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

From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)

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Coral Reefs: Past, Present, and Future


14th of October 1pm-4pm AEST

Zoom Webinar


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 grants 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:

  • showcased the Centre’s major research achievements over the last 15 years
  • celebrated our researchers past, present, and future
  • forecasted future directions in coral reef research where the need to understand ecosystem changes has never been greater
  • offered opportunities for discussion and engagement with the community
  • launched our legacy short films


A half-day Zoom webinar was held on Thursday 14th October 2021, with three plenaries and two panel discussions featuring leading coral reef researchers and the Centre’s postgraduate students. The symposium was aimed at researchers in related fields, natural resource managers, industry, conservationists and policy makers.

Program Presenter AEST Time
Acknowledgement Associate Professor Alana Grech, Assistant Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies 1.00pm
Opening address Professor Sandra Harding AO, Vice Chancellor, James Cook University 1.05pm
Welcome Professor Graeme Cumming, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies 1.10pm
Plenary: Coral reef science in the Anthropocene Distinguished Professor Terry Hughes, James Cook University 1.20pm
Short film: Coral reefs in a warming world  1.40pm
Panel Discussion: Coral reefs in a warming world
Moderator: Professor Ryan Lowe, The University of Western Australia
  • Dr Katharina Fabricius, Australian Institute of Marine Science
  • Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, The University of Queensland
  • Associate Professor Mia Hoogenboom, James Cook University
  • Dr David Wachenfeld, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Break 2.15pm
Short film: The transformational research of marine reserves 2.25pm
Plenary: Past Progress and Future Challenges in Coral Reefs  Professor John Pandolfi, The University of Queensland 2.30pm
Short film: Creating impact through partnerships 2.50pm
Plenary: People and Reefs: Adapting to a Changing World Dr Michele Barnes, James Cook University 2.55pm
Short film: Training a new generation of global leaders 3.15pm
Panel Discussion: The future of coral reef research
Moderator: Dr Carrie Sims, Australian Institute of Marine Science
  • Deborah Burn, James Cook University
  • Tania Kenyon, University of Queensland
  • Nery Contti Neto, The University of Western Australia
  • Sarah Sutcliffe, James Cook University
Closing remarks Professor Graeme Cumming 3.50pm


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 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.

Associate Professor Alana Grech

Alana is Assistant Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Program Leader of the Centre’s Research Program 2: Ecosystem Dynamics: Past, Present and Future. Her research uses conservation biogeography theory and spatial technologies, such as geographic information systems (GIS), geostatistics, network analysis, biophysical models and reserve design software, to inform the conservation of Australia’s coastal environment. Most of her research is conducted in remote coastal and marine areas of northern Australia, including the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait, and Gulf of Carpentaria.

Professor Sandra Harding AO

Sandra took up her appointment as Vice Chancellor and President of James Cook University Australia in January 2007. In this role, she is responsible for ensuring clear and effective leadership and management of the University across all operating sites, including campuses in Cairns, Singapore and Townsville.

Educated at the Australian National University, The University of Queensland and North Carolina State University (USA), Professor Harding has extensive academic and academic leadership experience. An economic sociologist by training, her areas of enduring academic interest include work, organisation and markets and how they work. She also has a keen interest in public policy in two key areas: education policy and related areas; and; the global Tropics, northern Australia and economic development.  In addition, she has undertaken a wide variety of senior university-aligned roles as well as memberships/directorships of a variety of local, national and international Boards and Councils.

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.

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.

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.

 Dr. Carrie Sims

Carrie is a skilled marine ecologist with over ten years of research and applied experience across a range of aquatic environments, and two years of professional environmental consulting and project management experience. She recently completed her PhD thesis with the Centre at The University of Queensland. Carrie investigated drivers of coral community structure and diversity maintenance. She has recently commenced working for the Australian Institute of Marine Science.


Deborah Burn

PhD student, James Cook University


Nery Contti Neto

PhD student, University of Western Australia


Dr Katharina Fabricius 

Senior Principle Research Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science


Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

Deputy Director of the ARC Centre, The University of Queensland.


Associate Professor Mia Hoogenboom

Program 3 Leader of the ARC Centre, James Cook University.


Tania Kenyon

Postdoctoral Research Fellow and former PhD student at The University of Queensland

Sarah Sutcliffe

PhD student, James Cook University

Dr David Wachenfeld 

Chief Scientist, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority



Has been condensed into the half-day Symposium.


Australian Research Council Pandora

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