1

People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

3

Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University are set to study the impact of “yellow” conservation zones in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, examining how these ‘middle ground’ zones might help conserve fish stocks.

JCU’s Dr April Hall said while extensive research has been done on no-take (green) marine zones and open (blue) fishing zones, little work had been done on yellow zones which offer partial marine park protection.

“Yellow zones on the Great Barrier Reef act as a conservation ‘middle ground’, allowing limited fishing on reefs, whilst likely still gaining a conservation benefit, but little is known about their performance as a management tool,” she said.

Dr Hall and co-investigator Professor Mike Kingsford have been granted $180,000 to study the conservation zones. Dr Hall said the study will be the first to examine the effectiveness of yellow zones for conservation on the Great Barrier Reef.

The work will be performed in collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), James Cook University, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and is co-funded by a Queensland Department of Science, Information, Technology, and Innovation Advance Queensland Research Fellowship.

“We’ll be looking at how the biodiversity of fishes in yellow zones compares to protected (green) zones and open (blue) zones, and to what extent yellow zones contribute to reef conservation,” she said.

Dr Hall said a previous study she had taken part in suggested yellow zones provided some protection for predators targeted by recreational fishers such as coral trout, emperors, and snappers, though not as much as green zones.

“So yellow zones may play a role in protecting coral reef food webs, but we need to more accurately assess this.”

Dr Hall said this research will help inform reef managers as to the biological importance of yellow zones in current and future zoning of the Great Barrier Reef.

“Yellow zones have the potential to provide access to reef resources for fishers, whilst allowing a level of protection for reef biodiversity.”

Contact:

James Cook University: Dr April Hall, 0458 565 194, april.hall@jcu.edu.au

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority: (07) 4750 0846 media@gbrmpa.gov.au

 

What is a Yellow Zone?

Fishing activities allowed in a Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone include:

Limited line fishing (one hand-held rod or one hand-held line per person, with no more than one hook attached to that line).
Trolling (no more than three lines per person and up to six hooks combined total per person).
Restriction on the number of commercial fishing vessels.
Limited spearfishing (snorkel only).
Bait netting.
Limited crabbing (four crab pots, collapsible traps or dillies).
Limited collecting (includes oysters and bait, excludes take of coral, live or dead and anemones).

For a description of the full range of zones and their restrictions, see here.

Death is only one possible outcome from coral bleaching caused by rising sea temperatures due to global warming. Australian scientists report that many surviving corals affected by mass bleaching from high sea temperatures on the northern Great Barrier Reef are the sickest they have ever seen.

“We measured the condition of surviving corals as part of our extensive underwater surveys of Australia’s worst ever bleaching event. We found that coral bleaching has affected 93% of the Great Barrier Reef. While the central and southern regions have escaped with minor damage, nearly half of the corals have been killed by mass bleaching in the northern region,” says Professor Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at at James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville, Queensland.

“Normally when bleaching kills corals it is a slow death, that progresses steadily when temperatures remain high,” says Associate Professor Bill Leggat, also from the ARC Centre at JCU.

“The corals usually rely on mechanisms that help them fight and counteract the damage but this time, on some reefs, it looks like they have died very quickly.

Corals depend upon algae that live within their tissues. These algae, called zooxanthellae, utilise light to generate sugar and nutrients, which are transported to the coral host. It is this energy that allows corals to grow and produce reefs. The partnership between corals and the microscopic algae (zooxanthellae) that lives in their tissues breaks down when temperatures are too high, causing coral bleaching. For corals to recover they need the tissues to remain intact while the remaining zooxanthellae slowly repopulate the tissues.

“Healthy corals have between one and two million zooxanthellae per square centimetre,” says Leggat. “During past bleaching events, these numbers have dropped to about 200,000 cells per square centimetre. Now we are finding in this very severe bleaching event that some corals have no zooxanthallae remaining in their tissues at all.”

The scientists found that severely bleached corals had an average of only 4,000 algae per square centimetre. This amount is 500 times less than in a healthy coral and 50 times less than reported for corals that survived previous bleaching events. This profound loss of algae means that many of the corals that have bleached, have little chance of recovering, because they have no zooxanthellae left to repopulate the coral tissue.

“These corals are amongst the most damaged I have seen,” says Dr. Leggat.

“For some surviving corals in the Northern Great Barrier Reef, over 50% of the coral cells are dead. In some regions the corals were so badly damaged that we were unable to study their tissue because it was rotting away.”

Tragically, the ongoing damage from bleaching has been highest in the northern 700km of the Great Barrier Reef all the way up to Papua New Guinea, the most remote and – until now – the most pristine section of the Great Barrier Reef,” says Professor John Pandolfi from the ARC Centre at the University of Queensland.

Given the extent of morality and the damage observed to individual corals it is vital to understand the recovery processes of bleached coral. Even if they recover their color, scientists predict that the surviving corals will show other longer-term symptoms, including reduced growth rates and lower reproduction

Note

Bill Leggat, Terry Hughes and John Pandolfi are presenting at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium in Hawaii. The scientists are available for media interviews in the ICRS2016 media room. Please contact Kylie Simmonds (details below)

Images

Dropbox folder with images for editorial use: http://bit.ly/28IlISr

Permission must be obtained from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral reef Studies to use/re-use all images and footage provided past the media release date.

Contacts

Bill Leggat
Associate Professor
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Phone: +1 (808) 722 4013
Email: bill.leggat@jcu.edu.au

Professor Terry Hughes
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Phone: +61-400720164
Email: terry.hughes@jcu.edu.au

Professor John Pandolfi
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Phone: ‭+1 (808) 729-6951‬‬‬‬‬
Email: j.pandolfi@uq.edu.au

Kylie Simmonds
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University, Townsville
Phone: +61 (0) 428 785 895
Email: kylie.simmonds1@jcu.edu.au

 

Coral bleaching due to global warming has continued to worsen in the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) over the past two weeks, even as cooler weather has brought significant reprieve to central and southern areas.

“After months of El Nino conditions, we had hoped that cloudy weather in the past few weeks would quench the overheating of the Great Barrier Reef along its entire length,” says Prof. Terry Hughes, Taskforce convener and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

“Unfortunately, the northern sectors have not cooled down enough, and we’re now recording quite extensive levels of coral bleaching. These northern reefs are in the most remote, pristine area of the Great Barrier Reef and it’s a real tragedy to see them being affected like this. Thankfully the rest of the reef is now safe as the summer heat dissipates.”

The northern Great Barrier Reef stretches for 1000km from the tip of Cape York to Cairns.

“This week we’ll start flying extensive aerial surveys on charter planes to measure the extent of the bleaching. Similar aerial surveys were done during the two earlier mass bleaching events in 1998 and 2002, and a third set will provide invaluable information about which reefs are particularly at risk of bleaching.”

