Prehistoric reef roles
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.
On the catwalk:
Under pressure: the parrot fish