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

Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image
Facebook Twitter YouTube FlickR

The first draft of the whole genome sequence of the coral Acropora millepora, the result of collaboration between the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoE) and the Australian Genome Research Facility, was recently released https://www.coralcoe.org.au/news_stories/coralgenome.html. In a parallel and complementary effort, CoE program leader David Miller collaborated with a Japanese team led by Nori Satoh at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in sequencing the genome of Acropora digitifera, a species thatis more abundant on Japanese reefs. The results of this study are published in the 28th July issue of Nature http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature10249.html. Also see the Nature News and Views article Coral genomes could aid reef conservation

The CoE and OIST teams are now collaborating to compare the two genome sequences, which will not only provide insights into how genes contribute to the biological differences between coral species, but will also empower coral population genetics and ecological research.

“Coral Genome Decoded”: press release from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

The world’s coral reefs are not doomed – provided governments and communities take the urgent and necessary actions to preserve them.

That’s the message from eminent Australian marine scientist and recipient of this year’s Darwin Medal Professor Terry Hughes in his keynote address to the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, being held at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA from June 7-11.

The world’s coral reefs are not doomed – provided governments and communities take the urgent and necessary actions to preserve them.

Prof. Hughes is the Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, based at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.

“The global coral reef crisis is really a crisis of governance. Many of the measures put in place are failing, not because of biology, but because of lack of support from local people and governments,” he says.

“For example many no-take marine reserves have been set up round the world by non-government organisations – but nearly all of them are proving unsuccessful because they ignore the needs of the local population and have failed to win their backing.”

Professor Hughes called on coral reef researchers worldwide to work harder at the societal and economic aspects of protecting the oceans and their living resources.  Good biology alone is not enough. “The reefs are not doomed if we all do the right thing,” he asserts.

On land, environmental science now accepts that people are a part of the ecosystem and that sustainable solutions have to include them and their needs. At sea, he warns, the tendency is still to try to solve the problem by excluding people entirely from marine resources.

“If you take the Coral Triangle bounded by Indonesia, Borneo and Papua New Guinea, there are around 200 million people who depend on it for their livelihoods.  You cannot ignore the needs of these people in devising ways to protect their marine diversity.”

Prof. Hughes argues that traditional conservation is backward-looking, often seeking to restore the pristine wilderness of yesterday. It treats people and nature as separate, and wishes that the world could be static. This is incompatible with the reality of a surging human population and its demand for protein, as well as the constant evolution and change in natural systems.

“You cannot simply remove the needs of hundreds of millions of people from the equation. You have to design your conservation measures so that they also address things like ecosystem services which the ocean provides to humans, and sustainable livelihoods for people who depend on the sea, as well as protecting biodiversity.”

He says many no-take reserves were also poorly designed because they ignored the need to also look after the surround areas where fishing was still allowed. “These areas may be less species-rich than the protected zone, but they play a vital role in connecting protected areas together, and have to be managed in concert with them.”

Professor Hughes warns that the world is entering a transitional period in which humanity can choose whether to cross, or to avoid, tipping-points from which there is no recovery – at least within human time-spans.

“We need to adopt a forward-looking approach, to actively navigate to the “place” we want to be in terms of our environment, land and sea,” he says. “This means accepting that we have changed some things permanently, and that we can choose to manage a new state – or to allow the resource to continue to decline to point from which it may not recover.”

Such a tipping point may be evident in the coral reef systems of the Caribbean which largely collapsed and have now failed to recover, mainly because the corals can no longer regenerate fast enough to cope with overfishing, hurricanes and other impacts, he says. The reefs are overgrown with weed and the coral broodstock so reduced it cannot compensate for new impact losses.

At ICRS this year Professor Hughes will receive the International Society for Reef Studies’ highest honour, the Darwin Medal, for his outstanding contribution to marine and coral science and to the growing appreciation of the importance of the resilience of natural systems, a scientific view in which he was a leading player.

More information:
Professor Terry Hughes, CoECRS and JCU, ph +61 400 720 164 (mobile)
Liz Neeley, ICRS media , +1 425 301 8019
Louise Taylor, CoECRS, + 61 7 4781 4000
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 7 4781 4822

International Coral Reef Symposium:

Australia is emerging as the world’s leading training ground for future guardians of its coral reefs.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) – the world’s largest team of coral reef specialists – is cementing Australia’s position as a leader in coral reef studies across the globe thanks in part to the hard work of its students.

A student surveys the reef

Its students are working on critical issues such as climate change, fisheries and reef management.

Professor Mike Kingsford, a Chief Investigator in CoECRS and Head of James Cook University’s School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, is one of the 18 research leaders who act as supervisors to the world’s future coral reef experts.

“Our postgraduate students are working under the supervision of researchers who are the best in their field,” says Kingsford. “The Centre relies on the magnetism of its scientists to attract the highest-achieving students,” he says.

Already the Centre has attracted 75 postgraduate students from 23 countries who are currently enrolled at The Australian National University (ANU), The University of Queensland (UQ) and James Cook University (JCU).

The Centre’s internationally recognised researchers aren’t all that attracts top students; the opportunity to work between institutions and continents is highly appealing to future scientists. The Centre provides strong collaborative links between more than 25 institutions across 9 countries allowing students to become part of an internationally diverse student body.

“We have students from Mexico, Switzerland, Japan, Canada and the list goes on,” says Malcolm McCulloch of ANU and deputy director of the Centre. “The focus of the students’ research ranges from the microscopic cellular level to the global level.”

With strong international links and access to reefs around the world the future breed of coral reef scientists are presenting global solutions to reef health emergencies. Much of the current students’ research is geared towards contentious issues such as the effects of global warming and climate change.

“Massive numbers of people live around and depend on the world’s coral reefs,” says Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland and deputy director of the Centre ,”[coral reefs] are also well regarded as the canaries of global warming.”

Since coral reefs are a great resource to the world’s citizens and excellent indicators to climate change, the work of post graduate students in the Centre will no doubt be of great importance to many people across the globe.

Having access to the nation’s top minds and technologies also allows the students of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies to use novel techniques to develop future ‘blue prints’ for the study of coral reefs worldwide.

“The Centre is confident that it will be responsible for producing many of the future world leaders in coral reef studies”, says Kingsford.

More information:
Professor Michael Kingsford, Chief Investigator, CoECRS, +61 7 4781 4345
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Deputy Director, CoECRS, +61 7 3365 1156
Professor Malcolm McCulloch, Deputy Director, CoECRS, +61 2 612 59969
Professor Terry Hughes, Director, CoECRS, +61 7 4781 4000
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 7 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 7 4781 4822



Australian Research Council Pandora

Partner Research Institutions

Partner Partner Partner Partner
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