Dr Neal Cantin, Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, has been closely following weather and climate patterns over the Great Barrier Reef, and explains that “Water temperatures on the Northern Great Barrier Reef for the next few weeks are likely to remain far above average and the corals continue to face a bleaching risk.”

Today, based on the severity of bleaching reports from the northern GBR, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has lifted its bleaching warning from Response Level 1 (mild and widespread) to Response Level 2 (severe and local).

National Coral Bleaching Taskforce

 

Further information please contact:

Prof Terry Hughes, Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
+61 (0)400 720 164 +61 (07) 4781 4000 (AEST) or terry.hughes@jcu.edu.au

Dr Neal Cantin, Research Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science
+61 (07) 4753 4132 (AEST) or n.cantin@aims.gov.au

Note to editors:

Coral bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, like heightened sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called ‘zooxanthellae’. The loss of these colourful algae causes the corals to turn white, and ‘bleach’. Bleached corals can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them, otherwise the coral may die.

The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce is designed to co-ordinate research effort among Australia’s marine science community in the event of a mass bleaching event in Australia. The taskforce draws together 10 research institutions across Australia to co-ordinate the efforts of over 300 scientists.

The associated research institutions are, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, James Cook University, NOAA, University of Queensland, University of Sydney, University of Western Australia, WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.

An Australian study published today has found that certain baby sharks are able to cope with the level of ocean acidification predicted for the end of this century.

Dr. Jodie Rummer from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University (JCU) and her co-authors studied epaulette shark embryos as they were developing. “Overall, there were no differences between growth and survival in sharks reared under current day conditions versus those reared under ocean acidification conditions predicted for the year 2100,” Dr. Rummer said.

However, she also conveys caution. Shark gills play an important role in helping correct pH disturbances—the team thinks that the risk of death under ocean acidification conditions may be highest before the embryo’s gills are fully developed. “This is when the embryos may be most vulnerable. So, future projections are still not the best-case scenario for the sharks,” Dr. Rummer explained. Those that got past this stage though, were able to carry on with business as usual.

Epaulette shark eggs normally incubate for 3–4 months before they hatch. Over the course of the study, the researchers raised epaulette shark eggs from 10 days after they were laid until 30 days after they hatched. During this time, the sharks were raised in one of two groups: today’s current ocean conditions or conditions meant to simulate ocean acidification predicted for the year 2100.

The researchers counted gill and tail movements of the developing embryos. They measured how much yolk the embryo was consuming and how much the embryo was growing. And, upon hatching, they further monitored survival and growth.

Carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere have been increasing dramatically since the industrial revolution. The oceans are absorbing approximately 30% of this carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification. By the year 2100, it is predicted that the ocean’s acidity will have increased by 150% since pre-industrial times.

This is worrying particularly for calcifying organisms, such as corals and other marine animals with a shell: more acidic waters limit their ability to produce shells. However, little is known about how non-calcifying marine species, such as sharks, will fare.

Sharks, rays, and skates (elasmobranchs) are considered some of the most vulnerable of all marine vertebrates—currently, nearly a quarter of all elasmobranch species are threatened by extinction.

“We know that sharks, even the small ones, play an important role in balancing ecosystems as predators,” Dr. Rummer explained. “Healthy ecosystems need healthy predators. But, what about when water quality becomes challenging, such as what is happening with climate change?”

While some marine species can simply move when their environmental conditions become challenging, smaller species often do not have that luxury because of their size and/or risk of becoming another predator’s dinner. In these cases many small species use structures such as coral reefs for shelter. However, in these small hiding places, water quality conditions can become even more challenging.

Eggs, especially, cannot move if environmental conditions become unfavourable. The egg case also does not shelter the embryo from changes in water chemistry.

Dr. Rummer says that recent studies from her group suggest adult epaulette sharks, after prolonged exposure to high carbon dioxide to simulate ocean acidification, are not affected physiologically in terms of metabolic performance, or behaviourally in terms of food finding and shelter seeking. Her team thinks the reason behind this is that they are adapted to the fluctuating oxygen and carbon dioxide conditions in their hiding places.

“Therefore, if these sharks are able to tolerate challenging conditions as adults, they must also be able to early in life, and maybe even more so!” she said.

However, she warns that while this sounds like great news for this species, ocean acidification is predicted to pose huge challenges for reef-building corals that provide such critical habitat and shelter for this small shark.

“No matter how tough this species seems, if climate change takes away its shelter, it will be just as vulnerable as any other.”

Paper

Will ocean acidification affect the early ontogeny of a tropical oviparous elasmobranch (Hemiscyllium ocellatum)? by Martijn S. Johnson, Daniel W. Kraver, Gillian M. C. Renshaw, and Jodie L. Rummer appears in Conservation Physiology, March 2016.

Images

Images for general media use (please feel publish with appropriate credit): https://www.dropbox.com/sh/s5mve5owtn1r6lu/AAD-yRwcnE2kH8q-dQmpZ8Z5a?oref=e

Contacts

Dr. Jodie Rummer, Coral CoE, jodie.rummer@jcu.edu (currently in the field, please email to arrange a time to speak)
• Melissa Lyne, media liaison, 0415 514 328, Melissa.lyne@gmail.com
• Alistair Bone, JCU media, 07 4781 4942, alistair.bone@jcu.edu.au

Minor, but widespread, reports of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef are being closely watched by the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, which is concerned about current trends and remains ready to respond should a major coral bleaching event take place.

Taskforce convener, Prof. Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, explains that “current reports of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef do not equate to a mass bleaching event, but we are concerned about a growing incidence of minor to moderate bleaching at multiple locations along the Reef as the peak of summer approaches.”

Coral bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as heightened sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called ‘zooxanthellae’. The loss of these colourful algae causes the corals to turn white, and ‘bleach’. Bleached corals can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them, otherwise the coral may die.

“The latest Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecasts suggest that we could see significant above average temperatures through the month of March, which may mean more bleaching ahead for corals on the Great Barrier Reef unless we get some windy and cloudy weather soon,” says Dr Janice Lough, Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and member of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce.

“We remain hopeful that there is not enough time now for the Reef to undergo a mass bleaching as it did in 1998 or 2002,” says Prof. Hughes, “however, we established the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce precisely because of the risk of such a scenario taking place this year. We have been closely monitoring conditions on Australia’s coral reefs for the past six months.

“The best outcome is that the bleaching doesn’t get any worse, but if it becomes more widespread, we are ready to mobilise a network of scientists to document the extent of the bleaching, which will help us understand how the Reef is responding to successive major bleaching events.”

The National Coral Bleaching Taskforce is designed to co-ordinate research effort among Australia’s marine science community in the event of a mass bleaching event in Australia. The taskforce draws together 10 research institutions across Australia to co-ordinate the efforts of over 300 scientists.

