Abstract: Disturbances are fundamental to structuring many ecosystems, yet climate-driven alterations to disturbance regimes may prevent recovery in many biomes. Coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef have degraded significantly since the 1980s, and their capacity to recover is uncertain. Here I report on the current status of the GBR following many years of cumulative impacts from disturbances. I also show that while regional coral recovery and re-assembly began on numerous occasions between 1986 and 2018, increases in the spatial extent and frequency of climate induced disturbances have exceeded the capacity for complete recovery and re-assembly. Increased frequency of cyclones and mass bleaching of corals caused a net decline in coral cover on the GBR over the three decades, with coral cover in the northern GBR reaching the lowest recorded levels in 2017. The large spatial footprint and severity of coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017 epitomises an escalation from uncommon events of limited extent and severity, to new disturbance regimes where there is insufficient time between disturbances for complete recovery.
Biography: Mike is a coral reef ecologist on the AIMS Long Term Monitoring Team. His background is in reef fish ecology and behaviour, but has recently crossed to the dark side to embrace the world of fish habitat. He undertook his tertiary education at James Cook University where he finished an Honours degree last century, eventually succumbing to the allure of an adult gig by completing a PhD at the Centre of Excellence at JCU under the supervision of Prof. Morgan Pratchett in 2017. Mike’s current interests include examining the effects of disturbances on the status of fish and corals of the Great Barrier Reef.