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Managing national research infrastructure

image of the Parkes radio telescopeOur Parkes radio telescope helped track NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, collecting extra data as the probe reached a major milestone

To solve the greatest challenges, Australia needs world-class research infrastructure. We manage national research infrastructure on behalf of the scientific community to help with the delivery of research. There are two types of national research infrastructure: national research facilities and national research collections.

We are the national provider of a range of specialised laboratories, scientific and testing equipment, and other research facilities. Our science-ready facilities are used by Australian and international researchers through application and user-funded arrangements.

Our national research facilities include:

  • Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), Geelong
  • Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) comprising:
    • Parkes radio telescope, Parkes (NSW)
    • Australia Telescope Compact Array, Narrabri (NSW)
    • Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope and the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, Western Australia
    • Mopra telescope, Coonabarabran (NSW)
  • Marine National Facility (MNF), Hobart
  • Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, Perth
  • Atlas of Living Australia (ALA).

The National Research Collections Australia comprise:

  • Australian National Fish Collection (ANFC), of marine fish
  • Australian National Herbarium (ANH), of native plants and weeds
  • Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC), of terrestrial invertebrates
  • Australian National Wildlife Collection (ANWC), of terrestrial vertebrates
  • Australian National Algae Culture Collection (ANACC) of living microalgae cultures
  • Australian Tree Seed Centre (ATSC), supplying tree seed to both domestic and overseas customers.

Table 3.6: Summary of our performance for managing national research infrastructure




Maintenance and operation of the research infrastructure to appropriate standards

Compliance with Australian legislation and regulations and ISO accreditations


Our research infrastructure achieved compliance with relevant Australian and international standards.

AAHL continues to maintain or exceed the regulatory requirements certified by the Department of Agriculture, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and the Department of Health’s Security Sensitive Biological Agents legislation, and all relevant ISO accreditation.

Use of the facilities and collections as measured through:

successful observations, time lost during observations, core hours used, outward loans and successful research days delivered

Minimum of 70% successful astronomy observations


The ATNF achieved 77.2% of time for successful astronomy observations and lost only 1.3% of time to unscheduled outages.

Maximum 5% time lost during scheduled observation

90% core hours on Magnus supercomputer


91.7% core hours on Magnus were achieved.

70% outward loans (over 5 years) – combined use of national research collections


The NRCA achieved 70% outward loans. We also increased the proportion of the national biological collections that are digitised. The Australian National Algae Culture Collection maintained 100% digitisation.

Minimum of 90% successful research days delivered on Marine National Facility


The MNF achieved 100% successful research days delivering all scheduled operations with no time lost.

Maximum of 10% time lost during scheduled Marine National Facility operations

'G' indicates positive progress for the year and the target has been achieved.

Australian Animal Health Laboratory

The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) provides Australia’s highest level of biocontainment within a purpose-built biosecurity infrastructure. It is recognised nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence in disease diagnosis, research and policy advice in animal health and human diseases of animal origin. AAHL works to protect Australia’s billion-dollar livestock and aquaculture industries, and the community, from exotic and emerging infectious diseases, which helps to maintain Australia’s economy and environment, and the health and social wellbeing of our nation.

AAHL is built and operated to safely store and enable work on the most dangerous pathogens, and our experience developed in biosecurity and biosafety is sought by governments and customers around the world. The infrastructure and scientific expertise enables delivery of a vital service to the Department of Agriculture (DoA) as Australia’s Reference Laboratory for emerging animal diseases and high-consequence pathogens of animal origin.

AAHL is a crucial part of Australia’s biosecurity infrastructure and is funded primarily by CSIRO appropriation. DoA provides funding for an ongoing diagnostic service and the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy has provided funds to enable national and international researchers to access the facility. AAHL delivers diagnostic and research services to Australian federal and state and territory governments as well as to industry and international bodies. AAHL supports projects to aid regional food security and carries out and hosts a large portfolio of research requiring high containment, which informs national disease control policy and provides opportunities to Australian industry.