The associated research institutions are, ARC Centre of Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, James Cook University, NOAA, University of Queensland, University of Sydney, University of Western Australia, and WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.

National Coral Bleaching Taskforce

Contacts:

Prof Terry Hughes
Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Convener National Coral Bleaching Taskforce
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
+61 (0)400 720 164 (AEST)
+61 (07) 4781 4000 (AEST)
terry.hughes@jcu.edu.au

Dr Janice Lough
Senior Principal Research Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science
+61 (07) 4753 4248 (AEST)
j.lough@aims.gov.au

Prof Ryan Lowe
University of Western Australia
+61 (0) 466 492 719
+61 (08) 6488 2706 (AWST)
ryan.lowe@uwa.edu.au

Images:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/0o7l0qux00ejfs3/AAA9u0Oh6GQ_RNIL-0cifstga?dl=0

Permission must be obtained from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral reef Studies to use/re-use all images and footage provided past the media release date.

In a world-first study published today, researchers say dredging activity near coral reefs can increase the frequency of diseases affecting corals.

“At dredging sites, we found more than twice as much coral disease than at our control sites,” says the lead author of the study, Joe Pollock, a PhD candidate from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University (JCU) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

“Corals require both light and food to survive,” Pollock explains. “And unfortunately, dredging impacts corals on two fronts: increased turbidity means less light for photosynthesis, while increased levels of sediment falling onto the coral can interfere with their ability to feed.”

Already low on energy, the corals then must spend further energy cleaning the extra sediment from their surface. Such an energy imbalance can lead to chronic coral stress.

“Just like in any other organism, it seems that chronic stress can lead to increased levels of disease in corals,” Pollock says.

In the past 20 years, the frequency of coral disease has risen across the world, and has become a significant factor in global coral reef decline. In the Caribbean, disease has diminished coral cover by as much as 95 percent in some locations.

This is the first study to examine the link between dredging and coral disease in nature. It was conducted near Barrow Island, off the West Australian coast. The site is close to where an 18-month, 7-million cubic metre dredging project took place, developing a channel to accommodate ships transporting liquefied gas to a nearby processing plant. The site was in otherwise very good condition.

The most common diseases affecting corals after dredging events are the ‘white syndromes’, where the coral tissues fall off, leaving behind exposed, white coral skeletons. These coral diseases are chronic, and there are fears that they may linger well after the completion of dredging operations.

Dr Britta Schaffelke from AIMS, a co-author on the study, says numerous environmental stressors have been suggested as potential drivers of coral disease.

“Turbidity and sedimentation are critical pressures on the health of coral reefs and are affected by many human activities, especially in the coastal zone,” Schaffelke says.

“What this study does is highlight a direct link of coral disease to sedimentation and turbidity.”

Coastal industries provide economic stability, food security and reliable energy to billions of people around the world. As the pace of coastal development and demand for larger harbours escalates, the impact of elevated sediment and turbidity on the health of marine species is now a worldwide concern. “Dredging is a pressing issue on many coral reefs throughout the world, including the Great Barrier Reef,” says Pollock.

“A solid understanding of the impacts of dredging, sediment and turbidity on coral health will be indispensable in the development of well-informed management and monitoring strategies for vulnerable coral reef ecosystems,” he concludes.

 

PAPER

Sediment and turbidity associated with offshore dredging increase coral disease prevalence on nearby reefs by Frederic Joseph Pollock, Joleah B Lamb, Stuart N Field, Scott F Heron, Britta Schaffelke, George Shedrawi, David G Bourne and Bette L Willis appears in PLoS ONE: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102498

Images:

Video and more images are available on request

CONTACTS

• Joe Pollock, (07) 5641 2342, Frederic.Pollock1@jcu.edu.au
• Britta Schaffelke, 0427 029 464, B.Schaffelke@aims.gov.au
• Jenny Lappin, Coral CoE, (07) 4781 4222, Jennifer.Lappin@jcu.edu.au
• Melissa Lyne, media liaison, 0415 514 328, Melissa.lyne@gmail.com

Fish larvae on the Great Barrier Reef can find their way home after weeks of drifting in the sea even where the currents are strong, thanks to their senses of smell and hearing, two James Cook University researchers have found.

JCU Professors Eric Wolanski and Mike Kingsford published their findings in their paper, Oceanographic and behavioural assumptions in models of the fate of coral and coral reef fish larvae.

The paper has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, a journal that aims to link physics and biology.

Professor Wolanski, from TropWATER and the School of Marine and Tropical Biology, said fish larvae showed they used the two senses to find their way home.

“Knowing that these larvae can orientate and swim to reefs using the senses of smell and hearing, we demonstrated with modelling that 20 per cent of these actively swimming fish larvae can return,” he said.

“This is compared to less than two per cent for passively drifting coral larvae.

“Importantly, many more fish larvae end up on other reefs nearby and replenish fish stocks in fished areas. This means that the marine protected areas help resupply fish to fished reefs outside marine protected areas.”

Professor Wolanski explained that after hatching, fish larvae cannot swim and are dispersed by ocean currents.

However, when the larvae have grown a dorsal bone, they can swim.

“They have a well-developed sense of smell, as revealed by experiments, and they swim horizontally using the smell cue towards home, that is, the reef where they were spawned,” he said.

“The fish larvae can also hear, and experiments have shown that they also swim to the sounds of life on the reef.”

Professor Wolanski said it was important that they return to their natal (or home) reef.

“If they don’t, the population will die because initially the fish larvae are moved away by the currents from their natal reefs. To maintain the population, some larvae must come back.”

The findings came after researchers developed a predictive model to find out what the fish and coral larvae were doing.

“The two senses can maximise the chances that they come back to the natal reef – the smell makes them come back in the general direction and, when they get close enough, the sound gives them a precise bearing,” he said.

“However for those larvae that have drifted too far away from the natal reef and can’t come back, they are not necessarily going to be lost at sea and die. If they come within hearing distance – one to two kilometres – of another reef, they can swim to it. This is how MPAs help replenish fish in fished areas.”

Professor Wolanski said importantly, the study demonstrated the usefulness of marine protected areas.

“It shows that a large number of coral reef fish larvae from an MPA are dispersed away by oceanic currents, but these larvae are not necessarily lost at sea and bound to die; using sound, these larvae can recruit in large numbers to reefs outside of the MPAs. In other words, MPAs help replenish fish stocks in fished areas.”
Contacts:
Professor Eric Wolanski, FTSE eric.wolanski@jcu.edu.au, tel: +61-7-4724 4776
Professor Michael Kingsford Michael.kingsford@jcu.edu.au, tel: :+61-7-4781 4345

JCU Media Liaison: Caroline Kaurila, tel: (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175

Prominent marine scientists from across the globe will gather for two days next week in Canberra to discuss the future of coral reefs worldwide.

