New maps identifying sections of the Great Barrier where management actions are more likely to help maintaining the reef ecological integrity are expected to result from a State Government-funded fellowship to a University of Queensland (UQ) researcher.
Dr Juan Ortiz, a postdoctoral fellow in UQ's School of Biological Sciences was today awarded one of 19 Queensland Government Advance Queensland Research Fellowships made to UQ researchers.
His project will also develop a new monitoring program and an interactive tool that can be used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Queensland Government to maximise the effectiveness of management interventions.
"Our research will significantly benefit Queensland by improving the ability of organisations in charge of managing the Great Barrier Reef," he said.
"We're developing a multidisciplinary toolkit to manage the GBR, that will help ensure its existence for future generations."
Dr Ortiz said the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) had been subjected to a multitude of local and global stressors jeopardising its ecological integrity.
"The complexity of these stressors combined with the limited number of local management alternatives available make the management of the GBR one of the main environmental challenges confronted by the Queensland Government," he said.
"We'll be using a multidisciplinary approach that expands and integrates the most recent developments in our understanding of the physiological, ecological and evolutionary functioning of GBR corals.
Dr Ortiz said coral reefs had suffered significant degradation worldwide in the past 50 years.
In the case of the Great Barrier Reef, recent studies had identified continuous declines in ecosystem state (mainly coral cover) over the past 30 years.
"This decline is geographically variable with reefs in the northern part of the GBR suffering minimal declines, while reefs to the south of the GBR suffering declines of up to 80 per cent of their coral cover," he said.
"Different disturbances have been identified as partially responsible for this decline including Crown of Thorn Starfish outbreaks, coral bleaching, cyclone frequency and intensity and decline in water quality.
"Even though climate change (coral bleaching and ocean acidification) appears to have played a relatively small role in the observed degradation to date, future projections of global warming under different scenarios of reductions of carbon emissions suggest that it will soon become the main driver of coral reef degradation in the GBR."
Dr Ortiz will work with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on the project.