overlapping plate corals at various stages of bleaching

Early warning systems for coral bleaching


Corals are sensitive to prolonged elevated sea temperatures, which can cause widespread coral bleaching and mortality. They are most at risk of bleaching during the summer months as seawater temperatures along the Great Barrier Reef reach their warmest.

AIMS keeps a close watch on coral reefs along the Great Barrier Reef by maintaining a network of weather stations, temperature loggers and oceanographic moorings. These measure and transmit (some in near real time) sea surface temperature, wind speed, humidity, air pressure data and ocean circulations.

These instruments are one element of ocean-observing systems managed by AIMS as part of its role in coordinating the Queensland node of the nationwide Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS).

We monitor sea surface temperature data from stations, such as the one at Davies Reef, and compare it against known thresholds of bleaching for that particular reef. These thresholds are based on analyses of previous bleaching events (for example, in 1998 and 2002) and data from in situ temperature loggers.

Our near real time coral bleaching risk indicator alerts Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reef managers to conditions indicative of thermal stress build-up.

The National Environmental Research Program also uses our sea surface temperature data to compile its monthly Torres Strait/Great Barrier reef environmental condition reports.

These reports are part of the e-Atlas project, a one-stop shop for accurate, up-to-date and comprehensive information and data that can be used by management agencies, researchers, reef-based industries and community groups.