The ‘Future of Coral Reefs’ symposium, hosted by the newly funded ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrated Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE), features talks from more than 30 eminent local and international coral reef scientists, managers, and policy makers. The topics will cover fostering the sustainable use, adaptive governance and effective management of the world’s coral reefs. This includes:

• Great Barrier Reef: in danger
• Why marine reserves are important for coral reef ecosystems
• The critical issue of fisheries management
• Climate change implications for coral reefs
• Can fish survive in a warmer, more acidic ocean?

The Symposium also coincides with the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the GBR Marine Park Zoning Plan, which enhances the level of protection for the GBR through the most comprehensive and innovative conservation and biodiversity program ever to occur in marine conservation.

Presenters at the ‘Future of Coral Reefs’ include:

And for the public, an evening forum hosted by media personality Ruben Meerman, aka. ‘The Surfing Scientist’, will feature five internationally renowned coral reef science ‘stars’. This event provides a great opportunity for delegates and the public to engage in discussion on the future of coral reefs.

Media are invited to attend the symposium on Thursday 3rd & Friday 4th July as well as the Thursday public forum starting at 5:30pm. Venue is the Shine Dome.

Aidan Byrne, the CEO of the ARC will be launching the Symposium in his opening address at 9.00am on Thursday morning.

• Symposium program: https://www.coralcoe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/A4-Program.pdf
• Public Forum: https://www.coralcoe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Public-Forum-Flyer.pdf
• Jenny Lappin, Coral CoE, +61 (0)417 741 638, jennifer.lappin@jcu.edu.au
• Melissa Lyne, media liaison, +61 (0)415 514 328, Melissa.lyne@gmail.com

Join the conversation on Twitter: @CoralCoE #Coral14

Researchers have today released ground-breaking findings that dismiss the ‘Neutral Theory of Biodiversity’. The theory has dominated biodiversity research for the past decade, and been advocated as a tool for conservation and management efforts.

Professor Sean Connolly from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University (JCU) is the lead author of the international study, which he says overturns the long-used theory by employing a novel mathematical method. It is the largest study of its kind, covering a broad range of marine ecosystems on Earth.

“The study has important implications for how marine conservation areas are managed,” Professor Connolly says.

“The aim of neutral theory is to explain diversity and the relative abundances of species within ecosystems. However, the theory has an important flaw: it fails to capture how important the highly abundant species that dominate marine communities are.”

Professor Connolly explains that it’s often the really abundant species that deliver substantial ecosystem services like providing habitat for fishes, or keeping reefs clear of seaweeds. “These species have unique features that allow them to be so abundant, and to play those key roles,” he says.

But when neutral theory underpins marine conservation, species are treated as swappable. “So the theory implies that, if you lose a really abundant species, then another can simply increase in abundance to take its place.”

Using neutral theory, species become common or rare as a consequence of random processes: chance variation in who a predator happens to eat, or whose dispersing offspring happen to land on a vacant bit of real estate on the seafloor. This study shows that these random processes are not strong enough to explain the large differences between common and rare species.

Professor Connolly points to Caribbean coral reefs as an example of why this problem with neutral theory can be important. “Until the 1970s, these reefs were dominated by two species that were close relatives of the branching corals that dominate the reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. When these species were nearly lost as a consequence of overfishing and other forms of reef degradation, no other coral species increased to fill the gap,” he says.

“Those species had particular traits that made them so abundant, and therefore critical to a functioning healthy reef system,” continues Dr Julian Caley a co-author of the study from the Australian Institute of Marine Studies (AIMS).

“Both biodiversity theory and conservation managers need to be alert to these characteristics, because it is often the common species, not the rare ones, that are most important to healthy ecosystems,” Dr Caley explains.

“The results of this study are also unprecedented in their remarkable consistency across a very large set of vastly different ecological systems throughout the world’s oceans,” he adds.

The study looks at 14 different marine ecosystems sampled at 1185 locations across the globe. The datasets range from the polar to tropical regions, from deep-sea to shallow coral reef environments and intertidal zones. It includes vertebrates as well as invertebrates, from plankton, to clams, to coral reef fishes.

To overturn neutral theory, the study used a novel mathematical method that identified common predictions of the different models that form the theory. These predictions were then tested against this wide array of marine ecosystems.

‘Commonness and rarity in the marine biosphere’ by Sean R. Connolly, M. Aaron MacNeil, M. Julian Caley, Nancy Knowlton, Ed Cripps, Mizue Hisano, Loïc Thibaut, Bhaskar D. Bhattacharya, Lisandro Benedetti-Cecchi, Russell E. Brainard, Angelika Brandt, Fabio Bulleri, Kari E. Ellingsen, Stefanie Kaiser, Ingrid Kröncke, Katrin Linse, Elena Maggi, Timothy D. O’Hara, Laetitia Plaisance, Gary C. B. Poore, Santosh K. Sarkar, Kamala K. Satpathy, Ulrike Schückel, Alan Williams, and Robin S. Wilson appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The full paper is available via: PNASnews@nas.edu

CONTACTS:

• Professor Sean Connolly, Coral CoE, (07) 4781 4242, sean.connolly@jcu.edu.au
• Dr Julian Caley, AIMS, 0439 472 148, j.caley@aims.gov.au
• Jenny Lappin, Coral CoE (07) 4781 4222, jennifer.lappin@jcu.edu.au
• Melissa Lyne, media liaison, 0415 514 328, melissa.lyne@gmail.com

This Thursday, 40 high school students will embark on an exclusive five-day excursion to Orpheus Island on the Great Barrier Reef as part of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Marine Science (ATSIMS) initiative.

ATSIMS Founding Director, Joseph Pollock from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE), aims to inspire interest in marine science amongst Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.

ATSIMS is now in its second year and Mr Pollock says the inaugural program for select Townsville students was a great success. “Post ATSIMS, one high school reported nearly 90 percent of participants significantly improved their science grades,” he said. “And nearly all scholars now express interest in attending university, which is up from less than fifty percent before the program.”

Mrs Natalie Howard, Community Education Counsellor at William Ross High School, was involved in last year’s program.

“Socially, emotionally and holistically, ATSIMS provides a fabulous opportunity that is gratifying on so many levels. Students demonstrated increased self-confidence and this rolled on into the classroom environment,” Mrs Howard said.

“ATSIMS provided a wonderful opportunity for our students to explore the possibilities of marine science. They saw not only how it can benefit future generations, but how it is connected to our cultures.”

Mr Pollock promises this year’s four-week program will be ‘bigger and better’ for the scholars.

“We’ve doubled our time at Orpheus Island from two-and-a-half days to five. We’ve also expanded our school catchment beyond Townsville to include four schools from towns ranging geographically from Ingham to Home Hill. And we’ve added extra modules.”