Services offered in 2018–19 included:

  • laboratory investigation of suspect cases of notifiable diseases
  • access to high-containment laboratories and animal facilities for collaborative research
  • continued expansion of the customer base, while fully delivering to the DoA contract
  • collaborations across CSIRO to develop vaccines and therapeutics against dangerous pathogens, the development of innovative diagnostic methods, disease-resistant poultry and methods of limiting populations of invasive animal species
  • quarantine testing for horses, birds, aquatic species and companion animals
  • training courses for vets in the diagnosis of animal diseases and biosafety training for scientists
  • services that enhanced regional biosecurity and food security across Asia.

Maintenance and operations

During 2018–19, overall maintenance and operational performance continued to meet targets. There were significant plant and equipment upgrades, including a new goods receiving building and upgrade of the dry fire systems, which will continue to 2021, while the Part Life Refit and security system upgrades began in order to ensure site security can appropriately respond to risks in the current environment.

Each year, AAHL analyses samples from around 3,500 cases for diagnostic testing, including more than 700 for rapid response emergency disease exclusion. In 2018–19, this covered more than 70 aquatic and terrestrial animal diseases. Other samples are received from around the world for a range of purposes, including to enable global movements of healthy animals, facilitate import of biological materials, exclude exotic diseases in Australian livestock or characterise viruses detected in our region. AAHL also plays a significant role in public health, testing for important zoonotic diseases.

To fulfil its role in emergency response, AAHL maintains, exercises and updates its Emergency Laboratory Response Plan. The plan has recently proven sufficiently robust to manage laboratory support during an aquatic animal disease outbreak – white spot syndrome virus in Queensland prawn farms.

During 2018–19, AAHL staff contributed to policy advice and guideline setting through a range of World Organisation for Animal Health and World Health Organization ad hoc groups, including those with a focus on bio-banking, aquatic and terrestrial disease diagnosis, response framework for zoonotic diseases and investigation of intentional use of biological agents. This latter area also led to engagement with Departments of Defence, and Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the United Nations.

Testing for African Swine fever

a group of pigs sitting on strawAAHL has the facilities and expertise to manage the animal biosecurity risks of testing samples for African Swine Fever virus.In recent years, a devastating disease affecting pigs known as African swine fever (ASF) has been spreading globally and, more recently, in Asia, increasing the risk of the disease entering Australia.

The impacts of ASF include sickness and death in domestic pigs, loss of trade and the costs associated with outbreak response and eradication measures.

Mortalities can approach 100 per cent and there is currently no vaccine or other treatment available to prevent this disease. To tackle the challenge of a secure Australia and region, effective disease control is critical, which depends on rapid detection and strict biosecurity measures.

In response to the recent spread of ASF through parts of Europe, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, AAHL staff have collaborated with international institutions to develop a vaccine and improve our diagnostic testing for ASF to help to control the disease and ensure Australia is prepared should it be found on our shores.

The Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture has commissioned additional activities to ensure that its biosecurity measures continue to keep Australia’s $60 billion agricultural industries and feral pig populations free from ASF and other exotic diseases.

As part of this, a sample of pork products was seized at international airports and mail processing centres over two fortnightly periods in early December and late January.

The seized samples were tested at the AAHL in Geelong, Victoria.

The tests conducted by staff at AAHL showed that ASF DNA was present in 46 of the 435 intercepted pork products tested. These results do not necessarily mean that the fragments of virus detected can cause infection in pigs. However, staff also undertook further testing to determine whether the whole virus, which would be more likely to infect pigs, was present in the seized products.

As a result, DoA took action to inform Australians of the increased biosecurity practices at borders and to remind all visitors to comply with Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements. The department will be using the results to refine and strengthen its border protection measures. Australia’s Minister for Agriculture has also introduced increased penalties for travellers who try to bring meat or meat products illegally into the country.

In addition to testing, staff at AAHL also conducted research on ASF and provided training to perform rapid field investigations and laboratory diagnosis for early detection of the disease in the Asia-Pacific region, which is now on high alert for incursions of ASF.

Australia Telescope National Facility

The Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) has observatories near the towns of Parkes, Narrabri and Coonabarabran in New South Wales and in the mid-west region of Western Australia. These observatories house our telescopes: the Parkes radio telescope, Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), Mopra and Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), respectively. Our Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, home to ASKAP, will soon be home to the low frequency telescope of the international Square Kilometre Array project. We also link our telescopes with others in Australia and around the world to form the Long Baseline Array (LBA).

