Coral Reefs

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 1149–1163 | Cite as

The impacts of flooding on the high-latitude, terrigenoclastic influenced coral reefs of Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia

  • I. R. Butler
  • B. Sommer
  • M. Zann
  • J.-x. Zhao
  • J. M. Pandolfi


This study examines the impacts of an acute flooding event on the marginal, high-latitude, terrigenoclastic influenced coral reefs of Hervey Bay in southeast Queensland, Australia. In January 2011, the Mary River near Hervey Bay experienced its eleventh highest flood on record. The Mary River catchment has been highly modified since European colonisation, and, as a result of heavy rain and flooding, Hervey Bay was exposed to reduced salinity and elevated levels of turbidity and nutrients for approximately 14 weeks. Through the use of photograph transects and point intercept analysis, per cent cover of coral reef benthic communities was measured prior to and just after the flooding event. Sites were located between 250 m and 5 km from the mainland and from 18 to 85 km away from the mouth of the Mary River. Overall, there was a ~40 % reduction in coral cover post-flood, including significant mortality up to 89 % at four of six reefs. Mortality did not vary with distance along the coast from the Mary River, but mortality was found to be highest closer to the mainland, where turbidity and nutrients levels were also the highest. Despite the decades of input of highly turbid and nutrient laden waters from the Mary River, recovery has occurred in the past, and, given the persistence of similar conditions, would be expected to take place again. Climate change predicts increased frequency of severe storms and flooding, and this, combined with elevated sedimentation and nutrients from the highly modified catchment, may reduce these recovery periods, resulting in the deterioration of Hervey Bay reef communities.


Marginal Turbid High-latitude Flood Australia Coral 



We acknowledge support and funding from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, The University of Queensland and the National Environmental Research Program Tropical Ecosystems Hub Project 1.3. Thank you to Queensland Government Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts, Brisbane, for provision and support with water quality data. We gratefully acknowledge generous field support from the staff of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife, Great Sandy Region, Hervey Bay, Queensland. Sincere thanks to members of the Marine Palaeoecology Laboratory and fellow researchers at The University of Queensland for assistance with statistical analyses and manuscript preparation. Thank you also to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback.


