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.


Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

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


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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Coral Reefs: Past, Present, and Future


Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th September 2021

James Cook University, Bebegu Yumba Campus, Townsville QLD


The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was established in 2005, attracting two rounds of funding from the Australian Research Could under its ARC Centres of Excellence funding scheme. The Coral Reefs: Past, Present and Future Symposium is a celebration of our 15 year legacy.

The ARC Centre of Excellence’s goal is to provide knowledge that fosters the sustainable use, adaptive governance and effective management of the world’s coral reefs to enhance human wellbeing. We achieve this through innovative, collaborative and transdisciplinary research that achieves a better understanding of the science, both social and natural, of the dynamic changes currently occurring on coral reefs worldwide.


This symposium will:

  • showcase the Centre’s major research achievements over the last 15 years
  • celebrate our researchers past, present, and future
  • present the latest science that supports the sustainable use and management of coral reefs
  • forecast future directions in coral reef research where the need to understand ecosystem changes has never been greater
  • offer opportunities for discussion and engagement amongst delegates.


Two events are scheduled:

A 2-day Symposium will be held on Wednesday 29th September and Thursday 30th September 2021, with more than 30 presentations and panel discussions by leading coral reef researchers. The symposium is aimed at researchers in related fields, natural resource managers, industry, conservationists and policy makers. The symposium will be held in the Science Place Lecture Theatre (venue to be confirmed) on the Bebegu Yumba campus, James Cook University, Townsville (search Building 142 on the campus map).

A Public Forum Ocean leadership: the Great Barrier Reef is scheduled for 6.00pm (refreshments from 5.30pm) on Wednesday, 29th September (venue to be advised). This event is intended for everyone: the general public, as well as scientists, resource managers and policy-makers.


Registration is free for both the symposium and the public forum.

Please note that the symposium will be offered in a virtual format for those unable to attend in person due to travel restrictions.

Venue: The Science Place Lecture Theatre (Building 142), Bebegu Yumba Campus, James Cook University, Townsville

Wednesday 29th September
Time Topic Presenter
8.30am Registration and coffee
9.00am Welcome Graeme Cumming
Welcome to Country
Official Opening
9.25am Coral Reefs: Past, Present and Future Chair: Alana Grech
Keynote 1: Research Priorities for Sustainable Seascapes Graeme Cumming
Coral reefs and climate change: has Australia and the world done enough? Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Models from the reef: what can sponges and corals teach us about regeneration and symbiosis Maja Adamska
Shifting perspectives and opportunities for climate adaptation of coral reef coastlines Ryan Lowe
Coral Reef Governance: past, present and future. Tiffany Morrison
10.50am Morning tea
11.20am Our Legacy: Research Leadership  Chair: Morgan Pratchett
Video – Coral bleaching +1.5˚
Keynote 2: Spatial refuges and the emergent properties of recurrent mass bleaching events Terry Hughes
Panel session: Research leadership legacy Moderator: Morgan Pratchett
12.50pm Lunch
1.50pm Our Legacy: Research Leadership  Chair: John Pandolfi
The evolution of the evolutionary perspective in marine climate change research Philip Munday
Line Bay
The species that changed the coral world Andrew Baird
Connecting the dots: from small sketches to a bigger picture of larval fish dispersal Geoff Jones
How do hard corals respond to stress: evidence from reciprocal transplantation experiments Sophie Dove
3.05pm Afternoon tea
3.35pm Our Legacy: Research Capacity Chair: Jodie Rummer
Video – Centre students and ECRs
Keynote 3 Tracy Ainsworth
The future of coralline algae in coral reef ecosystems Chris Cornwall
Plasticity across generations to ocean warming Jenni Donelson
Fisheries, food, and nutrition under a changing climate Christina Hicks
5.00pm Close Graeme Cumming



