Marine Monitoring Program - Inshore coral reef monitoring (AIMS)

Coral reefs in the coastal and inshore zones of the Great Barrier Reef are highly valued for recreation and local tourism. The proximity of these reefs to the land exposes these reefs to land runoff carrying excess amounts of fine sediments and nutrients from developed catchments. It is clear that in combination with acute disturbances such as Tropical Cyclones and high sea-water temperatures, which lead to coral bleaching events, exposure to runoff is impacting these ecosystems (scientific-consensus-statement).

Management of water quality through the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (Reef Plan) aims to improve the water quality entering the Great Barrier Reef. The monitoring of inshore reefs is fundamental to documenting their condition and trends against which the effectiveness of Reef Plan's actions can be assessed.

Monitoring

The monitoring of inshore reefs within the Marine Monitoring Program began in 2005. The reefs monitored (Figure 2) are located in 4 natural resource management regions (the Wet Tropics, Burdekin Dry Tropics, Mackay Whitsunday Isaac and Fitzroy Basin Regions). Within these regions the reefs selected span the steep gradients in water quality typical of the inshore waters. At each reef monitoring is replicated at 2 m and 5 m depths to account for differences in communities that result because of the rapid reduction in light availability as depth increases in turbid waters.

Two sampling methods are used to describe the benthic communities along fixed transects. The benthic community is categorised using the photo point-intercept method to derive the proportional cover of benthic organisms. The number of juvenile corals are then counted in a narrow belt along each transect. To facilitate the interpretation of observed trends in the benthic communities a third survey documents recent mortality of corals and, where possible, attributes that mortality to a pressure. Exposure to large scale events such as Tropical Cyclones and high temperatures resulting in coral bleaching in periods between surveys are also documented.

Figure 2: Sampling sites of the Reef Rescue MMP inshore coral monitoring.

Project meta-data

The full meta-data for this project can be found in the following record: Reef Plan Monitoring of Inshore Coral Reef Monitoring, Great Barrier Reef

Project Reporting

The MMP forms an integral part of the Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program, which is a key action of Reef Plan designed to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of implementation and report on progress towards Reef Plan goals and targets. A key output of the Paddock to Reef Program is an annual report card, including an assessment of Reef water quality and ecosystem condition, which is based on MMP information (Reef Report Card).

Coral Index

Report card scores for coral reefs are derived from the MMP benthic cover and juvenile hard coral density time-series combined with comparable data from an additional nine inshore reefs monitored by the Australian Institute of Marine Science's Long-term Monitoring Program (LTMP). Scores for the coral index average over scores for five separate indicators representing different processes crucial for resilient coral communities:

  1. Coral cover (resistance to pressures),
  2. Macroalgae cover (competition for space),
  3. Rate of change in coral cover (recovery from disturbances),
  4. Juvenile coral density (recruitment), and
  5. Community composition (response to selective pressures).

The detailed annual monitoring reports of this program are here.