Sponsored by Coral CoE, the Orpheus Island field trip is a highlight of the ATSIMS program. Situated within the traditional sea country of the Manburra people and boasting a world-class marine research station run by James Cook University (JCU), Orpheus Island provides the year 9 and 10 students with the unique opportunity to study coral reefs firsthand, alongside coral reef scientists and Australian Aboriginal Elders.

Mr Pollock explains this unique initiative is vital for future coral reef research in bringing about a greater appreciation of traditional ecological knowledge within the scientific community.

“There is so much to gain from merging western marine science with the traditional ecological knowledge possessed by the more than 70 traditional owner groups along the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Pollock said.

“The students selected for this program are all part of cultures that has been here for a very long time; cultures that possesses immense knowledge of Australia’s marine environment.”

Traditional elder Jim Gaston spoke to last year’s ATSIMS students about an innovative turtle-tracking program he founded to monitor the dynamics of local sea turtle populations. Using the field data collected from this program, veterinarians and scientists at JCU can now study how disease spreads within these turtle populations – Mr Gaston himself discovered the potentially fatal turtle virus fibropapillomatosis in local sea turtle populations.

“This is a perfect example of why we need more traditional owners and marine scientists sharing knowledge,” Mr Pollock said.

Once on Orpheus Island, the students will not only experience coral reef research out in the field, but will learn about life on a remote research station.

The ATSIMS program focuses on hands-on learning, including visits to Reef HQ, the Museum of Tropical QLD, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), a careers fair at JCU, and interactive lectures from young marine scientists at Coral CoE, JCU and AIMS.

For more info, please visit: ATSIMS.com

View video

CONTACTS

• Joseph Pollock, ATSIMS/ Coral CoE, 0466 407 141, Joe.Pollock@atsims.com
• William Ross High School, (07) 4726 7666
• Jenny Lappin, Coral CoE, (07) 4781 4222, jennifer.lappin@jcu.edu.au
• Melissa Lyne, media liaison, 0415 514 328,Melissa.lyne@gmail.com

Researchers have found that increasing ocean temperatures due to climate change will soon see reefs retaining and nurturing more of their own coral larvae, leaving large reef systems less interconnected and potentially more vulnerable.

“We found that at higher temperatures more coral larvae will tend to stay on their birth reef,” says the lead author of the study published today, Dr Joana Figueiredo from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University.

“This is good news in an otherwise cloudy picture for isolated reefs, because in the future they will be able to retain more of their own larvae and recover faster from severe storms or bleaching events,” she adds.

Professor Sean Connolly, also from the Coral CoE, explains that while more coral larvae will stay close to their parents, fewer will disperse longer distances, leaving reefs less connected.

“The loss of connectivity can make reef systems such as the Great Barrier Reef more vulnerable,” he said.

“So interconnected reef systems that depend on the recruitment of coral larvae may take more time to recover after a disturbance, such as a cyclone, because fewer larvae will disperse from other reefs to the disturbed reef.”

Professor Connolly adds that weaker connections between reefs means warm-adapted corals, such as those in the northern Great Barrier Reef, may take longer to expand their ranges to the south.

Similarly for isolated reefs, Dr Saki Harii from the University of the Ryukyus says, “While isolated reefs can retain more of their own larvae, this also leaves them with fewer possibilities to change their species composition to adjust to climate change.”

Professor Andrew Baird from the Coral CoE says the implications of the research present management with both challenges and opportunities.

“Our results demonstrate that global warming will change patterns of larval connectivity among reefs. On a positive note, the stronger link between adults and recruits means an even greater benefit if we reduce local threats such as dredging and fishing methods that can damage corals,” Professor Baird says.

Nevertheless, he explains, “This does not reduce the need for global action on climate change.”

Increased local retention of reef coral larvae as a result of ocean warming by Joana Figueiredo, Andrew H. Baird, Saki Harii and Sean R. Connolly appears in Nature Climate Change.

The full paper and additional images are available on request.

CONTACTS

Dr Joana Figueiredo, Coral CoE, (and now at Oceanographic Center at Nova Southeastern University), +1 954-262-3638, jfigueiredo@nova.edu
Prof Sean Connolly, Coral CoE, (07) 4781 4242 sean.connolly@jcu.edu.au
Prof Andrew Baird, Coral CoE, (07) 4781 4857, andrew.baird@jcu.edu.au
Dr Saki Harii, University of the Ryukyus, +81-980-47-6073,sharii@lab.u-ryukyu.ac.jp
Jenny Lappin, Coral CoE, (07) 4781 4222,jennifer.lappin@jcu.edu.au
Melissa Lyne, media liaison, 0415 514 328, melissa.lyne@gmail.com

In a world-first study published today, researchers have found that fish in the wild respond adversely to ocean acidification.

“Fish living at natural carbon dioxide seeps have abnormal behaviours similar to what we’ve observed in previous laboratory experiments,” says the lead author of the study, Professor Philip Munday from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University. He adds that the carbon dioxide levels at the seeps are similar to what is predicted for the oceans in the second half of this century.

 “We see small fish being attracted to, instead of avoiding, the smell of their potential predators,” Professor Munday explains.

 “And, the fish also ignore the smell of their preferred habitats. They are more active and display bolder behaviours, venturing further away from shelter, which makes them even more vulnerable to predators.”

 The collaboration involving the Coral CoE, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Geographic Society is the first to shift out of the science lab and into the natural environment to study these effects of ocean acidification on fish.

The isolated ‘natural laboratory’ where the study was conducted lies just off the coast of Papua New Guinea, where coral reef waters are made acidic by the natural carbon dioxide seeps.

 Dr Jodie Rummer, a co-author of the study from the Coral CoE, adds that while the higher carbon dioxide levels do affect fish behaviour, it does not appear to affect their athletic performance.

 “The metabolic rates of fish from the seep area were the same as fish from nearby ‘healthy’ reefs,” Dr Rummer explains. “So, it seems that future ocean acidification may affect the behaviour of reef fishes more than other aspects of their performance.”

 Professor Munday adds that an important finding is that fish behaviour did not seem to improve, despite the fish from the carbon dioxide seep residing in acidic waters all of their lives so far.

 “This suggests that fish cannot adjust to rising carbon dioxide levels over a lifetime,” Professor Munday said.

 “As a result, it is imperative that we study the ability of fish and other marine species to adapt to higher carbon dioxide levels,” he said, adding that this may take generations. “We know that adaptation can happen, but we don’t know if this will happen in time to overcome these negative effects on behaviour.”

 Up until now, studies of ocean acidification effects on fish have mostly taken place in short-term laboratory settings with limited space and species. So, very little is known about the effects of ocean acidification on ecological processes in natural reef communities.

