15 October 2013

OVERFISHING is putting sea cucumbers in a pickle on the Great Barrier Reef, marine biologists say.

Sydney University's Professor Maria Byrne and Dr Hampus Eriksson, a post-doctoral researcher at Stockholm University, say more than 24 sea cucumber fisheries have closed in recent years. Read more




The Conversation

06 September 2013

Australia is surrounded by a thin green line of seagrass meadows potentially worth A$5.4 billion on international carbon markets, and which could contribute to Australia and other nations meeting carbon emissions targets. Whether that potential can be realised is very much dependent on the type of carbon management scheme our next government puts in place.

Most people are aware forests lock up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a part of our carbon accounting scheme and underpins tree-planting and forest conservation schemes, giving value to this “green carbon”. Until now, the carbon captured by marine plant systems, so-called “blue carbon”, has largely been ignored in carbon accounting. Read more




Seagrass meadows occur in estuarine, reef and deepwater habitats, and cover approximately 13% of the GBRWHA: 6,000 square kilometres of shallow seagrass habitat and a further 40,000 square kilometres of deepwater seagrass habitat3. They are the only flowering plants (angiosperms) to colonise the sea, have internal veins, true roots, and produce flowers and seeds, and are more closely related to lilies and gingers than to true grasses1. They are found in the coastal waters around every continent except Antarctica, are the main diet of dugongs and turtles and provide habitat and nursery grounds for many marine animals, such as fish, lobsters and prawns, species of which are commercially exploited1.

Seagrass meadows also have a significant role as substrate stabilisers and nutrient sinks, buffering or filtering nutrient and chemical inputs to the marine environment. Their uptake of phosphorous and nitrogen from coastal run-off is fundamental to the maintenance of marine water quality1,2. The difficulty is that seagrasses are in decline, due to poor water quality and a succession of extreme weather years; a trend has significant ramifications for our coastal environment. Seagrasses are naturally dynamic – it is the time frames of recovery that is potentially changing and the current recovery rate is relatively slow.

A group led by Dr Catherine Collier of JCU presented on this issue; trends and risks, and current NERP research. Dr Collier told the meeting that reductions in light associated with flood plumes were more likely to cause seagrass loss than the associated reductions in salinity. Field studies showed that change in seagrass abundance was most pronounced at more turbid sites, and threshold light levels for such declines were established. This evidence was in line with that reported during the drafting of the Scientific Consensus Statement: increases in dissolved nutrients leading to algal blooms, or chronic or pulsed increases in suspended sediments leading to increased turbidity, both of which serve to reduce the amount of light reaching the seagrass4. As well as establishing threshold light levels Dr Collier has been investigating early warning indicators for seagrass decline, with carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratios showing the most promise, and is assessing impacts of ocean acidification and pesticide exposure.

Chin, A., March 2005, ‘Seagrasses’ in Chin. A (ed) State of the Great Barrier Reef On-line, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville.
4  Brodie, J., Waterhouse, J., Schaffelke, B., Johnson, J.E., Kroon, F., Thorburn, P., Rolfe, J., Lewis, S., Warne, M., Fabricius, K., McKenzie, L., Devlin, M., 2013. Reef Water Quality Scientific Consensus Statement 2013. Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Queensland Government, Brisbane.

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Media Release

30 September 2013

Researchers from James Cook University are leading a new project designed to ensure sustainable use and conservation of Australia’s sharks and rays.

Funded by the Australian Government’s Fisheries Research and Development Corporation the project will provide a report card on the status of all of Australia’s sharks and rays, and build a database of science outputs that can be used by fisheries and environmental managers. Read more





Popular Science

23 September 2013

To track the effects of warming seas on coral reefs, a new survey project is launching an extensive database of panoramic underwater imagery.

Today the Catlin Seaview Survery - which recently brought us some amazing views of the Galápagos coastline - launches the first-of-its-kind databse of our underwater world. Read more




ABC Far North Queensland

05 March 2014

Zombified spiders, glow-in-the-dark fungi, seaweed-like mould and shagpiletopped mushrooms. It might sound like the set of a fantasy film, but you can find all of these in north Queensland - if you look close enough.


9 News

17 January 2014

Ships passing through the Great Barrier Reef could disrupt whales' ability to call out to one another, a study has found.

Researchers from James Cook University used a large underwater microphone to record noises at a reef off Townsville for three months last year.

Professor Colin Simpfendorf, who recently analysed the recordings, said three main sounds could be heard. Read more




Red Orbit

12 August 2013

The short-spined crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster brevispinus) is a species of starfish that is classified within the Acanthasteridae family. This species has a large range that includes the Great Barrier Reef, the Philippines, and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Because these areas are so far away from one another, the full range of this starfish cannot be known, but it can be said that it resides in a tropical or subtropical environment. It was first discovered by W.K. Fisher, who classified it as the subspecies A. brevispinus brevispinus, although it was in fact new and distinct species. Read more




CSIRO and JCU researchers from the Social and Economic Long Term Monitoring Program (SELTMP) have recently been engaging with Reef managers, stakeholders and industry representatives, to develop a monitoring framework for the social and economic aspects of ports and shipping in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

SELTMP’s large scale social surveys over 2013 found that shipping was perceived as one of the top three threats to the Reef by coastal residents in the GBR region, Australian residents and commercial fishers, despite the industry’s strict management and careful monitoring by REEFVTS.

In March 2014 a workshop was held in Townsville to establish a working group that will provide SELTMP with technical and expert advice to assist with developing a reporting template by December 2014. Working group participants so far include representatives from GBRMPA, AMSA, Maritime Safety Queensland, REEFVTS, Port of Townsville Ltd., Townsville City Council, North Queensland Conservation Council and North Queensland Bulk Ports Ltd. Further consultation with other industry representatives and stakeholders is planned as the reporting template is developed.

At the March workshop, participants helped to identify key questions, information needs and gaps that SELTMP can help to address, as well as existing secondary data relevant to social and economic monitoring of ports and shipping in the GBR. Workshop discussions highlighted how the social dimension of ports and shipping is not typically researched; however, there is an increasing need to better understand how the public and other user groups of the GBR perceive ports and shipping, including perceptions of threats, as well as benefits provided to communities through the efficient and safe delivery of goods.

Researchers in SELTMP have been exploring linkages between media trends and community perceptions, recognising that there has been extensive media coverage associated with recent approvals for port expansions and concerns for impacts to surrounding habitats and communities. The first technical report on social and economic aspects of ports and shipping in the GBR is expected to become available on the Tropical Ecosystems Hub website in early 2015.

For more information about the SELTMP ports and shipping working group, please contact Dr Matt Curnock (working group leader, CSIRO: or Dr Nadine Marshall (SELTMP project leader, CSIRO:




Daily Mercury

02 July 2013

A TOTAL of 672 Whitsunday residents, tourists and businesses were asked how they use, relate to and value the Great Barrier Reef as part of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) most extensive social study to date.

Over the next two months CSIRO will be approaching a total of 5000 people from Cooktown to Bundaberg to gain an understanding of what the Great Barrier Reef means to those who live nearby, work around it or visit the area. Read more