Improving coral condition through better informed resilience-based management

Johanna Johnson
Led by: Dr Johanna Johnson, RRRC


Project Summary

Resilience-based management and integrated monitoring and reporting through the Reef Integrated Monitoring and Reporting (RIMRep) program are key initiatives for managing the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). A wide range of NESP TWQ Hub projects have focused on resilience-based management and decision-making for maintaining and improving coral condition in the GBR. These projects directly contribute to the goals outlined in the Great Barrier Reef Blueprint for Resilience (2017) and support the development of RIMRep. Many of these research investments are in direct response to the 2016-17 mass thermal bleaching events. This synthesis will bring together the learnings of many research projects and initiatives driven by the same goals into a succinct coherent story.


Project Publications
Synthesis Report
Case Study
Fact Sheet
Technical Report



Project Video


Project Description

As climate change becomes the dominant driver of GBR coral reef health outcomes, there is the recognition that major disturbance events (e.g. mass thermal bleaching and cyclones) will become more frequent. This places extra pressure upon the ability of coral reefs to recover from such events. Reef managers cannot directly reduce the drivers of global warming. Instead, the emphasis is to maintain and enhance resilience as much as possible and focus management efforts on priority reefs that have the highest values and/or that display the greatest resilience. This focus around reef resilience is encapsulated in the Great Barrier Reef Blueprint for Resilience (GBRMPA 2017) and has driven a significant change in direction for NESP TWQ Hub investments subsequent to the 2016 and 2017 mass bleaching events.

NESP TWQ Hub investments have investigated enhanced resilience and resilience-based decision making through a variety of projects. These include examining the relationship between water quality and bleaching risk; identifying the functionally of important species on the GBR and how they are managed; understanding spatial variability of thermal stress and bleaching; trialling methods for coral restoration; and identifying the traits of corals that have survived bleaching. The NESP TWQ Hub has also invested in developing a resilience-based decision-making tool for marine park managers.

In addition, investments in water quality improvement and various projects related to enhanced monitoring and reporting in support of the Reef Integrated Monitoring and Reporting (RIMRep) program are relevant to this synthesis, and will be incorporated along with related projects conducted through other research programs and published studies over the last 5 years. As the topics of bleaching, reef condition and management response are challenging, there is a need to produce a concise and informative synthesis that will be of value to reef managers and scientists, as well as the general public. The synthesis products will provide a summary of NESP TWQ funded projects, and how the information aligns with or builds on existing knowledge and management approaches from the peer-reviewed and grey literature.


The objectives and outcomes of this project are to:

  • Synthesise research from the NESP TWQ Hub funded, and other relevant sources, that has informed the science of improving coral condition on the Great Barrier Reef;
  • Provide guidance on applying this new knowledge in the GBR and other reef systems, including Ashmore and Coral Sea reefs, and other Australian Marine Parks that are potentially data poor; and
  • Provide a summary of future research and activities required for on-ground investment.

The synthesis project has the capacity to draw together information from projects across the entire scope of the NESP TWQ Hub, plus external material where relevant. It may, where identified as important, analyse existing data that make a beneficial contribution to the synthesis.


Outcomes from the following NESP TWQ Hub projects will inform the synthesis products:

  • Project 1.6: Multiple and cumulative impacts on the GBR: assessment of current status and development of improved approaches for management.
  • Project 1.10: Identification, impacts and prioritization of emerging contaminants present in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait marine environments.
  • Project 2.1: Assessing the cumulative impacts of climatic disturbances in inshore GBR coral reefs, identifying key refuges and testing the viability of manipulative reef restoration.
  • Project 3.7: Monitoring the effects of zoning on coral reefs and their associated fish communities in the GBR Marine Park.
  • Project 2.1.6 / Project 5.2: From exposure to risk: novel experimental approaches to analyze cumulative impacts and determine thresholds in the GBRWHA.
  • Project 2.2.3: Early warning systems to minimize the risk of box jellyfish stings by empowering stakeholders.
  • Project 2.3.1 / Project 5.3: Benthic light as ecologically-validated GBR-wide indicator for water quality: drivers, thresholds and cumulative risks.
  • Project 3.1.5: Ecotoxicology of pesticides on the Great Barrier reef for guideline development and risk assessments.
  • Project 3.3.1: Quantifying the linkages between water quality and the thermal tolerance of GBR coral reefs.
  • Project 3.3.3: Defining the values of the ecological systems that influence the GBR and lie outside the marine park and world heritage area boundaries.
  • Project 4.2: Oceanographic drivers of bleaching in the GBR: from observations to prediction.
  • Project 4.3: Best practice coral restoration for the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Project 4.4: The traits of corals that survived recent bleaching events.
  • Project 4.5: Guidance system for resilience-based management of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Project 4.6: Recommendations for maintaining functioning of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Project 5.7: Assessment and communication of the spatial variability in bleaching severity throughout the Great Barrier Reef following back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 & 2017.
  • All COTS projects funded through the NESP TWQ Hub.


NESP 2017 Research Priority Alignment

This project aligns with NESP 2017 Research Priority: Natural resource management improvements based on sound understanding of the status and long term trends of priority species and systems (Theme 3)

This project aligns with TWQ Hub 2018 Research Priority 2. Informing reef management in a post-bleaching/increased cyclone frequency world.


Project Keywords

Coral; Great Barrier Reef; Impact; Cumulative; Resilience.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through AIMS, JCU, CSIRO, UQ and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.


Project Publications