Program 1 'Historical and current condition of the Great Barrier Reef'

Program 1 has three projects which will assess the condition and trend of Great Barrier Reef assets. Two of these concern temporal changes in coral communities: one over timescales of the last 100-200 years, and one based on current monitoring of approximately 100 coral reefs that are representative of the whole system. The latter provides a synoptic view of coral cover and continues a time series commenced in 1986.

Over 20 years, these surveys have shown that the two main sources of coral mortality are predation by crown of thorns starfish and physical damage by severe tropical cyclones. The surveys have also captured the dynamics of recovery and shown the importance of connectivity to upstream spawning sources. The historical project will use modern radioactive dating methods to search for temporal shifts in abundance and/or community composition among coral death assemblages. Broad-scale directional change will be taken as evidence for changing environmental conditions and may be able to date the recent decline in water quality in some inshore sections of the GBR. The third project will continue to monitor the distribution, abundance, and ecology of iconic marine species of high conservation concern, notably dugongs, marine turtles, and coastal dolphins. This information directly supports the management of these vulnerable species and is critical to the issue of Indigenous use.