Increasing global and local stressors on the Great Barrier Reef are eroding the resilience of the reef to withstand future stress events. Two ways we know we can aid reef resilience, is by maintaining biodiversity and coral cover. At local high-value reef sites, we aim to maintain and enhance reef resilience by maintaining, and-or enhancing existing coral cover and diversity.
A new approach to enabling reef stakeholders. Everyone has a stake in the future of coral reefs. Many people worldwide are directly dependent on the food and unique cultural resources reefs provide. In Australia, the vast majority of stakeholders are within the tourism industry, people who visit high value sites every day, and make their living from showcasing the wonders of the coral reefs to about 2 million tourists annually. This community does not want to be a by-stander. A productive partnership is needed between the reef tourism industry and scientists, to secure a healthy future for Australia’s reefs.
Without a tourism-science partnership, the resources and knowledge of personnel within the tourism industry remain untapped. There is potential for a reduction of understanding by scientists about site-specific needs and it is much harder to optimise interventions for the best socio-economic as well as ecological return.
New methods to build stewardship capacity and sustainability. The Coral Nurture Program is building on commonly applied site stewardship methods, such as Eye-on-the-Reef surveys, the removal of Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) and Drupella snails to provide new tools that stakeholders can apply to care for reef sites. Specifically, the propagation and out-planting of coral where live coverage has fallen in order to boost coral abundance.
Equipping the tourism industry (and other reef stakeholders) with more capacity to actively retain or rebuild healthy sites is critical to ensuring sustainable use. Stewardship activities provides the industry with capacity to operate outside of peak tourism, and therefore add resilience to the industry infrastructure.
Research in the Coral Nurture Program is a two-way street between stakeholders and scientists. The Program collects important data on the growth, health and survival of all out-planted coral. Also, how propagation structures can act as new fish habitats on reefs. Current taxonomy indicates there are over 600 coral species on the Great Barrier Reef, all of which thrive across different environmental regimes of light, temperature, pH (how acidic the water is), oxygen, sedimentation and nutrients. Only through a large-scale out-planting process sustained across many reef sites over time, can we identify the optimum planting timing and location for different species. Our various research activities provide a core and credible means to ensure that the scale of successful propagation and outplanting is rigorously validated and further optimised. Research into propagating more heat tolerant coral, avoiding risks to population collapse through genetic bottlenecks or genetic erosion, and optimising procedures, is incorporated into field activities.
New genetic, biochemical and bio-optical approaches are being developed to understand how functional diversity within a species aids its long-term survival as the environment changes. Using this knowledge will be central to how coral abundance is maintained longer term at high value sites on the Great Barrier Reef. Whilst our research is directly driven to support long term maintenance of Great Barrier Reef sites, the same research questions apply to reefs globally. We work with a large national and international network of researchers towards these goals.