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

3

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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New research into the impact of climate change has found that warming oceans will cause profound changes in the global distribution of marine biodiversity.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change an international research team modelled the impacts of a changing climate on the distribution of almost 13 thousand marine species, more than twelve times as many species as previously studied.

The study found that a rapidly warming climate would cause many species to expand into new regions, which would impact on native species, while others with restricted ranges, particularly those around the tropics, are more likely to face extinction.

Professor John Pandolfi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland says global patterns of species richness will change significantly, with considerable regional variability.

“This study was particularly useful because it not only gave us hope that species have the potential to track and follow changing climates but it also gave us cause for concern, particularly in the tropics, where strong biodiversity losses were predicted,” says Professor Pandolfi.

“This is especially worrying, and highly germane to Australia’s coral reefs, because complementary studies have shown high levels of extinction risk in tropical biotas, where localized human impacts as well as climate change have resulted in substantial degradation.”

To model the projected impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, the researchers used climate-velocity trajectories, a measurement which combines the rate and direction of movement of ocean temperature bands over time, together with information about thermal tolerance and habitat preference.

They say the analysis provides the simplest expectation for the future distribution of marine biodiversity, showing recurring spatial patterns of high rates of species invasions coupled with local extinctions.

Professor Elvira Poloczanska from CSIRO says, “This study shows how climate change will mix up biodiversity patterns in the ocean. Ecological communities which are currently distinct, will become more similar to each other in many regions by the end of the century”

Dr David Schoeman from the University of the Sunshine Coast says the model suggests that there is still time to act to prevent major climate-related extinctions outside of the topics.

“Results under a scenario in which we start actively mitigating climate change over the next few decades indicates substantially fewer extinctions than results from a business-as-usual scenario,” Dr Schoeman says.

“Possibly more worrying, though, is the imminent development of novel biotic assemblages. We have little idea of how these new combinations of species in ocean systems around the world will affect ecosystem services, like fisheries. We should be prioritising ecological research aimed specifically at addressing this question.”

Professor Pandolfi warns the resultant novel combinations of resident and migrant species will present unprecedented challenges for conservation planning.

“Above all, this study shows the broad geographic connections of the effects of climate change – conservation efforts need to be facilitated by cooperation among countries to have any real chance of combating the potentially severe biodiversity losses that a changing climate might impose.”

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Paper

The paper, Climate velocity and the future of global redistribution of marine biodiversity by Jorge Garcia Molinos, Benjamin S. Halpern, David S. Schoeman, Christopher J. Brown, Wolfgang Kiessling, Pippa J. Moore, John M. Pandolfi, Elvira S. Poloczanska, Anthony J. Richardson and Michael T. Burrows is published in the journal Nature Climate Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2769

Contact
Professor John Pandolfi, j.pandolfi@uq.edu.au, +61 (0) 400 982 301
Professor Elvira Poloczanska, Elvira.poloczanska@csiro.au, +61 (0) 428 741 328
Dr David Schoeman, dschoema@usc.edu.au, +61 (0) 423 982 898
Eleanor Gregory (media), eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au

Conservation scientists say there needs to be a new approach to protecting offshore marine reserves.

Illegal fishing in marine reserves will be a major focus at the IUCN World Parks Congress, which has opened in Sydney.

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University, who are attending the conference, have found a way to predict illegal fishing activities to help authorities better protect marine reserves.

Marine reserves are the most common strategy used to protect and maintain marine ecosystems around the world.

The International Convention of Biological Diversity aims to have 10 per cent of the world’s marine areas protected by 2020.

Many countries are contributing to this target by protecting remote, offshore areas. For example, the United States recently created the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve, covering almost 1.27 million square kilometres in the central Pacific Ocean.

But scientists are concerned that while a great deal of effort is being made to create reserves, many countries are simply not able to enforce the laws that are supposed to protect them.

The majority of fishers obey the law, but some don’t.

fishing gear. Image: Todd Steiner, Sea Turtle Restoration Project

“The success of protected areas depends on whether people comply with the regulations,” says Professor Joshua Cinner from Coral CoE.

“Enforcement and compliance issues for large off-shore marine parks are fundamentally different to near-shore protected areas,” Professor Cinner says.

He explains that the biggest problems facing countries trying to enforce offshore marine reserves is their distance from land and the difficulty and cost of patrolling large tracts of ocean.

“The distances to these areas can be very large. They are a long way from prying eyes and quite often the regulations are such that you have to actually catch people illegally fishing to prosecute them,” Professor Cinner says.

“It can be extremely difficult for authorities to catch illegal fishers in the act.”

In a bid to combat the problem, researchers at Coral CoE examined five years’ worth of data collected from the World Heritage-listed Cocos Island National Park, a unique marine protected area in the Pacific Ocean about 500 kilometres off the west coast of Costa Rica.

From the records they were able identify illegal fishing patterns and predict both when and where illegal fishing was likely to happen.

They found that illegal fishing was concentrated in a few ‘hotspots’ and really ramped up during specific lunar phases of some months.

Professor Bob Pressey, also from Coral CoE, says authorities could use this knowledge to match patrols to the time and place when illegal fishers are most likely to be in action.

“Using a targeted approach helps authorities catch and deter illegal fishers, while saving money on patrols,” Professor Pressey says.

“Rather than just hoping you can catch illegal fishers effectively by random patrols, we have used previous patrols to look for patterns which tell us when and where people fish illegally,” adds Professor Cinner.

Study lead author, Coral CoE PhD candidate, Adrian Arias says the model of predicting illegal patterns from old records can be used to increase the success of patrols in other locations.

“Our research in Costa Rica showed how a systematic and periodic analysis of patrol records can help to increase the probability of catching illegal fishers. This could be done pretty much anywhere that patrol data are available,” he says.

Professor Cinner adds that by better targeting limited resources, authorities have a greater chance of successfully protecting marine parks.

“Targeting resources is particularly important for developing countries such as Costa Rica, which have taken on the conservation challenge but don’t have the same funding to ensure compliance as a country such as Australia.”

Paper

Optimizing enforcement and compliance in offshore marine protected areas: a case study from Cocos Islands, Costa Rica by Adrian Arias, Robert L. Pressey, Rhondda E. Jones, Jorge G Alvarez-Romero and Joshua E. Cinner is published in the journal, Oryx.   http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0030605314000337

Contact

Professor Josh Cinner, Coral CoE – +61 7 4781 6751, Joshua.cinner@jcu.edu.au

Professor Bob Pressey, Coral CoE – +61 7 4781619, bob.pressey@jcu.edu.au

Eleanor Gregory, Communications Manager, Coral CoE – +61 (0) 428 785 895,
eleanor.gregory@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