The ATNF comprises the major part of our Astronomy and Space Science, which also operates the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) on behalf of the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the European Space Agency (ESA) tracking station at New Norcia, near Perth. We also manage CSIRO’s time on the NovaSAR Earth observation satellite and coordinate CSIRO’s space research.

Use of the ATNF

All our telescopes can be operated remotely from the Science Operations Centre at our Sydney headquarters, or virtually from anywhere in the world. Our telescopes are used for astronomy research into such areas as the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies, the interstellar medium, cosmic magnetism and the extreme physics of pulsars and black holes. We also perform follow-up observations for other observatories, for example those investigating gravitational waves.

Most observing time on ATCA and the Parkes radio telescope is awarded free of charge on the basis of scientific merit. About 38 per cent of observing time on the Parkes radio telescope was purchased by external partners. Mopra is no longer offered for merit-based access and is used by a consortium of universities that fund its operation.

All 36 antennas of ASKAP, equipped with our novel phased array feed receivers, were brought online and into one array in February. Astronomers have already completed the most comprehensive Galactic survey ever made of the southern sky in just ten days’ observing time (such surveys traditionally take years). This is the first of several such surveys at different frequencies that each cover three quarters of the sky.

Throughout the year, ASKAP continued its highly successful search for fast radio bursts. These are inexplicably bright ‘flashes’ of radio waves lasting a few milliseconds. They’ve garnered much publicity and are the subject of intense interest to astronomers. Only two dozen fast radio bursts had been found since the first one in 2007, but the team using ASKAP has almost doubled this number and pinpointed the location of one, which will lead to an improved understanding of their origins.

In 2018–19, research teams of 856 astronomers from 35 countries submitted proposals to use ATCA, the Parkes radio telescope and the LBA. For ASKAP, 10 survey science projects are allocated observing time for the first five years of full operation.

Figures for 2018–19 below show the use of ATCA and the Parkes radio telescope.

Table 3.7: Use of the ATNF





Successful astronomy observations (%)1

70 (min)




Time lost during scheduled observations (%)2

5 (max)




1 The target is that at least 70% of the available time (24 hours a day, year-round) is used for successful astronomical observations. The remaining time allows for planned and unplanned non-availability e.g. maintenance, upgrades, weather events, etc.

2 Includes time lost through malfunction on fully operational facilities, but not commissioning time for new equipment or facilities.

Parkes tracks a tiny space traveller

image of voyager 2 spacecraft in spaceNASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft officially entered interstellar space in November. Our Parkes radio telescope was called on to collect valuable data.In 2018–19 our Parkes radio telescope helped track NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, collecting extra data as the probe reached a major milestone.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 is now more than 18 billion kilometres away – 120 times further from the Sun than Earth is. The spacecraft’s radio signals, which travel at the speed of light, take more than 16 hours to reach Earth. And those signals are small to start with: the transmitter that generates them runs on just 20 watts – about the same power as two LED lightbulbs.

Readings taken in September showed the spacecraft was about to cross the heliopause, the edge of a protective bubble created by our Sun as we move through our galaxy, and enter interstellar space. Interstellar space is almost a vacuum, but not quite: it contains a very thin soup of charged particles.

In 2012, Voyager 1, Voyager 2’s sibling spacecraft, became the first human-made object to cross the heliopause and officially enter interstellar space. Its instruments showed a big jump in the density of particles. Voyager 2 has been on a different path, and scientists wanted to see if it encountered the same conditions, while gathering as much data as possible about the heliopause.

Voyager 2’s location means it can only be tracked from the Southern Hemisphere. The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), which we manage on NASA’s behalf, tracks Voyager 2 using either its 70-metre dish or two 34-metre dishes.

However, CDSCC needs to communicate with dozens of spacecraft and in this period the New Horizons space probe was commanding much of its capacity, limiting the amount of time it could devote to Voyager 2. To ensure as much data as possible on the heliopause crossing was captured, NASA asked for the help of our 64-metre Parkes radio telescope.

Parkes tracked Voyager 2 from November to February, supplementing CDSCC for 10 to 11 hours a day. The telescope captured 745 hours of data, which helped collect valuable information about Voyager 2’s historic crossing of the heliopause.

