is a PhD student who is looking to understand more about Ningaloo’s deepwater habitats. Image: Ryan Crossing/Ningaloo Outlook.
Did you know that 55 per cent of Ningaloo Marine Park’s reefs are in water depths greater than 20 metres?
Getting a sneak peek into these areas will help us better understand these deep reef ecosystems and provide key information to help them thrive for the long-term. To get these insights, we need research. And that’s where Logan Hellmrich comes in.
Logan is a PhD student enrolled at Curtin University and jointly supervised by us. He was awarded a scholarship as part of Ningaloo Outlook, a collaboration between CSIRO and BHP to increase our understanding of Ningaloo Reef. Together we are investing $12.4 million over 10 years (2015-2025) to support research on whale sharks, turtles, shallow and deepwater habitats.
We take a dive into the depths of Ningaloo Reef’s deepwater habitats and how Logan’s research will increase our understanding of these environments.
Logan is taking a Ninga-look at the reef
Mesophotic reefs have gained much scientific attention over the past decade. These reefs are areas where light still reaches the seafloor and can be between 30 to 150 metres below the ocean’s surface. You can find these reefs in both tropical and subtropical regions.
Because of the difficulties in accessing deeper parts of the marine environment, mesophotic reefs remain understudied globally. When it comes to mesophotic ecosystems in the Indian Ocean, scientists have even more limited insight. This leaves a gap in our understanding of the types of marine organisms living there, and how they interplay with both each other and the wider ecosystem.
To address this, we’re building knowledge on the deep reef communities found at Ningaloo. Logan’s PhD research will look at the organisms living in mesophotic ecosystems. They include deepwater corals, fish, mobile invertebrates, and certain sponges.
“In my research, I will examine what environmental parameters are important for each habitat to thrive. I’ll also look at how fish and invertebrates use these habitats and how authorities and reef managers maintain different habitats,” Logan said.
“If these deepwater habitats are as important to fish and invertebrates as we expect, then understanding how these habitats function, how they’re maintained and how stable they are will contribute to their conservation and will help to inform sustainable fisheries operations.”
“This information will link with the better studied shallow reefs,” he said.
High tech for deep dives: Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) help capture data from largely inaccessible reefs. Image: Logan Hellmrich/Ningaloo Outlook.
Understanding deepwater habitats of Ningaloo Reef
Logan plans to go to Ningaloo Reef at least four times this year, dependent on the weather as well as travel restrictions.
“I love the amount of diversity and overall marine life [at Ningaloo Reef]. It’s such an unexplored area, especially out deep. So the unknown of the unique and diverse habitats and ecosystem excites me,” he said.
While there, Logan and his team will use settlement plates. These plates help compare what and how many animal larvae and plant propagules (or little “cuttings” which grow into mature plants) settle in the area. These are the early or “recruiting” life stages of these habitat-forming animals. Understanding what differences there are between habitats will help determine the most important factors for the long-term stability of different types of deep reef habitats within these mesophotic areas.
There’s a huge benefit to using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for this kind of research. Mesophotic habitats are often beyond what’s accessible for recreational and scientific diving. By using ROVs, the team can capture images of deep reefs to help gather more data and better understand their ecology. Such deep reef communities have remained largely inaccessible until the invention of such technologies.
The tiny patterns found will provide huge clues to how deepwater habitats form a key part of Ningaloo Reef.
Here’s what a mesophotic habitat looks like with an ROV. Image: Nick Mortimer/Ningaloo Outlook.
Stunning scenes for stunning science
Logan’s also an enthusiastic fisher and SCUBA diver who’s had firsthand experience of Ningaloo Reef’s stunning scenery. So being able to repeatedly return to better understand it drives his passion for his marine research.
With these interests, you’d think Logan always wanted a career in marine science. However, that wasn’t the case.
“Growing up, I was always interested in design and construction. I had an idea to become an architect or draftsman,” Logan said.
“And throughout high school, I never really thought much about university. I don’t think I’d have guessed I would be doing research, let alone my own research.”
“I even had architecture down as my first university choice. But I changed that at the last minute to coastal and marine science. I wanted to study something I was interested in and would love to pursue a career in.”
“Even throughout my undergraduate, I only considered the thought of research in my final year when we did a field trip to Coral Bay. It really opened my eyes to the possibility of research and the potential future pathways,” he said.
His interests now lie within sustainable fishing. It’s a driving force for his motivation to understand ocean processes that ultimately help to inform conservation and fisheries management.
“I thoroughly enjoy working and researching within marine environments and landscapes. I also have the drive to make it a career where I can access a wide range of different experiences,” Logan said.
He echoes this when outlining his advice for other young people looking to enter a career in marine science.
“Follow your interests and passions, as that will help make it a whole lot easier. If the topic interests you and you’re passionate about it, it’ll feel more like a hobby than a chore,” he said.