Large-scale interventions may delay decline of the Great Barrier Reef

On the iconic Great Barrier Reef (GBR), the cumulative impacts of tropical cyclones, marine heatwaves and regular outbreaks of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish (CoTS) have severely depleted coral cover. Climate change will further exacerbate this situation over the coming decades unless effective interventions are implemented. Evaluating the efficacy of alternative interventions in a complex system experiencing major cumulative impacts can only be achieved through a systems modelling approach. We have evaluated combinations of interventions using a coral reef meta-community model. The model consisted of a dynamic network of 3753 reefs supporting communities of corals and CoTS connected through ocean larval dispersal, and exposed to changing regimes of tropical cyclones, flood plumes, marine heatwaves and ocean acidification. Interventions included reducing flood plume impacts, expanding control of CoTS populations, stabilizing coral rubble, managing solar radiation and introducing heat-tolerant coral strains. Without intervention, all climate scenarios resulted in precipitous declines in GBR coral cover over the next 50 years. The most effective strategies in delaying decline were combinations that protected coral from both predation (CoTS control) and thermal stress (solar radiation management) deployed at large scale. Successful implementation could expand opportunities for climate action, natural adaptation and socioeconomic adjustment by at least one to two decades.

Condie S. A., Anthony K. R. N., Babcock R. C., Baird M. E., Beeden R., Fletcher C. S., Gorton R., Harrison D., Hobday A. J., Plagányi É. E. & Westcott D. A., 2021. Large-scale interventions may delay decline of the Great Barrier Reef. Royal Society Open Science 8(4): 201296. doi: 10.1098/rsos.201296. Article.

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