Greater protection needed for Great Barrier Reef’s magnificent table corals
Sun smart: fish shelter under table coral
Photo James Kerry, JCU
Scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University say more needs to be done to protect vulnerable table corals on the Great Barrier Reef.
Researchers studying the role of table corals have found that they provide vital sun protection for large fish in shallow reef areas.
They found that the corals are so important that if lost, the fish that depend on them will leave the reef.
“The loss of table corals denies fishes important habitat, which they use to shelter from the sun, avoiding harmful UV-radiation, just as we might sit under an umbrella at the beach,” says study lead author James Kerry.
“Large fishes maintain balanced coral reef ecosystems, they’re the predators that help control fish populations,” says study co-author Professor David Bellwood.
“These fish are important for reefs and people; lose your table corals and you lose your coral trout,” Professor Bellwood explains.
The scientists say this is particularly concerning as table corals are especially vulnerable to the pressures currently facing the Great Barrier Reef.
The corals are highly susceptible to ocean acidification and bleaching, and are the preferred meal of the destructive crown of thorns starfish.
Given their shape, table corals are also easily toppled and are often destroyed in cyclones.
“Ultimately we need to conserve table corals because they are the primary structure on the Reef that provides shelter from the sun’s harmful rays. However, because they are so vulnerable to climate change and other growing threats, this is going to be a major challenge,” James Kerry says.
“The research suggests that we need to do everything we can to promote the health of the Great Barrier Reef, and in doing so, reduce the multiple threats facing these valuable corals.”
The functional role of tabular structures for large reef fishes: avoiding predators or solar irradiance? By J.T. Kerry and D.R. Bellwood is published in the journal Coral Reefs. DOI 10.1007/s00338-015-1275-1
Do Tabular corals constitute keystone structures for fishes on coral reefs? By J.T Kerry and D.R. Bellwood is published in the journal Coral Reefs
Images and video:
Image and video credit – James Kerry
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