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Marine Ecology Research Centre

Coral Reef Research

Key Contacts

Professor Peter Harrison
t: +61 2 6620 3774
f: +61 2 6620 2669

Dr Sander Scheffers
t: +61 2 6620 3277
f: +61 2 6620 2669

The Southern Cross University Coral Reef Research Group was established in 2002 and our research includes international research projects on coral reproduction, coral growth and palaeo-environmental changes, effects of pollution on corals, coral bleaching impacts on reefs, and long-term monitoring of coral reef communities.

Corals are foundation species that are essential for coral reef formation, and coral reproduction is a critically important phase of the coral life cycle. Our coral reproduction research includes ongoing projects on the mass coral spawning phenomenon on the Great Barrier Reef and related research on coral spawning at subtropical reefs along Australia's east coast, and international research with colleagues in French Polynesia, New Caledonia, the Maldives and other reef regions.

Coral growth and Palaeo research is another core research area. Understanding the nature and causes of climate variability and change in the tropical oceans-the heat engine of the global climate system-is limited by the relatively short length of instrumental records. Certain massive reef-building corals contain a wealth of historical proxy climate and environmental information locked in their calcium carbonate skeletons. This information is available from living corals that can be up to several hundred years old and from fossil corals, often well preserved after death, for well-dated windows of the more distant past. Continuous, high-resolution (annual to seasonal) information from such corals is provided by a range of measures that include growth characteristics which can document coral responses to unusual environmental conditions and various geochemical tracers whose incorporation into the skeleton is mediated by ambient seawater characteristics. Our research in collaboration with nationally and internationally renowned scientists focuses on a range of environmental influences (e.g. ocean acidification, eutrophication, cyclone frequency) on reefs of the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and Australia (GBR, Ningaloo, etc.).

Our research has also demonstrated that essential sexual reproduction processes in corals can be impaired or blocked by a wide range of pollutants and other forms of stress on corals, including: oil pollution, trace metals, elevated nutrients, temperature stress, low salinity and sub-lethal coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching refers to the loss of symbiotic microalgae (zooxanthellae) and their photosynthetic pigments, and bleaching occurs when corals become stressed by extreme temperature and light conditions, by many forms of pollution, and other changes to their natural environment. Our research includes determining the impacts of bleaching on coral survival and reproduction on the Great Barrier Reef and subtropical reefs including Lord Howe Island, where we recorded the first major coral bleaching event in 2010.

Our researchers have monitored the structure and health of coral communities at many reef regions including the Great Barrier Reef, Lord Howe Island, Solitary Islands and other subtropical reefs, French Polynesia, Kuwait, and the Maldives. This monitoring research is providing important information on the resilience of reef communities and their capacity to survive and recover in our increasingly changing world.