The carbonate budget of a coral reef, the difference between calcium carbonate production and erosion, is a critical metric for measuring the physical resilience of reef structures. Until now, the global application of carbonate budgets to guide management and conservation has been limited by a lack of standardised approaches.
Our innovative ReefBudget is an open access tool that’s already been adopted by multiple national conservation and management organisations, monitoring reefs in four of the six global marine biogeographic realms where tropical reefs form.
ReefBudget supports budget quantification in a way that can directly integrate with existing ecological monitoring programmes and its adoption is helping to support the management and conservation of at-risk natural environments around the world.
Previous reef monitoring methods focused on species cover and diversity but did not deliver the data essential to underpinning assessment of reef structural resilience and growth potential. These metrics are vital to predicting how reefs and their ecosystems will be affected by global change.
This vision guided development of ReefBudget, initially field tested at sites across the Caribbean and then further developed for the more ecologically diverse Indo-Pacific region. We have also provided advice and training for local NGOs and marine park managers to implement the methodology.
Our data has also been used to assess global-scale trends in reef growth potential, showing that water depths are likely to significantly increase above most reefs by 2100, thus increasing coastal wave energy exposure. Healthier and actively growing coral reefs will reduce the impacts of rising sea levels.
Our scientists also discovered that coral reefs are quieter than they were five years ago due to cyclones and coral bleaching. This is an important discovery because young fish use noisy coral reef sounds when searching for a place to live and breed. Our field experiments found that the Northern Great Barrier Reef is also less acoustically diverse and so less attractive to juvenile fish. This could have devastating effects as fish communities are vital to maintaining healthy reefs by grazing away algae and allowing coral to grow. By using loudspeakers underwater to play the sounds of healthy reefs, our scientists are attracting fish and boosting populations to help kick start natural recovery processes.
The research is key to helping drive the international commitment to reducing carbon emissions and protecting the reefs that are still left.