Coral rehab finding offers hope for Great Barrier Reef

Sep 05, 2011
Even small scale, patchy reef restoration efforts can go a long way to repair coral ecosystems, new research has found. Flickr/gruntzooki

Coral ecosystems cope much better than was first thought when the reef habitat is fragmented, a new study has found, meaning that efforts to restore even small parts of the damaged Great Barrier Reef could reap great rewards.

Like other around the world, the has suffered from coral bleaching and habitat die-off brought on by , , and pollution by .

Such disturbances often cause and patchiness in the way the coral is distributed but until now it has been hard to know which factor — habitat loss or fragmentation — was causing the most damage to fish populations.

Now researchers from James Cook University have discovered that while overall habitat loss is indeed a disaster for fish, the fact that the remaining reef is spread patchily over the original area may not be such a problem after all.

“There’s a perception problem that habitat patchiness is a bad thing when, in fact, our results suggest it doesn’t matter if it’s patchy as long as the total amount of habitat is not changed,” said Dr Mary Bonin of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

The researchers think a patchy reef may actually create more nooks and crannies for fish to hide in, whereas a large continuous reef may be guarded by territorial alpha fish that chase competitors away.

“I want to be clear that we are not saying we should (deliberately) fragment reefs but our results are showing habitat loss is the real problem and patchy restoration is still beneficial,” said Dr Bonin.

The finding could fuel a policy shift in the way reef restoration is viewed. Large-scale, complex and expensive reef-wide restorations may still be worthwhile, but the research shows that reef rehab experts could also reap great benefits from small scale efforts, such as deployment of reef balls.

“It means we don’t necessarily have to restore the entire reef back to 100%. Actually, just going in an providing small patches of habitat would could be beneficial,” said Dr Bonin.

“You can’t probably get it back to a pristine state (after a major disturbance). But even to go in and deploy reef balls in a patchy way can still do a lot to help.”

The study was published in Ecology, the journal of the Ecological Society of America.


This story is published courtesy of the The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives).

Explore further: China insists wealthy countries should improve emission targets

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ongoing collapse of coral reef shark populations

Dec 04, 2006

Investigators have revealed that coral reef shark populations are in the midst of rapid decline, and that "no-take zones" -- reefs where fishing is prohibited -- do protect sharks, but only when compliance with no-take regulations ...

Larry's cool change good for reef

Mar 22, 2006

Cyclone Larry has been a nightmare on land but underwater, it may have helped save the Great Barrier Reef from disaster. University of Queensland coral reef expert Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said Larry's ...

Recommended for you

Rio's Olympic golf course in legal bunker

11 hours ago

The return of golf to the Olympics after what will be 112 years by the time Rio hosts South America's first Games in 2016 comes amid accusations environmental laws were got round to build the facility in ...

User comments : 0