Thursday 30th September
Time Theme Presenter
9.00am Welcome and introductory comments Chris Cocklin
9.05am People and Coral Reefs Chair: Tiffany Morrison
Video- social science impacts
Keynote 4: The cultural interface between Indigenous and Eastern knowledge systems Martin Nakata
Josh Cinner
Knowing and governing fisheries for nutrition Pip Cohen
Quentin Grafton
Three reasons morals matter for corals Jacqui Lau
Compounding uncertainties in atoll habitability Jon Barnett
10.50am Morning tea
11.20am Our Legacy and Our Future Chair: Garry Russ
Video-marine reserves
Keynote 5:
Future Management of the Marine Park
Panel discussion: The future of coral reef research Moderator: Alana Grech
12.50pm Lunch
1.50pm Coral Reef Futures Chair: Michele Barnes
Virginia Chadwick award presentation: Quantifying fish production, an emerging tool to assess tropical reef resources facing global changes? Renato Morais
Cath Lovelock
Cryptic taxa, diversity, and gene flow in Acropora tenuis along the Great Barrier Reef Cynthia Riginos
Thomas Wernberg
Macroalgae on coral reefs: the good, the bad and the ugly Andrew Hoey
3.05pm Afternoon tea
3.35pm Coral Reef Futures Chair: Ryan Lowe
Keynote 6: Ocean acidification and coral reefs: what are the issues? Katharina Fabricius
Future projections of the GBR and opportunities to intervene Peter Mumby
Mia Hoogenboom
Closing comments Graeme Cumming
4.40pm End


Associate Professor Maja Adamska

Maja is a Research Program leader in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Lab Leader, Associate Professor and Future Fellow in the Research School of Biology, Australian National University. Maja investigates evolutionary origin of key developmental processes, such as cell type specification, segregation of germ layers and axial patterning of embryos and adults. Recent major research themes in her laboratory include regeneration of sponges and corals, in particular mechanisms regulating gene expression during this process, as well as sponge-bacterial symbiosis. Maja is also deeply interested in the emergence of complex multicellularity and its genomic background.

Professor Andrew Baird

Andrew is a Professorial Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. Originally from Sydney he moved to Townsville in 1992 to complete a PhD in Marine Ecology at James Cook University in 2001. He then completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan in 2002 before returning to James Cook University. Andrew has broad interests in coral reef science including larval ecology and reproductive biology. In this capacity he has travelled widely visiting most reef regions on earth. His current research focuses on the systematics and biogeography of reef-building corals, in particular, the Family Acroporidae.

Dr. Michele Barnes

Michele is a Senior Social Science Research Fellow and ARC DECRA Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Her work draws on network science and other theories and methods from sociology and economics to contribute a better understanding of the linkages between people and nature that underpin complex environmental problems. Michele’s current research focuses on the role of social networks and power in adaptation, transformation, and resilience; with study sites in the GBR, Papua New Guinea, and Kenya. Michele is committed to research impact and regularly works with policymakers and practitioners to work toward a sustainable future for both people and ecosystems.

Professor Jon Barnett

Jon is Professor and ARC Laureate Fellow in the School of Geography at Melbourne University. He leads the ARC funded Future Islands project (2019-2024) which seeks to provide new evidence and ideas to inform policies and practices that enable people to lead dignified lives on their islands long into the future.

Jon is a political geographer with twenty year of experience whose research investigates social impacts and responses to environmental change. His research has helped explain the impacts of climate change on cultures, food security, inequality, instability, migration, and water security, and ways in which adaptation can promote social justice and peace.

Distinguished Professor Josh Cinner FASSA

Josh’s research explores how social, economic, and cultural factors influence the ways in which people use, perceive, and govern natural resources. His background is in human geography and he often works closely with ecologists to uncover complex linkages between social and ecological systems. He has published >150 peer-reviewed journal articles. Josh is an ARC Future Fellow, a recipient of the 2015 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation, received the 2017 Elinor Ostrom Award on collective governance of the commons, the 2018 Mid-Career Award from the International Society for Reef Studies and the 2020 Eureka prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research.

Dr. Christopher Cornwall

From 2015 to 2018 Chris worked as a Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies’ University of Western Australia node examining the responses of coralline algae and coral to climate change. He now has his own group at Victoria University of Wellington focusing on both New Zealand’s kelp forest ecosystems and coral reef ecosystems in the Pacific. He is the leader of the Understanding theme in the New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence Coastal People: Southern Skies and was recently awarded The Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize for his work on calcification of coralline algae and corals

Professor Graeme Cumming 

Graeme is the Director of  the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. He joined the Centre in 2015 from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He has a diverse range of research interests that are centred on the relevance of broad-scale pattern-process dynamics for ecosystem (and social-ecological system) function and resilience. His current research focuses on scale, spatial relationships, and the applications of landscape ecology and complexity theory to questions of the sustainability of natural resource management systems, particularly protected areas. He is also working closely with sociologists and political scientists on questions of institutional structure, process, and governance in natural resource management contexts.

