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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.

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Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

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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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Great Barrier Reef not bouncing back as before, but there is hope

19
Jul 2018

The Great Barrier Reef is losing its ability to recover from disturbances, but effective local management could revive its capacity to bounce back.

Scientists at The University of Queensland, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reefs Studies (Coral CoE) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) have found a decline in the ability of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park reefs to recover after bleaching events, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish or cyclones over an 18-year period, from 1992 to 2010, even before the recent back-to-back bleaching in 2016 and 2017.

Dr Juan Ortiz, lead author from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, said that during this time, average coral recovery rates showed a six-fold decline across the Great Barrier Reef.

“This is the first time a decline in recovery rate of this magnitude has been identified in coral reefs,” he said.

The decline is driven by a combination of the legacy effect of acute disturbances like coral bleaching and cyclones and the ongoing effect of chronic pressures like poor water quality and climate change.

Professor Peter Mumby of Coral CoE at The University of Queensland, said that this was serious cause for concern, particularly given the accelerating impacts of climate change on reefs, but it is important to stress that not all reefs are failing.

“I believe there is scope for management to help remedy the situation,” he said.

“Our results indicate that coral recovery is sensitive to water quality, and is suppressed for several years following powerful cyclones.

“Some reefs could improve their recovery ability if the quality of the water entering the reef is actively improved.”

Study co-author Dr Nicholas Wolff, from The Nature Conservancy, said that some areas of the reef are faring better than others, but their overall finding was that action needs to be taken.

“While there was variability among regions, the decline in recovery rate was consistent in all coral types included in the study,” he said.

Dr Ortiz said that the frequency of acute disturbances was predicted to increase, making careful management key.

“The future of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened without further local management to reduce chronic disturbances and support recovery, and strong global action to limit the effect of climate change.”

The research, based on long-term monitoring data collected by AIMS on more than 90 reefs across the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, is published in the journal Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar6127).

Media: Dr Juan Ortiz, j.ortiz@uq.edu.au, +61 (0)412 200 831; Professor Peter Mumby, p.j.mumby@uq.edu.au, +61 (0)449 811 589 (email-preferred); Dr Nicholas Wolff, nicholas.wolff@TNC.ORG; +1 2075226101; Dominic Jarvis, dominic.jarvis@uq.edu.au, +61 413 334 924; Catherine Naum, catherine.naum1@jcu.edu.au, +61 428 785 895.

Note to Editor:

Prof Mumby will be speaking at the Coral Reef Futures Symposium of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at 1.50pm on 19 July 2018 (AEST). Media are welcome to attend. Follow us on Twitter #CORAL18

Bleached Acropora on shallow reef. Credit: Peter Mumby
Bleached Acropora on shallow reef. Credit: Peter Mumby

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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