1

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.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

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

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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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Researchers working with stakeholders in the Great Barrier Reef region have come up with ideas on how groups responsible for looking after the reef can operate more effectively when the next bleaching event arrives.

Dr Michele Barnes is a Senior Research Fellow at James Cook University’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. She said in 2016 and 2017 the reef experienced unprecedented back-to-back mass coral bleaching – challenging its guardians’ abilities to protect it.

“Our collaborative research was squarely aimed at improving governance responses to extreme climate events in the GBR region and potentially other regions around the world,” said Dr Barnes.

The team interviewed 32 key individuals representing government, non-profits, research institutions, and the tourism, fishing, and aquaculture industries. The organisations deal with coral health, water quality, tourism and fishing.

“We wanted to understand catalysts and barriers to actions being taken across the region in response to coral bleaching, and participants’ hopes for future action,” said Dr Barnes.

The researchers found five major categories of activity for those involved in the wake of coral bleaching: assessing the scale and extent of bleaching, sharing information, communicating bleaching to the public, building local resilience, and addressing global threats.

“These actions were helped and hindered by a range of factors. For instance, some people were hindered in responding because information on the bleaching was scattered and not well integrated, there were conflicts and a lack of respect across certain groups, and community involvement was lacking in some cases” said co-author Amber Datta, a PhD candidate based at James Cook University and the University of Montana.

Working with a group of local stakeholders in the Great Barrier Reef, the team identified several ways to improve responses to future crises. These improvements include improving coordination, strengthening relationships between groups, and empowering and recognizing Traditional Owners as leaders of their Sea Country rather than stakeholders (see attached graphic for more details).

Dr. Barnes said “The new approaches should help to improve responses to future crisis events, but effective responses will depend on the willingness of diverse groups to negotiate a shared path forward, and ultimately on international and national commitments to address the root cause of climate change”.

PAPER

Barnes M.L., Datta A., Morris S., Zethoven I.  2022. ‘Navigating climate crises in the Great Barrier Reef’. Global Environmental Change. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2022.102494

CONTACT

Dr Michele Barnes (Townsville, AEST)

M: +61 (0)408 677 570
E: michele.barnes@jcu.edu.au

Amber Datta (Townsville, AEST)
M (AU): +61 (0)456 426 248
E: amber.datta@my.jcu.edu.au

A new study has delivered a stark warning about the impacts of urban growth on the world’s coral reefs.

As coastal developments expand at pace around the world, a year-long study of coral on a reef close to a rapidly growing urban centre in the Middle East has found they have become severely disturbed at the molecular level – with implications for all such corals worldwide.

Professor David Miller is a geneticist at James Cook University’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE). He said coral reefs are in global decline due to climate change and anthropogenic influences.

“Near coastal cities or other densely populated areas, coral reefs face a range of challenges in addition to that of climate change. To investigate the impacts of urban proximity on corals, we conducted a year-long study in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, comparing corals close to an urban area to corals from a near-by non-urban area,” said Professor Miller.

He said the Gulf of Aqaba is an ideal study site because its corals have a remarkable level of thermal tolerance. This means scientists can isolate the effects of urban environments such as unpredictable and fluctuating levels of nutrients, hormone mimics and other organic contaminants, local pollution and chronic exposure to noise and light pollution, against a background of relatively limited potential impacts of ocean warming caused by climate change.

“Essentially, we found that in the area close to urban development, every natural biological rhythm is messed up in the coral host, that the algal symbionts are seriously under-performing and that the microbiome is also out of kilter. These corals are comprehensively disturbed, despite appearances,” said Professor Miller.

He said for instance, bacteria on the coral peaked at different moon-phases between the urban and non-urban coral, while reproductive processes, which are all aligned with the moon phase, were wiped out in the urban corals.

“This study is significant because while a lot of work had previously been done on the impacts of individual stressors on corals, no one had previously looked at how corals in the wild react to real-world complex combinations of stressors,” said Dr. Inga Steindal, also of the Coral CoE.

She said the findings were alarming, given the recent and planned extensions of urban centres near tropical coastlines.

There has been continuous growth of cities such as Jakarta, Singapore and Hong Kong, but also major new developments have occurred or are planned that are likely to directly impact coral reefs in the near future. The population of the Chinese coastal city of Shenzhen alone has grown from less than a million in 1990 to more than 12.5 million in 2021.

“With that kind of expansion and with more to come, things don’t look too good for the future of corals in those regions,” said Professor Miller.

PAPER

Rosenberg Y., Blecher N.S., Lalzar M., Yam R., Shemesh A., Alon S., Perna G., Cardenas A., Voolstra C.R., Miller D.J., Levy O.  2022. ‘Urbanisation comprehensively impairs rhythms in coral holobionts’. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16144

CONTACT

Professor David Miller (Townsville, AEST)

M: +61 (0)419 671 768
E: david.miller@jcu.edu.au

Dr. Inga Steindal (Townsville, AEST)
M: +61 (0)481 300 921
E: inga.steindal@jcu.edu.au

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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