This is the twelfth time Parkes has supported NASA space missions. Its first support role was to help track NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft, sent to Venus in 1962. Most famously, Parkes received television signals from the Apollo 11 Moon landing – and helped send them to 600 million people around the world – in 1969.

On all these occasions Parkes worked cooperatively with other NASA tracking stations. Its closest links have been with CSDSCC, which is one of three stations in NASA’s Deep Space Network for communicating with spacecraft exploring the solar system.

As investment in Australia’s burgeoning space industry grows, these world-class capabilities will be critical to growing future industries for Australia in space.

Marine National Facility

The Marine National Facility (MNF) is part of Australia’s landmark research infrastructure. It provides world-class, blue-water research capabilities for Australian researchers and their international collaborators for work in Australia’s vast and largely unexplored marine areas. The MNF enables excellent scientific research in the national interest, supporting evidence-based decision-making on challenges affecting climate policy and programs, and marine environment and resources.

MNF includes the world-class research vessel Investigator, a suite of scientific equipment, expert technical staff and more than 30 years of freely available marine data. Investigator is able to be at sea for up to 60 days without re-supply, accommodate 40 scientists, technical staff and other participants, and cover 10,000 nautical miles per voyage, with an operational range from the Antarctic ice edge to the tropics.

An independent Steering Committee advises the CSIRO Board on strategic development of the Facility and advises the MNF Director on strategic matters, performance of the MNF and on allocation of sea time. The Steering Committee is supported by two expert panels, a Scientific Advisory Committee and the National Benefit Assessment Panel, which provide advice on the merit of applications received. Applications for sea time are open to all researchers working in Australian universities or research institutions and are assessed through an independent, competitive, and peer-reviewed assessment, which considers scientific and technical excellence, and the national benefit of the proposed research.

In 2018–19, the MNF transitioned to full-year operations following a new funding announcement under the Australian Government’s 2018 Research Infrastructure Implementation Plan, bringing at-sea capacity to approximately 300 days of merit-based scientific missions per year. Scaling up has involved an increase in operational and technical capability; digitisation of business systems to streamline voyage planning and information flow for users and operators; strengthening health and safety procedures; and investment in scientific instruments and spares. An independent review of the access framework was completed in May to ensure the principles, criteria and processes for awarding of sea time remained robust.

Use of the MNF

In 2018–19 the MNF participated in the Australian Antarctic Festival with an open ship, and undertook nine primary research voyages. One technical and two transit voyages were undertaken including research on:

  • iron inputs and cycling in the southern extension of the East Australian Current to understanding relationships between nutrient supply and biological productivity in the open ocean
  • the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) to help improve ocean and climate modelling, and better understand and predict climate change
  • deep-water coral communities of the Tasmanian seamounts
  • the processes driving plate tectonic movement and forces in separation of Australia and Antarctica
  • the distribution and abundance of the Antarctic blue whale, and their prey, to inform management of expanding Antarctic krill fisheries
  • uncovering shipwrecks, including the SS Iron Crown, torpedoed in Bass Strait in World War II.

Table 3.8: Use of the MNF



Successful research days delivered (%)1

90 (min)


Time lost during scheduled operations (%)2

10 (max)


1 Successful research days against scheduled operations. Success means the science was able to be completed consistent with the voyage objectives and allows for planned and unplanned non-availability e.g. maintenance, upgrades, weather events, etc.

2 Includes time lost through malfunction on fully operational facilities, but not commissioning time for new equipment or facilities

Putting deep ocean life on the map

CSRIo researchers flying the deep-tow camera over a seamountNick Mortimer with ‘pilot’ Karl Forcey, CSIRO, flying the deep-tow camera over a seamount.

In late 2018, we led a collaborative research voyage on Investigator to survey deep-sea coral communities on undersea mountains (seamounts) off southern Tasmania. The remoteness and testing nature of deep-water research means knowledge of the distribution and ecology of these communities is limited, creating unique barriers for marine park managers. Deep-sea coral communities are fragile and slow-growing, vulnerable to human activities and to changes in ocean temperatures and acidity. To help solve the challenge of maintaining a resilient and valuable environment, there is an urgent need to map the location and biodiversity of deep-sea coral communities and learn more about their behaviour.

