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

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Call to curb reef runoff

Oct 2010

A leading earth scientist is calling for intensified efforts to curb the runoff of sediment and nutrients onto Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and other coral assets, to protect them through a period of unavoidable climate change.

Professor Malcolm McCulloch of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and University of Western Australia, says that while Australia’s efforts to limit human impacts on the GBR have been outstanding on a world scale, recent scientific measurements indicate large amounts of sediment and nutrients from the land are still being dumped on inshore reefs.

“Climate change is inexorable, due to the large amount of CO2 we have already loaded into the atmosphere – so the one area we can really take effective action to try to protect our coral reefs from the effects of global warming is in how we manage the land to influence water quality over the reef,” he will tell a major international scientific symposium in Canberra tomorrow.

Leading marine scientists from Australia, Britain, the USA, Israel and other countries will report on the latest findings on the state of the world’s reefs and their prospects for survival in the coming decades at “Coral Reefs in a Changing Environment” to be held at the Australian Academy of Science’s Shine Dome on October 7-8.

Professor McCulloch says the GBR is now far better protected than at any previous time in Australian history – but water quality measurements indicate there is still a way to go in controlling the impact of terrestrial runoff on the reef, especially its inshore corals.

“We also need to take account of the fact that climate change means heavier dumps of rain in the catchments that border the GBR and unless our land and river management, farming methods and engineering works are first class, these more intense rain events will lead to poorer water quality inshore and in the GBR lagoon,” he explains.

Prof. McCulloch said that while much had been done to control runoff, scientific measurements of water quality were not showing any significant decline in sediment or nutrient loads reaching the GBR – and this was a sign that land management had to go much further.

“It has been well established by scientists at CoECRS that the resilience of GBR corals can be improved by reducing the impacts of human activity, such as runoff and overfishing – and the corals are going to need all the resilience they can get, to cope with the impacts of higher ocean temperatures and acidification.

“There is not much we can do in the short run to reverse either global warming or ocean acidification: one thing we can do something really positive about is water quality.”

Professor McCulloch says there is a need for everyone who lives in the GBR’s catchments to think about what they do to the soils and waterways, and to consciously try to reduce to load of material entering the GBR lagoon.

“It’s not only about reducing farm and grazing runoff and soil loss – it’s also about how we engineer our roads, stormwater drains, waterways, buildings and urban areas.  It’s about thinking of the downstream consequences whenever we dig up or move soil for whatever reason – and understanding the negative effects these can have on the corals of the reef.”

Prof. McCulloch says most of the coastal coral reefs of the GBR have been severely degraded or lost completely over the past half century or so – however it is within the power of individual communities based in a single catchment to see if, by good management, they can achieve restoration of local reefs.

Another important element identified by CoECRS research was the need to protect fish populations on inshore reefs, as herbivorous fish are now regarded by scientists as vital to keeping reefs clear of weed infestations, giving corals a chance to re-colonise after a damaging event such as a storm, bleaching event or disease outbreak.

“If communities up and down the length of the GBR were to compete with one another to radically improve runoff and water quality locally, it will give the GBR a much better fighting chance of coping with climate change,” Prof. McCulloch says.

Media are invited to attend the coral symposium and interview the scientists, at the Australian Academy of Science’s Shine Dome, near the Australian National University in Canberra.

A public forum on coral will be held at the National Museum of Australia on October 7 from 6.30pm to 7.30 pm.

More information:

Professor Malcolm McCulloch, CoECRS and UWA, ph +61 0457 939 937

Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 0417 741 638

Mandy Thoo, CoECRS media contact, +61 0402 544 391

CoECRS are proud sponsors of the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns:  9-13 July 2012.


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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au