Dr. Jenni Donelson

Jenni is an ARC Future Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University. Jenni’s research focuses on exploring the capacity of reef fish to respond to environmental change, generally by simulating climate change scenarios in complex aquarium systems. She is particularly interested in how the environmental experience of previous generations influences the phenotype of the current generation, and more broadly how this could impact species responses to future climate change. Her current work is focusing on understanding how the long-term historical environmental conditions experienced by populations across the Great Barrier Reef may influence their current performance and capacity to cope with future ocean warming.

Associate Professor Sophie Dove

Sophie is a Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies undertaking research in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland. She is an expert in the photobiology of reef-building corals and leads a growing laboratory that is focused on how the carbonate balance of reefs will fare under future warming and acidification. Her investigations on the carbonate balance of reefs monitor the responses of mesocosms, calcifers such as corals and bioeroders such as sponges.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg FAA

Ove is Deputy Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence for Reef Studies and a Professor at the University of Queensland.  Ove  is internationally recognised for his work on the biological impacts of climate change, especially those that affect the physiology and ecology of complex ecosystems such as coral reefs. In his roles as coordinating lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Ove has helped build the international consensus on the importance of restraining global warming to 1.5oC above the pre-industrial period, with a particular interest in the roles that the Ocean can play in mitigation. More recently, his work has focused on global solutions that include consideration of exposure of tropical coastal ecosystems and communities to climate change.

Professor Andrew Hoey

Andrew is a Professorial Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.  Andrew’s research focuses on broad-scale ecological processes, in particular the responses of coral reef ecosystems to environmental change, and the role of individual taxa in reef processes. His current research focuses on the functional importance of herbivorous fishes and macroalgae in reef dynamics, and the influence of ecological feedbacks to the resilience and recovery of reefs.

Distinguished Professor Terry Hughes FAA

Terry was the Inaugural Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies from 2005-2020. A recurrent theme in his studies is the application of new scientific knowledge towards improving management of marine environments, especially coral reefs. Prince Albert II of Monaco presented him with the 2018 Climate Change Award, recognising his contribution to understanding the influence of rapid climate change on the world’s coral reefs. In 2020, he received a Frontiers in Knowledge Award from the BBVA Foundation in Spain for his contributions to Ecology and Conservation Biology.

Distinguished Professor Geoff Jones

Geoff is a Distinguished Professor in the College of Science and Engineering and a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. Geoff is one of the world’s leading researchers in reef fish ecology, behaviour and conservation biology, with over 310 refereed scientific publications. He has supervised over 150 graduate students in these fields. His special interests are in the processes determining the structure and dynamics of reef fish populations, and strategies to reduce human impacts on threatened fish species. He maintains a strong research focus on marine population connectivity and its implications for the ecology, conservation and management of reef fish species.

Dr. Jacqueline Lau

Jacqui is a Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and WorldFish. She has a background in sociology and human geography, and in 2019 completed her PhD on the multiple values of coastal ecosystem services in Papua New Guinea. Her research examines justice, morality, and resilience in small-scale fisheries and coastal communities.

Professor Ryan Lowe

Ryan is a Program Leader of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and a Professor at the University of Western Australia. He has a unique background in coastal oceanography and environmental engineering that enables him to tackle complex (and often multidisciplinary) research problems in coral reef systems. Major areas of research focus include: understanding how ocean dynamics drive physical and other environmental variability within coral reefs; how these dynamics influence a range of complex biophysical processes, and finally how these processes can be numerically predicted and accurately forecast into the future.

Dr. Renato Morais Araujo

Renato is an ecologist genuinely interested in what makes some ecosystems more productive than others, with a focus on reefs and their fishes. Renato did his BSc in Biology and MSc in Ecology in Brazil and switched to JCU in 2016 to undertake his PhD under Dave Bellwood’s supervision. During his PhD he formalised an approach to quantify fish production from underwater count data, which he applied to tackle ecological and fisheries-related questions. In 2020 he started a post-doc at the Reef Function Hub and Coral CoE, investigating the contrasting effects of fishing on coral reef fish biomass and productivity.

Professor Tiffany Morrison

Tiffany Morrison co-leads the People and Ecosystems program in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Her research combines theoretical and empirical insights from political science, human geography, and ecology to improve the design and implementation of polycentric environmental governance regimes. She has worked extensively in Australia, the Asia-Pacific, and the US. The current focus of her program is on uncovering hidden political levers for improving the governance of 238 World Heritage listed ecosystems. She has published on this topic in NatureNature Sustainability, PNAS, and Global Environmental Change.