Investigator’s flexible platform and capacity allowed ambitious and novel research.

The collaborative hub created by the MNF brought together researchers from national and international organisations including CSIRO, National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub, Australian Museum, Museums Victoria, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, three Australian universities, Parks Australia, and New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

During the month-long voyage, 45 seamounts were surveyed and 147 seabed transects completed using specialised deep-water cameras. Seamounts previously sampled 10 and 20 years ago – some impacted by bottom trawling and some now protected in marine parks – were also surveyed, providing information about recovery and resilience of these communities. The technical expertise of MNF and ASP Ship Management technical staff, working in partnership with voyage scientists, enabled high-resolution imagery of the coral communities across 200 kilometres of transects to be successfully collected. Biological specimens were collected during the voyage, along with other important oceanographic and bathymetric (seafloor mapping) data.

Investigator’s ability to offer real-time data streams was used to engage the public in the research. The voyage was an Australian first, with the complete voyage livestreamed 24/7 via CSIRO.au. This included vision from the deep tow camera surveys, providing a real-time window on life 2,000 metres below the surface. More than 5,000 viewers were given a front-row seat to the research, creating a powerful tool for public engagement with marine science.

The voyage collected around 7 terabytes of data, including 60,000 stereo images and 300 hours of video. On board facilities on Investigator allowed researchers to conduct a preliminary review and annotation of large volumes of the visual data, ensuring it was available for further analysis and use before the ship returned to port. All data collected are made freely available for any researcher to access and use.

The outcomes of this research will be substantial, providing distribution data to map the extent of these globally significant deep-sea coral communities. It will also provide world-first recovery and resilience data for the Australian Government, as well as other national and international bodies. Ultimately, the research is contributing to a national government and industry blueprint to cost-effectively monitor the marine environment and help sustainable management of our fisheries and food supplies.

Information from this research will be incorporated into Australia’s State of the Environment reporting and provides a measure by which Australia can be compared and assessed.

Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre is a high-performance computing centre located in Western Australia. It is one of only two high-performance computing facilities in Australia. Pawsey enables scientific research to be accelerated for the benefit of the nation by helping researchers to tackle large-scale data problems and simulations. The Centre provides access to world-class expertise and infrastructure in supercomputing, data and visualisation services to researchers across government, academia and industry.

Currently serving more than 80 organisations, Pawsey achieves unprecedented results in science domains including radio astronomy, geosciences, resources engineering, bioinformatics and health sciences. It has an integral role in the operation of our newest radio telescope.

Pawsey is an unincorporated joint venture between CSIRO, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia. It is funded by the Australian Government, the West Australian Government and Pawsey members, and governed by a Members’ Agreement and a Board comprised of core member representatives, independent members and an independent chair.

CSIRO as the centre agent owns and operates the Centre on behalf of Pawsey. The Centre is located at our Kensington site and offers a range of supercomputing and large-scale data facilities including:

  • Magnus – a Cray XC40, a petascale system designed to tackle the largest simulations possible
  • Galaxy – a Cray XC30 dedicated to radio astronomy, including ASKAP, the Australian precursor projects to the SKA and the Murchison Widefield Array run by Curtin University
  • data-storage capabilities expandable up to 100 petabytes.

In 2018, the Australian Government awarded $70 million to upgrade Pawsey’s supercomputing infrastructure to enable Australia’s researchers to remain globally competitive, and increase our scientific ambitions, outcomes and impact. Over the past year, planning began for the installation and performance benchmarking of the new HPC infrastructure, which are anticipated to be completed by mid-2022.

Pawsey has 50 staff members who are employed by CSIRO as the centre agent. The staff at Pawsey provide expertise in several disciplines, which enables Australian researchers to take advantage of the Centre’s wide range of services.

