Assessing the cumulative impacts of climatic disturbances on inshore GBR coral reefs, identifying key refuges and testing the viability of manipulative reef restoration

Geoff Jones 100dpi
Led by: Prof Geoff Jones, JCU


Project Summary

The Keppel Islands, southern GBR, suffered successive climatic disturbance events (coral bleaching, flood plumes) between 2006 and 2013. Long-term monitoring at 26 sites revealed significant declines in coral cover and fish abundance on both no-take reserve (green zone) and fished reefs. In February 2015, Cyclone Marcia (Category 5) hit the Keppel Islands. We propose to re-survey all 26 monitoring sites to quantify cyclone damage and to identify remaining refuge areas that can support reef recovery and long-term resilience. We also propose to conduct a pilot-scale experiment on degraded reefs in the Keppel Islands to assess the viability of active reef restoration.


Problem Statements


Inshore GBR reefs are subject to chronic impacts from reduced water quality and sedimentation, as well as acute climatic disturbances. It is essential that we monitor the status and condition of these reefs, identify key stressors, quantify the effects of management actions and assess the viability of additional measures to enhance biodiversity conservation and resilience. The project team monitored 26 reef sites in the Keppel Islands between 2004 and 2013. The dynamics of coral and fish communities were tracked and temporal changes were attributed to the implementation of new green zones in 2004, a coral bleaching event in 2006, and successive Fitzroy River major flood events between 2008 and 2013. In 2013, most reefs in the Keppel Islands were severely degraded, however several reefs had retained moderate live coral cover and continued to support productive fish communities. Cyclone Marcia crossed the Keppel Islands in February 2015 and the extent of additional impacts on the reefs is yet to be quantified. We propose to re-survey the monitoring sites in 2015, determine the cumulative effects of recent disturbances, and identify highly resilient refuge reefs that will provide a valuable source of recruitment for future recovery.

How Research Addresses Problem

The project will identify and map key local refuge reefs that are critical to the replenishment of the degraded reefs. The team will assess the role of marine park zoning in mitigating disturbance effects, enhancing recovery and building long-term ecosystem resilience. The project team also propose a pilot-scale experiment to investigate the viability of reef restoration and coral transplantation. This experiment would be conducted during the coral spawning and recruitment season between October 2015 and February 2016. This component of the project will provide the basis for cost and benefit analyses for broader-scale reef restoration trials.


Project Keywords

Coral reef biodiversity; Zoning management; Disturbance; Resilience; Restoration.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through JCU and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.


Project Publications
NESP TWQ Project 2.1 Final Report
Final Report