SUN BLEACHED: The Solitary Islands Underwater Research Group (SURG) has studied the impact of coral bleaching off the Coffs Coast.
SUN BLEACHED: The Solitary Islands Underwater Research Group (SURG) has studied the impact of coral bleaching off the Coffs Coast. Matt Deans

Health check is good for corals in our marine park

RESEARCH over three years has found the Solitary Islands Marine Park is free of widespread coral bleaching.

However, forecasts of warmer summer temperatures ahead could prove severe.

That's the key finding made by the Solitary Islands Underwater Research Group.

The group, founded in 1985, comprising citizen scientists in Coffs and the Clarence, was granted $34,000 in 2012 by the NSW Environmental Trust to research coral health.

Spokesman Bob Edgar said the project was now complete and reefs off seven islands had been surveyed.

A total of 25 sites were investigated with 59 community members spending 1400 hours on or under the sea.

"There was no evidence of widespread bleaching events in the Solitary Islands Marine Park during the study," Mr Edgar said.

"All common coral families are generally in good condition, except for corals belonging to the pocilloporidae family, which have a branching growth form, surveyed in recent months."

He said the recent prediction of a prolonged and intense El Nino event later this year did not bode well for coral communities, with high water temperatures around 24 degrees for lengthy periods likely leading to a severe and widespread bleaching event.

CORAL HEALTH
Solitary Islands Marine Park

The CoralWatch protocol, developed by the University of Queensland (coralwatch.org), was used to conduct 12,805 assessments of coral colonies.

When a coral bleaches, often due to high water temperatures during summer, it expels symbiotic algae vital to its health from its tissues, leading to an observed paling in colour.

As sea temperatures cool in winter, corals that have not starved from losing algae may recover.

However, even if they do survive, their reproductive capacity is reduced, which may lead to shifts in reef associated communities that are generally dominated by corals.

Past studies in the marine park by scientists from the National Marine Science Centre (Southern Cross University) and SURG volunteers, have ascertained several families of hard corals are more susceptible to bleaching, and it is these families of corals the study centred on.



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