  1. Alquezar R, Scannell J, Boyd W (2011) Coastal fringing reefs of the Burnett Mary Region. A report to the Burnett Mary Regional Group. Centre for Environmental Management, Central Queensland University, Gladstone, QueenslandGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson M, Gorley R, Clarke KR (2008) PERMANOVA + for Primer: Guide to Software and Statistical Methods. Primer-E, Plymouth, UKGoogle Scholar
  3. Anthony KRN, Hoegh-Guldberg O (2003) Kinetics of photoacclimation in corals. Oecologia 134:23–31PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. ANZECC (2000) Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters. Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, KingstonGoogle Scholar
  5. Bastidas C, Bone D, García EM (1999) Sedimentation rates and metal content of sediments in a Venezuelan coral reef. Mar Pollut Bull 38:16–24Google Scholar
  6. Berkelmans R, Jones AM, Schaffelke B (2012) Salinity thresholds of Acropora spp. on the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 31:1103–1110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. BOM (2011) Flood summary for the Mary River at Maryborough December 2010 - January 2011. Bureau of Meteorology, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  8. BOM (2012) Bureau of Meteorology Australia - Weather and Climate Data. Bureau of Meteorology, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  9. BPA (1989) Hervey Bay beaches: a detailed study of coastline behaviour along the mainland beaches of Hervey Bay, South-east Queensland, Australia. Beach Protection Authority, Brisbane, p 323Google Scholar
  10. Browne NK, Smithers SG, Perry CT (2012) Coral reefs of the turbid inner-shelf of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia: An environmental and geomorphic perspective on their occurrence, composition and growth. Earth-Sci Rev 115:1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Buchman MF (2008) NOAA Screening Quick Reference Tables, NOAA OR&R Report 08-1. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Office of Response and Restoration Division, Seattle, WA, p 34Google Scholar
  12. Burke L, Reytar K, Spalding MD, Perry A (2011) Reefs at risk revisited Reefs at risk. World Resources Institute, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  13. Campbell S, McKenzie LYJ (2004) Flood related loss and recovery of intertidal seagrass meadows in southern Queensland, Australia. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 60:477–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clarke KR (1993) Non-parametric multivariate analyses of changes in community structure. Aust J Ecol 18:117–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Connell JH (1997) Disturbance and recovery of coral assemblages. Coral Reefs 16:S101–S113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. CSIRO, BOM (2012) State of the Climate 2012, p12Google Scholar
  17. De’ath G, Fabricius KE, Sweatman H, Puotinen M (2012) The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109:17995–17999PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. DERM (2009) ClimateQ:toward a greener Queensland Appendix 3: Climate Change Wide Bay Burnett Region. Department of Environment and Resource Management, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  19. DERM (2010) Environmental Protection Policy 2009:Mary River environmental values and water quality objectives. Department of the Environment and Resource Management, p 32Google Scholar
  20. DeVantier L (2010) Reef-building corals of Hervey Bay, South-East Queensland. Baseline Survey Report to the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Fraser Coast Branch, June 2010Google Scholar
  21. Devlin M, Schaffelke B (2009) Spatial extent of riverine flood plumes and exposure of marine ecosystems in the Tully coastal region, Great Barrier Reef. Mar Freshw Res 60:1109–1122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. (2011) QLD Flood Plumes 2011.
  23. Fabricius KE (2005) Effects of terrestrial runoff on the ecology of corals and coral reefs: Review and synthesis. Mar Pollut Bull 50:125–146PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. FRC (1993) A study of the marine and intertidal habitats of the Great Sandy Region. In: ResearchConsultants F (ed) Fisheries ResearchConsultants, Brisbane, p144Google Scholar
  25. Furnas MJ (2011) River plumes and coral reefs. In: Hopley D (ed) Encyclopedia of modern coral reefs. Springer, Netherlands, pp 934–938Google Scholar
  26. Game E, McDonald-Madden E, Puotinen M, Possingham H (2008). Should we protect the strong or the weak? Risk, resilience, and the selection of Marine Protected Areas. Conserv Biol 22:1619–1629Google Scholar
  27. GBRMPA (2007) Biophysical assessment of the reefs of Keppel Bay: a baseline study April 2007. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Climate Change Group, TownsvilleGoogle Scholar
  28. Giles BD (2012) The Australian summer 2010/2011. Weather 67:9–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Graham N, Nash K, Kool J (2011) Coral reef recovery dynamics in a changing world. Coral Reefs 30:283–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gräwe U, Wolff JO, Ribbe J (2010) Impact of climate variability on an east Australian bay. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 86:247–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Harriott VH, Banks SB (2002) Latitudinal variation in coral communities in eastern Australia: a qualitative biophysical model of factors regulating coral reefs. Coral Reefs 21:83–94Google Scholar
  32. Hughes TP, Graham NAJ, Jackson JBC, Mumby PJ, Steneck RS (2010) Rising to the challenge of sustaining coral reef resilience. Trends Ecol Evol 25:633–642PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hunter CL, Evans CW (1995) Coral reefs in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii: Two centuries of western influence and two decades of data. Bull Mar Sci 57:501–515Google Scholar
  34. IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: Synthesis report. IPCC, Cambridge, UK and New York, USAGoogle Scholar
  35. Johnson DP (1996) State of the rivers, Mary River and its tributaries: An ecological and physical assessment of the condition of streams in the Mary River catchment state of the rivers. Department of Natural Resources, IndooroopillyGoogle Scholar
