image of a tern
80 mile beach 1999

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What a place. Literally 80 miles (128 kms) of featureless beach and mudflats. In reality, it's 142 miles (230 km) long. The monotony is only broken by tens of thousands of wading birds and a number of pretty shells.

Once again, a team from Australia and the Netherlands assembled to do research into the sediments, benthic invertebrates, and birds that frequent the region. This time, nothing was done by halves. It was one of the best organised, equipped, and run research expeditions ever. The list below gives some idea regarding the scale of the research:

  • Our fearless leaders: Grant Pearson (CALM) and Theunis Piersma (NIOZ).
  • Scientists from the Netherlands and Australia.
  • A Landscope expedition.
  • Classes from the University of Notre Dame (Broome and Fremantle).
  • A Curtin University honours student.
  • Dozens of volunteers from Broome, Australia, Ireland, and the UK.
  • Dedicated cooks (not always appreciated as they should).
    • In total, over 80 people were involved over the 2 week period. (Week 1) (Week 2)
  • A large hoovercraft (donated by Wallis Drilling).
  • A small hoovercraft.
  • A mobile facility caravan that was converted into a laboratory (with AC!).
  • A helicopter (rented for an hour or so)
  • A airplane (to take aerial photos of the mudflats) (donated by the Anna Plains Station).
  • Four 4x4 vehicles.
  • A wonderful campsite - right in the middle of the Anna Plains Station.
  • Interesting wildlife, including sea snakes, tawny frogmouths, sharks (bumping our legs while sampling in the water), lizards, and a mad dog which would gleefully fetch anything (balls, sticks, rocks, etc...).
  • Talgarno Bore: a artesian well (at a former US missile tracking station) which produces wonderfully relaxing hot water.
  • Tens of thousands of wading birds were counted.

Things got off to a smashing start on October 5, when the expedition left Perth (photo1, photo2). After a couple of days on the road, the team arrived at the campsite. Unfortunately, the last cyclone had washed the campsite away. However, luck was with us when the manager of the Anna Plains Station allowed the group to stay at the station. This converted what would have been a rough, sandy, inconvenient camp into one with not nearly as many problems. This was great. The only hitch was that Dr. Bob Hickey, arriving for week 2, went directly to where the campsite was supposed to be, bogged his car in the sand, and spend about an hour getting out and back to the Station.

After settling in, research began. It consisted of collecting sediment/biology samples on the mudflats, seiving them in the field, returning to camp and sorting (photo1, photo2)the living critters from the shell fragments, etc., identifying the benthic organisms, and interpreting the results. As, in some areas, the distance from high to low tide was on the order of 5 km, the hoovercraft proved invaluable. Nightly meetings were held to keep everyone informed regarding the research progress and what would be done the next day. Author's note: perhaps the only time a map has been the focus of a modelling career?

Unfortunately for those arriving during the second week, the large hoovercraft died. Broke a belt while at sea, drifted in on the tide, anchored, and was rescued from the sand at low tide. However, getting a broken hoovercraft that is full of sand onto a trailer is more complicated than it sounds. Photo1, photo2, photo3, photo4.

For details regarding the research, view the preliminary research report or Suzanne Wade's MS thesis.

Not everything was work, though. One of the volunteers was an artist who painted a couple of beautiful pictures. The group (started by Grant and Theunis) also wrote a song (to the tune of "Wild Rover").

And last, but far from least, the field expedition finished with a mudfight. Check out a few of the photos:

mud1, mud2, mud3, mud4, photographer1, photographer2, exhaustion.

To give credit where credit is due, visit the photo and map credits page.

Finally, thanks to the sponsors of our expedition:

  • The Lotteries Commission - via the Gordon Reid Foundation ($29,695).
  • The Pearl Producers Association ($4,500).
  • CALM LandscopeVisa Conservation Fund ($2,900).
  • WA Department of Main Roads (donation of a caravan - used as the ID lab).

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Benthics and Birds ## ROEBIM '97 ## KING SOUND ## 80 MILE BEACH ## SROEBIM '02# # Bob's Homepage ## Geography Dept. ## CWU



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last updated on 10 July, 2008