Early warning system for coral reef bleaching

The range of bleaching stress can be seen here with the pale hard corals (Acropora sp.) on the left and completely bleached corals on the right.

As sea water temperatures along the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) reach their warmest during the summer months, this is the time of year when corals are most at risk from heat-induced bleaching

Corals are sensitive to prolonged elevated sea temperatures and this stress can cause widespread coral bleaching and mortality. 

Through ocean observing technologies, AIMS keeps a close watch on coral reefs along the GBR, providing data fundamental to an ‘early warning system' for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to detect and respond to mass coral bleaching events.

AIMS maintains a network of weather stations, temperature loggers and oceanographic moorings  along the GBR which measure and transmit (some in near real-time), sea surface temperature, wind speed, humidity, air pressure data and ocean circulations.

Sea surface temperature data from stations such as the one at Davies Reef, are monitored and compared against known thresholds of bleaching for that particular reef based on analyses of previous bleaching events (e.g.1998, 2002) and in-situ temperature logger data. This near real-time coral bleaching risk indicator enables GBRMPA reef manages to be alerted to conditions indicative of thermal stress build up and is a key component of GBRMPA's Coral Bleaching Response Plan