 The seep crucial to forming the natural laboratory takes the form of carbon dioxide bubbles fuelled by volcanic activity under the seabed. Close to the seep, there is no coral growth, but further away lies a unique coral reef zone with carbon dioxide levels similar to what is predicted to be ocean-wide by the end of the century. This makes the location ideal for studying how fish and other coral reef species may respond to the extent of ocean acidification forecast for the next 50-80 years.

 Interestingly, there were similar numbers of species and similar abundances for most fish at the seep site compared with the ‘control’ reefs outside of the seep zone. There were, however, fewer predatory species at the seep site and this may explain why, despite their altered behaviour towards predators, populations of fish were still in abundance. Recruitment of juvenile fish from reefs outside the seep may have also helped – but in future such refuges will not exist as all oceans become acidic due to human-induced carbon dioxide emissions.

 The findings of this study will be of particular concern to the millions of people in the tropics who depend on coral reefs for food security and livelihoods.

 Behavioural impairment in reef fishes caused by ocean acidification at CO2 seeps by Philip L. Munday, Alistair J. Cheal, Danielle L. Dixson, Jodie L. Rummer and Katharina E. Fabricius appears in Nature Climate Change.

 The paper and images are available on request.

CONTACTS

Prof Philip Munday, Coral CoE, 07 47815341, mobile 0408714794, philip.munday@jcu.edu.au
Dr Jodie Rummer, Coral CoE, +1 808 635 1779, jodie.rummer@jcu.edu.au
Jenny Lappin, Coral CoE, 07 4781 422207 4781 4222, jennifer.lappin@jcu.edu.au
Melissa Lyne, media liaison, 0415514328, melissa.lyne@gmail.com

A new study published in the international journal Nature Communications has revealed how Western Australia’s coral reefs have been affected by changing ocean currents, rising sea surface temperatures and sea level variability.

Scientists from The University of Western Australia, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO and the University of San Diego analysed coral cores from the eastern Indian Ocean to understand how the unique coral reefs of Western Australia were affected by changing ocean currents and water temperatures.

The findings give new insights into how La Niña, a climate swing in the tropical Pacific, affects the Leeuwin current and how our oceans are changing.

Assistant Professor Jens Zinke, who holds a collaborative fellowship with UWA’s Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and CSIRO, said the researchers examined long coral records, enabling them to look at patterns of climate variability dating back to 1795.

“Due to the lack of long-term observations of marine climate we used long coral cores, with annual growth bands similar to tree rings, to provide a record of the past,” Professor Zinke said.

“We obtained records of past sea temperatures by measuring the chemical composition of the coral skeleton from year to year.  This showed how changing winds and ocean currents in the eastern Indian Ocean, are driven by climate variability in the western tropical Pacific Ocean.”

La Niña events in the tropical Pacific result in a strengthened Leeuwin Current and unusually warm water temperatures and higher sea levels off south-west Western Australia.

UWA Adjunct Associate Professor and CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Dr Ming Feng said a prominent example of the effects of La Niña was the 2011 heatwave along WA’s reefs which led to coral bleaching and fish kills.

The international team found that in addition to warming sea surface temperatures, sea-level variability and Leeuwin Current strength had increased since 1980.  The coral cores also revealed that strong winds and extreme weather off Western Australia in 2011 were highly unusual in the context of the past 215 years.

The researchers used core samples of massive Porites colonies from the Houtman-Abrolhos Islands, the most southerly reefs in the Indian Ocean which are directly in the path of the Leeuwin Current.  Using the chemical composition of the annual coral growth bands they were able to reconstruct sea surface temperature and Leeuwin Current for 215 years, from 1795 to 2010.

The authors concluded this was clear evidence that global warming and sea-level rise was increasing the severity of these extreme events which impact the highly diverse coral reefs of Western Australia, including the Ningaloo Reef World Heritage site.

Zinke J, Rountrey, A, Feng M, Xie S-P, Dissard D, Rankenburg K, Lough J, McCulloch M (2014). Coral record long-term Leeuwin current variability including Ningaloo Nino/Nina since 1795. Nature Communicatons 5:3607.

According to an international team of researchers, the rapid pace of climate change is threatening the future presence of fish near the equator.

“Our studies found that one species of fish could not even survive in water just three degrees Celsius warmer than what it lives in now,” says the lead author of the study, Dr Jodie Rummer from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University.

Dr Rummer and her colleagues studied six common species of fish living on coral reefs near the equator. She says many species in this region only experience a very narrow range of temperatures over their entire lives, and so are likely adapted to perform best at those temperatures.

This means climate change places equatorial marine species most at risk, as oceans are projected to warm by two to three degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

“Such an increase in warming leads to a loss of performance,” Dr Rummer explains. “Already, we found four species of fish are living at or above the temperatures at which they function best.”

The team measured the rates at which fish use oxygen, the fuel for metabolism, across different temperatures – at rest and during maximal performance. According to the results, at warmer temperatures fish lose scope for performance. In the wild, this would limit activities crucial to survival, such as evading predators, finding food, and generating sufficient energy to breed.

Because many of the Earth’s equatorial populations are now living close to their thermal limits, there are dire consequences ahead if these fish cannot adapt to the pace at which oceans are warming.

Dr Rummer suggests there will be declines in fish populations as species may move away from the equator to find refuge in areas with more forgiving temperatures.

“This will have a substantial impact on the human societies that depend on these fish,” she says.

A concentration of developing countries lies in the equatorial zone, where fish are crucial to the livelihoods and survival of millions of people, including those in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

In an era of rapid climate change, understanding the link between an organism and its environment is crucial to developing management strategies for the conservation of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of marine fisheries.

“This is particularly urgent when considering food security for human communities.”

Life on the edge: thermal optima for aerobic scope of equatorial reef fishes are close to current day temperatures’ by Jodie Rummer, Christine Couturier, Jonathan Stecyk, Naomi Gardiner, Jeff Kinch, Goran Nilsson and Philip Munday, appears in Global Change Biology.

The paper and photographs are available on request

CONTACTS

Dr Jodie Rummer, Coral COE, +61 (0)7 4781 5300, jodie.rummer@jcu.edu.au
Jennifer Lappin, Coral CoE, +61 (0)7 4781 4222, jennifer.lappin@jcu.edu.au
Melissa Lyne, media liaison, +61 (0) 415 514 328, Melissa.lyne@gmail.com

 

Sea snails that leap to escape their predators may soon lose their extraordinary jumping ability because of rising human carbon dioxide emissions, a team of international scientists has discovered.

Lead author of the study published today, Dr Sue-Ann Watson from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) and James Cook University observed that the conch snail, which uses a strong foot to leap away from approaching predators, either stops jumping, or takes longer to jump, when exposed to the levels of carbon dioxide projected for the end of this century.

