Pre­his­toric reef roles

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS -

THE in­ter­na­tional co­ral reef sym­po­sium has wound up in Cairns, in­spir­ing 2008 sci­en­tists and 600 students from 80 coun­tries to help pro­tect the fu­ture of co­ral reefs.

Townsville JCU marine bi­ol­ogy Pro­fes­sor David Bell­wood said he be­lieved the fu­ture of co­ral reefs is in good hands.

“Co­ral reefs have a dif­fi­cult fu­ture ahead of them, cli­mate change is go­ing to hit them and we need to look af­ter them but it was re­as­sur­ing with 600 grad students there - a lot of fu­ture in­tel­lect and prom­ise,” he said.

Dr Bell­wood pre­sented his re­search on the chang­ing role of fish on reefs from an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive and said his re­search has been look­ing into the his­tory be­hind the now de­pen­dent re­la­tion­ship be­tween reefs and reef fish.

“About 4000 mil­lion years ago fish didn’t give a damn if the reef was there or not, it was a pe­riod of in­dif­fer­ence and true feed­ing on the reef started 200 mil­lion years ago,” he said.

“The big change in reefs around the world was the point of which di­nosaurs died out and the reefs changed and it has taken over 50 mil­lion years of steady de­vel­op­ment to get us where we are to­day.

“Be­cause of hu­man ac­tiv­ity we are turn­ing back the clock and by re­mov­ing par­rot fish in par­tic­u­lar we are pro­duc­ing an en­vi­ron­ment we haven’t seen in 38 mil­lion years.”

Dr Bell­wood said his re­cent re­search has seen new as­sem­blage of fish that are in­dif­fer­ent to corals like the pre­his­toric days and be­lieves this is not a bad thing, but more ef­fort is needed to pro­tect her­bi­vores like the par­rot fish, who keep the reef clean.

“Big par­rot fish eat five tonnes of co­ral a year and clean up reefs and eat all the weed co­ral and dead co­ral and those fish have al­most been driven to ex­tinc­tion in sev­eral places,” he said.

“They will come back, all we need to do is stop killing them and they won’t be lost for­ever and we can change that to­mor­row - what’s sur­pris­ing in Aus­tralia is we haven’t pro­tected them.”

Dr Bell­wood said the ex­pan­sion of marine­pro­tected ar­eas will help al­though he said the co­ral reef park should still in­clude sus­tain­able fish­ing ar­eas and more work needs to be done on in­shore reefs.

“It’s im­por­tant to recog­nise the jux­ta­po­si­tion of two ma­jor things that have come to light re­cently - the ex­pan­sion of new marine­pro­tected ar­eas and the ap­par­ent dif­fi­culty to main­tain the ones we got,” he said.

“Our in­shore reefs are in such se­ri­ous trou­ble be­cause of our ac­tiv­i­ties and we’ve re­ally got to look care­fully at how we’re manag­ing them.”

Com­ment is still be­ing sought from the pub­lic on the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed co­ral reef marine park. Visit www. en­vi­ron­ment. gov. au/ coasts/ mbp/ re­serves/com­ments.

Photo by FRAN­CIS BREN­DAN

On the cat­walk:

Abbey White

Photo by J.P.KRA­JEW­SKI

Un­der pres­sure: the par­rot fish

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