Coral Conservation

UQ researchers are at the vanguard of Great Barrier Reef conservation efforts, with research into innovative culling strategies for the devastating Crown-of-Thorns starfish.

While reducing the frequency and severity of damaging storms (48% cause of coral cover decline), and rises in global ocean temperatures (10%) are critical long-term climate change remediation strategies that contribute to coral reef conservation, the more accessible short-term solution is to control the spread of coral-feeding crown-of-thorns starfish (42%).

A female crown-of-thorns starfish

On the basis of a secreted pheromonal cue, these starfish gather en masse each spawning season to produce up to 120 million offspring. Crown-of-thorns starfish predate upon coral larvae, leaving coral bleached and susceptible to deterioration from aforementioned effects of climate change. Hijacking the genomic region responsible for the production for this pheromone, a novel coral conservation method proposed by husband-and-wife researchers Professor Bernard Degnan and Associate Professor Sandie Degnan of UQ’s School of Biological Sciences involves fabricating a pheromone-laced bait and gathering CoT starfish to simplify the existing culling technique of manual lethal injection.

More information about UQ CoT research can be found here and here.

Cost-effective solutions for coral reef protection are being developed at UQ’s CEED, involving marine restoration rather than conservation for marine protected areas (MPAs), which have been identified as understaffed (9% of MPAs) and underfunded (35%).

The deteriorating health and well-being of global reef ecosystems is the clearest present manifestation of the threat that is climate change. With a global political climate that seems to be stalling more than climate change itself, marine conservation efforts are hindered by a lack of dedicated funding and personnel, a #UQ2017 study found.

A co-authored UQ School of Biological Sciences’ study found that of all reported marine protected areas (MPAs), only 9% were adequately staffed and only 35% adequately funded. The authors suggest that effective MPA management would consist of driving social and ecological research, as well strengthening monitoring and evaluation methods for MPAs.

A study by UQ School of Earth and Environmental Science researcher Dr Chris Roelfsema is at the forefront of coral reef monitoring, both in the form of remote sensing (RS) using satellite imagery, and spot checking with volunteer citizen scientists to validate satellite mapping through the CoralWatch public portal.

UQ associated coral reef conservation research has also been flourishing in 2017, with major outcomes including the:

  • Launch of the four-year-long Great Barrier Reef mapping expedition.
  • Finding that coral larvae supply must be within ‘Goldilocks zone’ to ensure effective reef regeneration; low larval supplies prevent sufficient colonisation onto the reef, while high supplies are diminished through internal feedback mechanisms
  • Quantification of the second major Great Barrier Reef mass bleaching event in the last two years; published in Nature, Professor Pandolfi of UQ’s School of Biological Sciences said coral bleaching occurred when abnormal environmental conditions such as high ocean temperatures caused corals to expel tiny photosynthetic zooxanthellae algae. “Bleached corals can recover if the temperature drops and zooxanthellae are able to recolonise them. Otherwise the coral may die.”


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