Dr Watson explains that increased carbon dioxide and ocean acidification levels disrupt a particular neurotransmitter receptor in the snail’s nervous system, delaying vital decision-making on escape. This leaves the snail more vulnerable to the poisonous dart of its slow-moving nemesis, the marbled cone shell.

The effects may be quite profound. “Altered behaviours between predators and prey have the potential to disrupt ocean food webs,” Dr Watson said.

While this study shows that disrupted decision-making with elevated carbon dioxide levels can occur in marine invertebrates, scientists have also observed similar effects before, in fish.

Co-author Professor Göran Nilsson, from the University of Oslo, explains, “this neurotransmitter receptor is common in many animals and evolved quite early in the animal kingdom. So what this study suggests is that human carbon dioxide emissions directly alter the behaviour of many marine animals, including much of the seafood that is part of the human diet.”

Professor Philip Munday, from the Coral CoE, says past studies on the effects of ocean acidification on animals mostly focused on what would happen to the shells of marine snails and other calcifying animals – how could shells be built and maintained in a more acidic environment? This study shows that they actually face the dual threat of both weaker shells and impaired behaviour.

Professor Munday says it is critical to study and understand more about the extent of these behavioural disturbances. The big question now, he adds, is whether sea creatures can adapt fast enough to keep up with the rapid pace of rising carbon dioxide levels and ocean acidification.

The article Marine mollusc predator-escape behaviour altered by near-future carbon dioxide levels by Sue-Ann Watson, Sjannie Lefevre, Mark I. McCormick, Paolo Domenici, Göran E. Nilsson and Philip L. Munday appears in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

[The paper, images and video are available on request]

CONTACTS

Dr Sue-Ann Watson, Coral CoE and James Cook University, +61 (0)7 4781 5672, sueann.watson@jcu.edu.au
Professor Philip Munday, Coral CoE and James Cook University, +61 (0)7 4781 5341, philip.munday@jcu.edu.au
Jennifer Lappin, Coral CoE, +61 (0)7 4781 4222, jennifer.lappin@jcu.edu.au
Melissa Lyne, media liaison, + 61 (0)415 514 328, melissa.lyne@gmail.com

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies has been awarded $A28m by the Australian Research Council for 2014 to 2020. The Centre will be reorganised into three new research programs – People and Ecosystems, Ecosystem Dynamics: Past, Present and Future and Responding to a Changing World.

Centre Director, Professor Terry Hughes said that “the vision of the Centre is to provide  understanding of coral reefs and their interaction with people, in order to foster their sustainable use, secure the benefits they provide to tropical societies and economies, and enhance the effectiveness of coral reef management world-wide”.

Early in 2014 the Centre will be recruiting approximately 12-15 postdoctoral Research Fellows (including new Professorial Fellows) in the social and biological sciences. The Centre will also be providing new scholarships for postgraduate students in all three of the new research programs. Please watch this website for updates.

The new Centre will be headquartered at James Cook University with nodes at the Australian National University, the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia. The Centre is also pleased to have the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France), the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (USA), Stanford University (USA) and the WorldFish Center (Malaysia) as partner organisations.

Contacts:
Professor Terry Hughes, +61 7 4781 4000, 0400720164
Jennifer Lappin, +61 7 4781 4222, 0417741638

We all know the feeling, it’s a hot summer afternoon and you have no appetite and don’t want to do anything apart from lay on the couch.

A team of researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University has shown that ocean warming may make some large reef fish feel the same way.

Researcher Dr Jacob Johansen said that fish rely on swimming for almost all activities necessary for survival, including hunting for food and finding mates.

“However, global warming may reduce the swimming ability of many fish species, and have major impacts on their ability to grow and reproduce,” he said.

Dr Johansen said that research aimed at understanding the impact of global warming on the commercially important fish species, coral trout, revealed that increasing ocean temperatures may cause large fish to become lethargic, spending more time resting on the bottom and less time swimming in search for food or reproductive opportunities.

He said that the study he and his colleagues had undertaken showed that even when individuals do muster up enough energy to swim around, they swim at much slower rate. This lower activity is likely to directly impact their ability to catch food, or visit spawning sites.

“The loss of swimming performance and reduced ability to maintain important activities, like moving to a spawning site to reproduce, could have major implications for the future distribution and abundance of these species,” Dr Johansen said.

Professor Morgan Pratchett said that the changes to activity patterns and swimming speeds “may directly influence where we will find these species in the future and how many we are able to fish sustainably”.

But all is not lost, Dr Johansen said, as there was some evidence that coral trout may be able to adapt to increasing temperatures.

“Populations from the northern region of the Great Barrier Reef were a little better than southern populations at tolerating these conditions,” he said.

“Coral trout is one of the most important fisheries in the South-East Pacific. If we want to keep this fishery in the future, it is critical that we understand how global warming may impact the species.”

“This will allow us to develop management plans that will help to keep the species, and its fisheries, healthy”.

The research team, which comprises Dr Vanessa Messmer, Dr Darren Coker, and Dr Andrew Hoey, along with Professor Pratchett and Dr Johansen, are planning further experiments to clarify the ability of coral trout to adapt to the rapid changes caused by global warming or if they may be forced to relocate to cooler more southerly waters.

Their paper “Increasing ocean temperatures reduce activity patterns of a large commercially important coral reef fish” by J.L. Johansen, V. Messmer, D.J. Coker, A.S. Hoey and M.S. Pratchett is published in the latest issue of the journal Global Change Biology.

For further information contact:

Dr Jacob Johansen, CoECRS and JCU, email: Jacob.Johansen@my.jcu.edu.au 0416 948733
Professor Morgan Pratchett, CoECRS and JCU, email. Morgan.Pratchett@jcu.edu.au 07 4781 5747

Few get to experience Orpheus Island in their lifetime, but this weekend a team of 40 high school students embark on an overnight trip to the island on the Great Barrier Reef as the very first participants in the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Marine Science (ATSIMS) initiative.

Situated within the traditional sea country of the Manburra people and boasting a world-class marine research station run by James Cook University (JCU), Orpheus Island provides the selected year 9 and 10 Townsville-based students with the unique opportunity to study coral reefs firsthand, alongside coral reef scientists and Australian Aboriginal Elders.

Founding Director of ATSIMS, Joseph Pollock, says the initiative is vital for future coral reef research.

“There is so much to gain from merging western marine science with the traditional ecological knowledge possessed by the more than 70 traditional owner groups along the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Pollock said.

Mr Pollock founded ATSIMS after leading a field-based coral reef science program in the Torres Strait Islands – where he discovered the local kids were teaching him much more than he could teach them.

“Many of these kids grew up on reefs, and they possess a huge wealth of knowledge acquired over countless generations on the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

“This critical knowledge has not yet made its way into western marine science research.”

