Anthropogenic global heating has emerged as a major driver of the trajectory of the world’s coral reefs. Pan-tropical coral bleaching (affecting >94% of coral reefs) has now occurred three times since 1998. In 2016 and 2017, the Great Barrier Reef was affected by mass bleaching due to record-high temperatures for the third and fourth time in two decades. Heat exposure, measured from satellites as degree heating weeks, is closely linked to the severity of bleaching, mortality, and to shifts in species composition. In the aftermath of mass bleaching and mortality, coral recruitment has declined in proportion to reef-scale losses of adult brood stock. A dramatic shift in species composition is already underway, as tropical reefs transition to new configurations in response to global heating and other drivers in the Anthropocene. The talk will conclude with a brief commentary on coral restoration.
Bio: Professor Terry Hughes is the Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville. A recurrent theme in his studies is the application of new scientific knowledge towards improving management of marine environments, especially coral reefs. His publications focus on population dynamics, life histories, marine ecology, biogeography, and the responses of ecosystems to anthropogenic climate change. In 2016, Terry was recognised by Nature magazine as one of Nature’s “Top Ten People Who Mattered This Year” for his leadership in responding to coral bleaching throughout the tropics in 2015/6, due to global warming. He has been awarded the International Society for Reef Studies’ Darwin Medal, and an Einstein Professorship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 2018, Prince Albert II of Monaco presented him with the 2018 Climate Change Award, recognising his contribution to advancing understanding of the influence of rapid climate change on the world’s coral reefs.