An international team of scientists has been exploring Moreton Bay, close to Brisbane, as a possible 'lifeboat' to save corals from the Great Barrier Reef at risk of extermination under climate change.
In a new research paper they say that corals have been able to survive and flourish in the Bay, which lies well to the south of the main GBR coral zones, during about half of the past 7000 years.
Corals only cover about 1 per cent of the Moreton Bay area currently, and have clearly been adversely affected by clearing of the surrounding catchments and human activities on land and sea, says lead author Matt Lybolt of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland.
"The demise of tropical coral reefs around the world is due mainly to overfishing, pollution and climate change. There is also plenty of historical evidence that coral reefs can move from one environment to another as the climate and other conditions change," Matt explains.
"In view of this, various places including Moreton Bay are being investigated as possible refuges in which coral systems can be preserved should they begin to die out in their natural settings. Indeed, some people have even talked of relocating and re-seeding corals in other locations that better suit their climatic needs."
The team's study of Moreton Bay reveals that it is not exactly ideal coral habitat, being cold in winter, lacking sufficient direct sunlight, subject to turbid freshwater inflows and more recently to a range of human impacts.
"Even before European settlers came on the scene the Bay underwent phases in which corals grew prolifically and phases in which they died away almost completely. We understand what causes corals to die back, but we are less clear about what causes them to recover," Matt says.
"Broadly, the corals seemed to do well at times when the climate, sea levels and other factors were most benign and
|Contact: Matt Lybolt|
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies