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12 July 2012 GBR coral cover

GBR coral cover: scientist calls for more action to build reef resilience


Biodiversity on a coral reef
Image: AIMS

Dr Peter Doherty, past Research Director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and Science Leader of the Tropical Ecosystems Hub of the National Environmental Research Program (NERP), will speak at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium about long term changes in coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef.

The AIMS Long-Term Monitoring Project (AIMS LTMP) has surveyed coral cover annually on approximately 100 coral reefs representative of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) since 1985. Shifts in coral cover over this 27 year period provide a wealth of important information about the changing health of coral reefs and the major disturbances reducing coral cover.

"Over the last three decades, tropical cyclones and storms, crown-of-thorns starfish, and coral bleaching, have each taken their toll of coral cover", says Dr Doherty. "Each one can cause widespread damage but it is the cumulative effect of multiple disturbances that is most worrying especially as extreme weather events may become more common in the future".

"The repair process is generally slow. Our monitoring shows that it can take 20 years for a reef in good circumstances to rebuild the coral community that existed before a severe loss of coral cover but some reefs seem even less resilient " Dr Doherty adds.

"Some inshore reefs have shown little recovery due to poor water quality and naturally low levels of replenishment. While other areas have shown robust recovery, losses have outnumbered gains and the overall picture is one of slow decline in the most essential attribute of coral reefs."

Dr Doherty will review the key processes contributing to coral cover at different geographic scales. He will describe current management actions intended to restore natural resilience but suggest that further direct action is needed to halt or reverse recent trends.

Dr Peter Doherty will present ‘The outlook for coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef' on Thursday 12th July, 1130, Hall B (Session 18F).

For more information:

Dr Peter Doherty, AIMS Fellow, NERP TE Hub Science Leader, 0418 469 770; p.doherty@aims.gov.au

Wendy Ellery, AIMS media liaison, (07) 4753 4409; 0418 729 265; w.ellery@aims.gov.au