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Remote reefs can be tougher than they look
Date:4/5/2013

"However, the few small corals that did settle at Scott Reef had excellent rates of survival and growth, whereas on many nearshore reefs high levels of algae and sediment, and poor water quality will often suppress this recovery.

"We know from other studies that the resilience of reefs can be improved by addressing human pressures such as water quality and overfishing," says Dr Gilmour. "So it is likely that a key factor in the rapid recovery at Scott Reef was the high water clarity and quality in this remote and offshore location."

Dr Andrew Heyward, Principal Research Scientist at AIMS, highlights another conclusion from their findings.

"Previously we've tended to factor proximity to other reefs as a key attribute when estimating the resilience of a reef following a major disturbance, but our data suggests that given the right conditions, reefs might do much of the recovery by themselves." This finding could have implications for the management of marine protected areas.

In their publication the team also draws attention to the important role played by climate change in the longer-term prospects for coral reefs, as Prof Morgan Pratchett of CoECRS explains.

"While it is encouraging to see such clear recovery, we need to be mindful of the fact that the coral recovery at Scott Reef still took over a decade. If, as the climate change trend suggests, we start to see coral bleaching and other related disturbances occurring more frequently, then reefs may experience a ratcheting down effect, never fully recovering before they suffer another major disturbance.

"By preventing illegal fishing and enhancing water quality on coral reefs in all regions we will give these reefs a greater capacity to recover from major disturbances."

The highly detailed, long-term data set makes Scott Reef the best studied reef in Australia's Indian Ocean territory. The study provides valuable new perspectives on ecosystem
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Contact: Morgan Pratchett
Morgan.Pratchett@jcu.edu.au
61-488-112-295
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies
Source:Eurekalert

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