Use of Pawsey

Access to Pawsey supercomputing resources was provided through several merit allocation schemes:

  • Pawsey Partner Merit Allocation Scheme – 30 per cent of resources allocated, with 12-month allocations, budgeted quarterly
  • Radio-astronomy Scheme – 25 per cent of Pawsey resources allocated (i.e. Galaxy)
  • National Computational Merit Allocation Scheme – 25 per cent of resources allocated; the call for proposals was made in September/October, with 12-month allocations, budgeted quarterly
  • Energy and Resources Merit Allocation Scheme – 15 per cent of resources allocated, with 12-month allocations, budgeted quarterly
  • Pawsey Director’s Allocation Scheme – five per cent of resources allocated. This is a responsive-mode grant assessment process, available most of the year and most resources were small (<0.1 per cent of available resource time) three-month allocations.

The Centre supports more than 1,900 researchers across Australia, a number which has increased by 20 per cent in the last year. Demand continues to exceed availability: last year, the three major allocation schemes recorded an average of 53 per cent success rate (time allocated vs time requested). More than 485 million core hours1 were requested when only 260 million core hours were available.

TABLE 3.9: Allocation of the Magnus Supercomputer



Core hours used on the Cray XC-40 supercomputer Magnus (%)



Pawsey helps us see more of the Universe

CSIRO's askap radio telescope in western australiaOur ASKAP radio telescope in remote Western Australia is being used by astronomers to study the Universe; the Pawsey Centre in Perth is providing integral data processing and storage to make new discoveries.Pawsey Supercomputing Centre is integral to the operation of our newest radio telescope and has just helped it spot what may be a new galaxy forming.

Our Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) in Western Australia is designed to test new technology and techniques as a precursor instrument for the international SKA telescope. What sets ASKAP apart from other telescopes is its ‘phased array feeds’: CSIRO-developed receiving systems that let the telescope see a huge area of sky at once – 120 times the size of the full Moon. These receivers make ASKAP one of the world’s most powerful survey telescopes, able to do in weeks what took earlier telescopes years.

With the telescope’s 36 antennas working together at full throttle, they output nine terabytes of data an hour – equivalent to streaming 9,000 Netflix movies at once. This huge data output requires supercomputing power to process the raw data into images and other science products. To date, this has been done by batch-processing with Pawsey’s Galaxy machine, a Cray XC30.

ASKAP is now just a few steps away from starting the key survey projects that will take advantage of its special capabilities. The survey science teams are making preliminary ‘Early Science’ observations with a subset of the ASKAP antennas to hone their techniques and strategies.

One of these surveys is WALLABY (the Widefield ASKAP L-band All-Sky Blind Survey), led by researchers from CSIRO and the University of Western Australia, which will give us the distances of 600,000 galaxies, plus their masses, and how much neutral hydrogen gas and dark matter they contain. These measurements will help us understand which factors drive change in galaxies over time.

The data already collected during Early Science observations for WALLABY, when only 12 ASKAP antennas were available, was processed by the Galaxy supercomputer at Pawsey. The observations covered a well-known galaxy group (NGC 7232) but revealed several radio sources that had not been detected before with other telescopes. One of these objects may be a new dwarf galaxy coming into existence.

This is just the beginning. When full survey science operations begin, ASKAP is set to find many more galaxies and provide new insights into their physical processes. The Australian Government’s recently announced $70 million upgrade to Pawsey’s supercomputing infrastructure will help astronomers process and store more data, helping fuel new discoveries.

As investment in Australia’s burgeoning space industry grows, these world-class capabilities will be critical to growing future industries for Australia in space.

National Research Collections Australia

Australia is home to more than half a million species of plants and animals, with three-quarters of these found nowhere else on Earth. This unique biodiversity is a national treasure and a crucial environmental asset, providing ecosystem services and economically valuable resources.

We are the custodian of National Research Collections Australia (NRCA), our nation’s most reliable set of nationally representative biological collections underpinning research in agriculture, biosecurity, biodiversity and climate change. NRCA is used by researchers all over the world to identify, quantify and explore Australia’s biodiversity to inform public policy decisions, support biosecurity and contribute to environmental management. NRCA is comprised of six collections with more than 15 million specimens, representing a 240-year time series of data – Australian National Herbarium (ANH), Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC), Australian National Wildlife Collection (ANWC), Australian National Algae Culture Collection (ANACC), Australian Tree Seed Centre (ATSC) and Australian National Fish Collection (ANFC).

The Environomics Future Science Platform, hosted by NRCA, is developing new ways to use genomic resources in nature and gather more accurate environmental information.