Sponsored by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Orpheus Island field trip is a highlight of the ATSIMS program. The students will not only experience coral reef research out in the field, but also learn about life on a remote research station. In addition, the stay includes sessions with an Elder of the Manburra people, who will share his historical and ecological knowledge of the region with the students.

The ATSIMS program focuses on hands-on learning, including a visit to the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), a careers fair at JCU, and interactive lectures from young marine scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, JCU and AIMS.

This unique program aims to both inspire an interest in marine science amongst Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, and to bring about a greater appreciation of their traditional ecological knowledge in the scientific community.

“We hope that providing these engaging, field-based science programs will bolster the interest, experience, and hands-on skills that Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders kids will need to initiate, and succeed in, tertiary studies in the field of marine science.”

Natalie Howard, community education counsellor at William Ross High, speaks about the value of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Marine Science Program.

(Photos available upon request)

Contacts:

In a world where fish catches are collapsing around the globe, Fijian fish are on the comeback trail thanks to a remarkable blend of centuries-old tradition and the latest science.

In Kubulau District, Fiji, local fishers, marine biologists and staff of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are combining ancient tabu (taboo) customs and modern science to manage fish stocks.

The communities of Kubulau – pronounced Kumbulau – have extended their network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to cover almost half their traditional fisheries area using a mix of traditional and “western” management styles.

“The practice of establishing a tabu – which places temporary bans on fishing in certain areas – goes back hundreds of years in Fijian history,” says Dr Rebecca Weeks from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS), Australia and James Cook University. “But growing populations, modern fishing methods, increasing water pollution, climate change and deforestation have seen fish stocks dwindle.

“By working together to create a network of tabu areas, and adding some large, permanently closed MPAs, the communities in Kubulau are making sure that their management efforts are better able to address the problem of sustainable fishing in the 21st century.”

In July 2011, Dr Weeks and her colleague, Dr Stacy Jupiter, Director of the WCS Fiji Country Program, along with WCS staff, facilitated a workshop for local fishers and community leaders, following which the communities of Kubulau added five new MPAs to their existing network. Three villages significantly increased the size of their MPAs, and 500 metre buffer zones were added to the three permanent reserves for the district.

“This means an additional 35 square kilometres of marine area has been protected, increasing the total area of the MPA network to 120 sq km or 44 per cent of the Kubulau District traditional fisheries area,” explains Dr Weeks.

“Considering that the target for protection of marine habitats under the Convention on Biological Diversity’s new strategic plan is only 10 per cent, the communities of Kubulau are setting a leading example in helping Fiji meet its international commitments.”

The key ingredient to this success is the respect and trust between the marine scientists and the local communities that has created a powerful working partnership, she says.

Designs for more effective protection did not only come from the scientists. Ratu Apenisa Vuki, high chief of Kubulau District, established a new tabu area next to where the young men harvest bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber). He explains this means the young men can keep an eye on the tabu area while they are out working, ensuring the area remains closed to fishing.

“Through our network of Marine Protected Areas, Kubulau’s communities are working together to ensure the future of our fisheries, which will benefit our future generations as well,” says Ratu Vuki.

Dr Jupiter says that they were pleased with the outcome of the workshop.

“Since the first network of MPAs was established in 2005, we’ve been collecting information from the community, and from the ocean, looking at how well the MPAs were working. Some MPAs are showing increasing numbers of fish, while other areas are no better off than fished areas.

“When we presented the results of the monitoring back to representatives from the communities in July 2011, people became motivated to change the management rules and the boundaries of the MPAs,” she says.

“They could see that in some cases things were not working and they wanted to take action to improve the benefits of their management in terms of fish to eat and income from fisheries resources.”

“WCS has nurtured this success through its sensitive approach to community management of marine resources that stretches back nearly 10 years and has won the support of local chiefs as well as positive coverage in the Fijian press,” says Dr Weeks.

“Science doesn’t have to be complicated. When we explained that some key fish travel over large areas that the smaller MPAs didn’t cover, the community decided to increase the size of these MPAs. To address the problem of fishing over MPA boundaries we encouraged the Kubulau communities to move these boundaries to the edge of recognisable reef features.”

In Fiji, upwards of 200 villages have established locally managed MPA networks in co-operation with organisations like WCS. These communities are finding effective ways to adapt ancient management practices to fit with the latest science in coral reef fisheries management. In harnessing the best of both worlds they are not only regaining their livelihoods but contributing to international efforts to safeguard the oceans.

The paper Adaptive Co-management of a Marine Protected Area Network in Fiji by Rebecca Weeks and Stacy Jupiter is available online in the journal Conservation Biology.

Rebecca Weeks and colleagues from the CoECRS will present the latest research, management and policy developments in coral reef systems at the Coral Reefs in the 21st Century symposium.

The symposium will feature talks by more than 30 eminent coral reef and fish scientists on the future of these vital marine ecosystems and the industries and communities which depend on them. Media are welcome to attend the symposium and public forum, which are being held at the Rydges Southbank, Townsville on Thursday 10th October and Friday 11th October. Symposium Program details at:
https://www.coralcoe.org.au/news-events/symposia/coral-reefs-in-the-21st-century-townsville/symposium-program-coral-reefs-in-the-21st-century

Further information please contact:

Dr Rebecca Weeks, CoECRS, +61 (07) 4781 6134 or rebecca.weeks@jcu.edu.au
Dr Stacy Jupiter, WCS, +679 331 5174 or sjupiter@wcs.org
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 (0)7 4781 4222

 www.coralcoe.org.au
www.wcsfiji.org

The current condition and future prospects of Australia’s coral reefs will be in the spotlight at a gathering of leading marine scientists in Townsville on 10th-11th October, 2013.

The Coral Reefs in the 21st Century symposium will present the latest research, management and policy developments in coral reef systems in Australia, our region, and globally.

Hosted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the symposium will feature talks by more than 30 eminent coral reef and fish scientists on the future of these vital marine ecosystems and the industries and communities which depend on them.

A highlight will be a public forum hosted by TV personality Paul McDermott and featuring five of the nation’s stars of coral reef science at the Rydges Southbank, Townsville at 5.30pm on Thursday, October 10. This will be of vital interest to all whose livelihoods are linked to the GBR.

Key issues to be discussed at the Symposium include:

Media are welcome to attend the symposium and public forum, which are being held at the Rydges Southbank, Townsville on Thursday 10th October and Friday 11th October. Symposium Program details at: https://www.coralcoe.org.au/news-events/symposia/coral-reefs-in-the-21st-century-townsville/symposium-program-coral-reefs-in-the-21st-century

Public Forum: https://www.coralcoe.org.au/news-events/symposia/coral-reefs-in-the-21st-century-townsville/public-forum-coral-reefs-in-the-21st-century-townsville

More information:

Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 (0)7 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 (0)7 4781 4822 or 0418 892449

https://www.coralcoe.org.au/

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Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au