Abstract: Understanding how key habitat-forming organisms such as corals respond to changing environmental conditions is increasingly important for predicting future trajectories on coral reefs. In particular, a better understanding of the effects of environmental change on processes such as coral recruitment (Hughes et al. 2019), coral growth (Pratchett et al. 2015) and reef accretion (Perry et al. 2018) are a priority. The overall objective of this thesis is investigate how world heritage listed coral reefs in North-Western of Australia are responding to rapidly changing environmental conditions. I first look at recruitment patterns at Ningaloo Reef and in the Pilbara region, which are crucial for understanding resilience and the potential for recovery following disturbance (Hughes et al. 2000). I then examine the distribution of corals at Ningaloo Reef over ten years to explore how trends in coral cover, coral genera and coral functional groups differ among reef zones. Finally, I examine rates of growth and erosion on reefs at Ningaloo Reef: processes that are critical for assessing reef accretion and ecosystem services such as shoreline protection and the provision of habitat for fish species targeted by fishers.
Biography: Damian has spent over 25 years working on tropical coral reefs and studying the factors that impact them. He has worked on reefs that span over 30 degrees of latitude and his primary interest is understanding how benthic habitats are responding to changing environmental conditions. While his love of coral reefs developed during his early childhood holidays to Ningaloo and WA’s North West, the real work began when he graduated with honours from James Cook University in 1995, examining the effects of elevated nutrient levels on the early development of Favids. It was here that Damian sharpened his coral husbandry skills, alongside his tolerance for working while sleep-deprived, working on the ARC funded coral hybridisation program under Professor Bette Willis. Damian then spent several years working for JCU Marine Biology Department and the Australian Institute of Marine Science climate adaptation and reef water quality programs. He then moved back home to WA in 2007 to work at CSIRO as an Experimental scientist and to raise two increasingly precocious teenagers. His Ph.D. is focused on the dynamics of reef-building corals of north-Western Australia, under the supervision of Andrew Hoey, Morgan Pratchett and Shaun Wilson.