Ocean Transport Pathways to a World Heritage Fringing Coral Reef: Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

A Lagrangian particle tracking model driven by a regional ocean circulation model was used to investigate the seasonally varying connectivity patterns within the shelf circulation surrounding the 300 km long Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia (WA) during 2009–2010. Forward-in-time simulations revealed that surface water was transported equatorward and offshore in summer due to the upwelling-favorable winds. In winter, however, water was transported polewards down the WA coast due to the seasonally strong Leeuwin Current. Using backward-in-time simulations, the subsurface transport pathways revealed two main source regions of shelf water reaching Ningaloo Reef: (1) a year-round source to the northeast in the upper 100 m of water column; and (2) during the summer, an additional source offshore and to the west of Ningaloo in depths between ~30 and ~150 m. Transient wind-driven coastal upwelling, onshore geostrophic transport and stirring by offshore eddies were identified as the important mechanisms influencing the source water origins. The identification of these highly time-dependent transport pathways and source water locations is an essential step towards quantifying how key material (e.g., nutrients, larvae, contaminants, etc.) is exchanged between Ningaloo Reef and the surrounding shelf ocean, and how this is mechanistically coupled to the complex ocean dynamics in this region.