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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Reconstructing the destructive and benefical impacts of tropical cyclone on reefs


Tuesday June 4, 13:00 to 14:00 hrs (AEST)

Building 19 (Kevin Stark Research Building) Room 106 (upstairs), JCU, Townsville
Marji Puotinen
Marji Puotinen

Most of the world’s coral reefs are periodically exposed to heavy seas generated by tropical cyclones which can cause major structural damage to corals that, over time, can play a key role in shaping coral reef and associated fish communities. However, cyclone wave exposure, when appropriately timed and located, can also help corals by lowering rising and/or high thermal stress enough to reduce or prevent coral bleaching. This happens when cyclone wave action causes upwelling of cooler waters to the surface if water depth is sufficient. While direct in situ observations of cyclone waves are rarely possible, reliable methods exist to spatially reconstruct both their likely damaging wave zones and their potentially beneficial ‘cool wakes.’ These can be used to build disturbance histories of cyclone impacts at reefs over the recent past, and with synthetic cyclone tracks from climate models, into the future. I will present examples of these datasets that range from relatively coarse to fairly detailed for a variety of regions and show how they have been (or are being) used in studies on the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea, NW Australia, and beyond. Such datasets are key not only for untangling the mix of causes of coral loss at any given time in a reef system, but are also essential inputs into the spatial prioritisation of conservation action.

Bio: Marji is a spatial-ecological data scientist based at the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s Perth office. In between designing field surveys and using models with field data to map benthic habitats in NW Australia’s remote offshore estate (and coordinating on-line Atlases!), she investigates tropical cyclone impacts on the world’s coral reefs now and under future climates to support spatial prioritisation of conservation action. Marji is part of GBRMPA’s Tropical Cyclone Risk and Impact Assessment Plan, and provides quick response estimates of the likely spatial extent of severe wave damage to GBR corals when cyclones track near or through the region. She completed her PhD at JCU in 2005 while teaching GIS full-time in the department formerly known as Tropical Environmental Studies and Geography. In her spare time, she runs an educational outreach program that asks kids ‘what do penguins and coral reefs have in common?’. In January 2019, she ventured to the bottom of the world on a ship through 12m seas to explore the Antarctic Peninsula with 80 women scientists as part of the international women’s leadership program Homeward Bound.


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