The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) is hosted by CSIRO. It is a collaborative partnership of organisations with stewardship of Australian biodiversity data and is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). The ALA provides free, online access to Australia’s biodiversity data gathered from multiple sources, delivering to more than 45,000 users annually in research, industry and government.

Use of the collections

Some of our 2018–19 highlights include:

  • 230 new species: described 30 genera and more than 60 insect species (ANIC); more than 20 plant species.
  • Contributions to national and global research through loans, exchanges and provision of samples: more than 1,111 plant specimens, 216 fish specimens and 22,000 insect specimens were sent on loan; 5,521 plant specimens on exchange with 18 countries, and 2,547 (188 plant, 532 fish, 1,827 wildlife) tissue samples sent to other collections and research institutions. Currently more than 200,000 specimens are on loan around the world.
  • Achieved 80 per cent digitisation for ANH and ANFC, 100 per cent for ANACC and ANWC. More than 22,000 new digital records made available through the ALA.
  • Addressed Australian biosecurity risks by determining the origins of several weeds and testing machine learning methods for weed incursion identification, and hosted a workshop for Department of Agriculture staff on insect identifications at our borders;
  • ATSC collected seeds from mallee eucalypts seed for biomass energy production; assisted conservation of eucalypt species native to the ACT and southern NSW.
  • The ALA surpassed 80 million biodiversity datapoints and began developing infrastructure for next-generation provision of genetic and phenomic information to researchers to better understand the environment and biodiversity.

TABLE 3.10: Combined use of national research collections




Outward loans (% over 5 years)




Achieving sustainable regional fisheries

two men inspecting fish at a fish landing site in IndonesiaFisheries staff identifying species at a fish landing site in Indonesia.

We are helping to solve the challenge of sustainable regional food security through the Australian National Fish Collection (ANFC). Based in Hobart, the collection holds more than 157,000 validated fish specimens from Australia and adjacent regions, particularly Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

In 2018, we launched fishIDER (fish Identification Database and Educational Resource), a website and online training tool helping to identify important food fish species in Indonesia, including tuna, billfish and sharks. It was built using a combination of ANFC’s expertly identified fish specimens and is the culmination of more than two decades of collaborative research with Indonesian fisheries.

fishIDER is being used by Indonesian fisheries staff to improve their fish identification skills, which is fundamental to assist in fisheries management.

Indonesia is one of the largest maritime nations and one of the largest fish producers in the world, catching 6.2 million tonnes in 2015 alone – 40 times more than Australia. Accurate fish species identifications conducted at docks and local fish markets are essential for sustainable management of its fisheries. Identifications are used to generate stock assessments, which inform important management decisions, including catch quotas and maximum sustainable yields. If identifications made by fisheries staff are correct, stock assessments will be more accurate. If monitored and enforced, this can move a fishery towards sustainability.

Fish sold in markets can be notoriously difficult for fisheries staff to identify. These fish may be juveniles, in poor condition, or missing key features like heads or fins. They often look very different from photos in field guides. fishIDER solves this problem by making it possible to quickly identify fish regardless of their condition, and includes images of fish taken in market situations, thus in market condition.

Supporting neighbouring countries to achieve sustainable fisheries benefits Australia, which shares the same fisheries resources for migratory species such as tuna.

Improvements in data quality – by boosting the fish identification skills of fisheries data collection staff – help ensure national and international fish stocks are sustained at healthy levels. It may also improve the speed of data collection from illegal catches where time is often limited.

fishIDER is bilingual (Bahasa Indonesia and English) and includes four main areas: species profiles with ecological and life history information; interactive learning tools; a photo gallery of verified species photographed in real market situations; and an interactive glossary, which helps improve knowledge of taxonomic terminology.

We developed fishIDER in collaboration with Indonesia’s Agency for Marine and Fisheries Research and Human Resources, with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. It was launched at the Our Ocean Conference in Bali on 29‒30 October 2018.

We seek to expand fishIDER throughout South East Asia and possibly more broadly in the Indian Ocean, as well as to increase the number of species included.

fishIDER is available at: www.fishider.org.


  1. “core hours” refers to the duration of use (in hours) multiplied by the number of processor units (cores) used.