Professor Peter Mumby

Peter began his career helping to design marine reserves in Belize and experienced first hand the limited scientific basis for decision-making. He then began a research pathway with a goal of providing science that can inform practical conservation and management action. His research combines field observations, experiments, remote sensing and ecological modelling to answer questions about ecosystem resilience, impacts of climate change, marine reserve functioning and design, connectivity of ecosystems, coral reef fisheries and marine spatial planning to capture ecosystem services. Peter is a former ARC Laureate Fellow, a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, and winner of the Rosenstiel Award for Contributions to Marine Biology, Marsh Award for Marine Conservation, and the inaugural ISRS Mid-Career Award for contributions to reef science. He is happiest on a coral reef with a camera in his hands.

Emeritus Professor Philip Munday

Philip is an Emeritus Professorial Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. His research focuses on understanding and predicting the impacts of climate change on marine fishes and testing their capacity to adapt to rapid environmental changes. A major focus of Philip’s research is testing how exposure to higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels in one generation affects the ability of subsequent generations of fish to tolerate these conditions. His research group pioneered long-term multigenerational studies into the effects of climate change on reef fishes and the mechanisms of acclimation and adaptation. He also has a long-standing interest in the role of habitat availability in shaping reef fish communities.

Professor John Pandolfi

John is a Program Leader in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and a Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and Centre for Marine Science, The University of Queensland. He has broad research interests in marine palaeoecology, with emphasis on the effects of anthropogenic impacts and climate change on the recent history of coral reefs. He has published over 200 scientific articles in leading international journals, including Science and Nature. John is an ISI Highly Cited Researcher and is among Reuter’s global top 100 climate scientists; he is an elected Fellow of both the Paleontological Society and the International Coral Reef Society.

Professor Morgan Pratchett

Morgan is a Professorial Research Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, at James Cook University. He has broad interests in population and community ecology of coral reef organisms, especially corals and fishes. His current research focuses on major disturbances that impact coral reef ecosystems, with a view to understanding differential responses and vulnerabilities among coral reef organisms. Morgan has written many papers describing direct and indirect effects of coral bleaching and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, considering impacts on both coral assemblages and associated assemblages of coral reef fishes. He has also conducted extensive research on the biology and ecology of coral reef butterflyfishes.

Professor Cynthia Riginos

Cynthia Riginos is a Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland. She is an evolutionary biologist with wide-ranging interests spanning population genomics, seascape genetics, molecular ecology, phylogeography, biogeography, speciation, hybridisation, invasive species, and conservation. Cynthia has been at UQ since 2006 and previously held an endowed postdoctoral fellowship in Molecular Evolution & Comparative Genomics at Duke University. Her PhD (2000) and Master’s (1998) degrees are both from the University of Arizona in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Associate Professor Jodie Rummer

Jodie is an Associate Professor of Marine Biology at James Cook University and Research Associate at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Her research investigates physiological “athletic” performance in fish, including sharks and rays, and specifically how they respond to human-induced stress, like climate change, and their capacity for acclimation and adaptation over time. Jodie also emphasizes in her work the importance of leadership, being a good role model, and communication – especially with young girls and minorities wanting to pursue careers in science. She also advocates for effectively communicating science to a broad audience so that decision making regarding marine and coral reef conservation can be evidence-based.

Professor Garry Russ

Garry is a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and a Professor in Marine Biology at James Cook University. Garry studies the biology of reef fish of commercial and recreational fishing significance on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Triangle. A major area of his applied research is the use of no-take marine reserves as fisheries management tools. He is undertaking long-term (38 year) studies of coral reef fish assemblages inside and outside marine reserves in the Philippines. Garry has over 170 publications, including 130 papers in international journals. In 1999, he received a prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation jointly with his long-time colleague Dr Angel Alcala.


The Great Barrier Reef is a national and international icon that supports a diversity of species and habitats and the world’s largest coral reef system. The region is also a global leader in research, resourcing and implementation of evidence-based management and Indigenous-led processes. Examples include the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan, declared in 2004, which continues to be a world leader in large-scale ocean zoning. The Australian and Queensland government’s overarching framework for protecting and managing the region, the Reef 2050 Plan, is supported by an unprecedented investment of $3 billion.

Despite these achievements, the integrity of the Great Barrier Reef is increasingly threatened by cumulative pressures, especially climate change. The challenges associated with sustainable use of this iconic region illustrate the need to empower Traditional Owners, build adaptive capacity in reef communities, and increase connections between science and practice to support actions for transformative change in reef management.

The panel discussion will feature five leaders in research and management with in-depth knowledge on the legacy and future of Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef. Topics covered will include status and trends in reef health, management opportunities, climate change, water quality, reef industries and Indigenous leadership.



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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