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28 July: Global study shows that healthy rivers help create healthy reefs

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28 July 2014

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the CSIRO have conducted a global literature review examining how better land management in upstream catchments helps to protect coastal coral reefs from agricultural pollution. The research is published in the UK peer reviewed journal, Marine Pollution Bulletin today.

“Our research has shown that coral reefs will benefit from improved river and catchment management. By looking at examples where better managing agricultural pollution has improved coastal water quality worldwide, we now understand how better to protect coastal rivers and coral reefs,” said AIMS Marine Ecologist, Dr Frederieke Kroon.

While climate change is considered the most serious risk to coral reefs around the world, agricultural pollution threatens approximately 25% of the total global reef area. With agricultural land use currently being the main source of sediment and nutrients delivered to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the scientists hope that their findings will inform improved management of land-based pollution.

Based on their findings, the scientists suggest that targeted regulatory approaches and upscaling of catchment management will assist the protection of reefs. They also suggest that long-term maintenance of scientifically robust monitoring programs is critical to ensure that better management results in desired improvements of downstream coral reef ecosystems.

“Our research has shown that coastal water quality and ecosystems will benefit from improved agricultural management in upstream catchments. By looking at examples where agricultural management has improved coastal water quality and ecosystems around the world, we can now better inform catchment management for future protection of coastal coral reefs,” Kroon said.

Examples from the research of worldwide projects demonstrate that transformative change in river and catchment management for better outcomes for coastal ecosystems is achievable. In China, for example, implementation at large spatial scales of land terracing, tree and grass planting, and construction of sediment trapping dams has decreased sediment fluxes in the Yellow and Yangtze basins.

“Similar transformative change in tropical river and catchment management will improve coastal water quality and increase the resilience of downstream coral reefs in the face of climate change,”.Kroon concluded.

For interviews contact Dr Frederieke Kroon,, 0427 775 180, or

Georgina Kenyon, AIMS Communications,, 0418729265

Journal: Marine Pollution Bulletin