  36. Kohler KE, Gill SM (2006) Coral Point Count with Excel extensions (CPCe): A Visual Basic program for the determination of coral and substrate coverage using random point count methodology. Comput Geosci 32:1259–1269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kroon FJ, Kuhnert PM, Henderson BL, Wilkinson SN, Kinsey-Henderson A, Abbott B, Brodie JE, Turner RDR (2011) River loads of suspended solids, nitrogen, phosphorus and herbicides delivered to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Mar Pollut Bull 65:167–181PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Larcombe P, Costen A, Woolfe KJ (2001) The hydrodynamic and sedimentary setting of nearshore coral reefs, Central Great Barrier Reef shelf, Australia: Paluma Shoals, a case study. Sedimentology 48:811–835CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leujak W, Ormond RFG (2007) Comparative accuracy and efficiency of six coral community survey methods. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 351:168–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McCulloch M, Fallon S, Wyndham T, Hendy E, Lough J, Barnes D (2003) Coral record of increased sediment flux to the inner Great Barrier Reef since European settlement. Nature 421:727–730PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McKenzie L, Roder CA, Roelofs A, Campbell SYJ (2003) Effects of floodwaters on the seagrasses of Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Strait: Implications for dugong, turtle and fisheries management. Gulf Mex Sci 21:139–140Google Scholar
  42. McMahon K, Bengston Nash S, Eaglesham G, Müller JF, Duke NC, Winderlich S (2005) Herbicide contamination and the potential impact to seagrass meadows in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Mar Pollut Bull 51:325–334PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. MRCCC (2011) Mary River Catchment Coordination Committee: Annual Report 2011. Mary River Catchment Coordination Committee, GympieGoogle Scholar
  44. Pandolfi JM, Bradbury RH, Sala E, Hughes TP, Bjorndal KA, Cooke RG, McArdle D, McClenachan L, Newman MJH, Paredes G, Warner RR, Jackson JBC (2003) Global trajectories of the long-term decline of coral reef ecosystems. Science 301:955–958PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pandolfi JM, Tudhope AW, Burr G, Chappell J, Edinger E, Frey M, Steneck R, Sharma C, Yeates A, Jennions M, Lescinsky H, Newton A (2006) Mass mortality following disturbance in Holocene coral reefs from Papua New Guinea. Geology 34:949–952CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Perry C (2011) Turbid-zone and terrigenous sediment-influenced reefs. In: Hopley D (ed) Encyclopedia of modern coral reefs. Springer, Netherlands, pp 1110–1120Google Scholar
  47. Prange JA, Duke N (2004) Burnett Mary Regional Assessment: Marine and estuarine water quality and wetland habitats of the Burnett Mary region. Marine Botany Group, Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  48. Preen A, Lee Long WJ, Coles RY (1995) Flood and cyclone related loss, and partial recovery, of more than 1000 km2 of seagrass in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Aquat Bot 52:3–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. QPWS (2009) Great Sandy Marine Park: Boaties quick guide. Department of Environment and Resource Management: Queensland Parks and Wildlife ServiceGoogle Scholar
  50. Reichelt-Brushett AJ, Michalek-Wagner K (2005) Effects of copper on the fertilization success of the soft coral Lobophytum compactum. Aquat Toxicol 74:280–284PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schaffelke B, Carleton J, Skuza M, Zagorskis I, Furnas MJ (2011) Water quality in the inshore Great Barrier Reef lagoon: Implications for long-term monitoring and management. Mar Pollut Bull 65:249–260PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schleyer MH, Celliers L (2003) Coral dominance at the reef-sediment interface in marginal coral communities at Sodwana Bay, South Africa. Mar Freshw Res 54:967–972CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sofonia JJ, Anthony KRN (2008) High-sediment tolerance in the reef coral Turbinaria mesenterina from the inner Great Barrier Reef lagoon (Australia). Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 78:748–752CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Stafford-Smith M, Ormond R (1992) Sediment-rejection mechanisms of 42 species of Australian scleractinian corals. Mar Freshw Res 43:683–705CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Van Woesik R, De Vantier L, Glazebrook J (1995) Effects of Cyclone ‘Joy’ on nearshore coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 128:261–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wakeford M, Done TJ, Johnson CR (2008) Decadal trends in a coral community and evidence of changed disturbance regime. Coral Reefs 27:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Walsh SM (2011) Ecosystem-scale effects of nutrients and fishing on coral reefs. J Mar Biol Article ID 187248, 13 pages doi: 10.1155/2011/187248
  58. Weber M, de Beer D, Lott C, Polerecky L, Kohls K, Abed RMM, Ferdelman TG, Fabricius KE (2012) Mechanisms of damage to corals exposed to sedimentation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109:E1558–E1567PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zann M (2012) The use of remote sensing and field validation for mapping coral communities of Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Strait and implications for coastal planning policy. M Phil Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, St Lucia, p 216Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. R. Butler
    • 1
  • B. Sommer
    • 1
  • M. Zann
    • 2
  • J.-x. Zhao
    • 3
  • J. M. Pandolfi
    • 1
  1. 1.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Biophysical Remote Sensing Group, Centre for Spatial Environmental Research (CSER), School of Geography, Planning and Environmental ManagementThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Radiogenic Isotope Laboratory, School of Earth SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations