Impact of human trampling in different zones of a coral reef flat
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The effects of trampling on the coral communities of the outer reef flat and reef crest were investigated at Heron Island at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Eighteen months of trampling at various intensities increased the percentage cover of unoccupied substrate and the cover of mobile rubble. The morphology of the coral was the most important feature relating to trampling resistance. Branching corals were reduced on the outer reef flat, and most broken branches were recorded in the initial phases of the experiment. The reef crest was much more resistant.
A short-term trampling experiment showed that trampling detached a greater mass and larger fragments of coral on the outer reef flat than on the reef crest. Further trampling reduced the sizes of the detached fragments on the outer reef flat. A drift experiment indicated that greatest movement of fragments occurred on the reef crest and here the largest fragments moved greater distances.
We concluded that all habitats would be changed by reef walking and that by one measure the outer reef flat was 16 times more vulnerable than the reef crest. The routes taken by reef walkers need to be chosen in relation to the trampling resistance of the habitat.
Key wordsTrampling Coral Reef zones Tourist management Morphology
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