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Evidence of Large-Scale Chronic Eutrophication in the Great Barrier Reef: Quantification of Chlorophyll a Thresholds for Sustaining Coral Reef Communities

Abstract

Long-term monitoring data show that hard coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has reduced by >70 % over the past century. Although authorities and many marine scientists were in denial for many years, it is now widely accepted that this reduction is largely attributable to the chronic state of eutrophication that exists throughout most of the GBR. Some reefs in the far northern GBR where the annual mean chlorophyll a (Chl a) is in the lower range of the proposed Eutrophication Threshold Concentration for Chl a (~0.2–0.3 mg m−3) show little or no evidence of degradation over the past century. However, the available evidence suggests that coral diseases and the crown-of-thorns starfish will proliferate in such waters and hence the mandated eutrophication Trigger values for Chl a (~0.4–0.45 mg m−3) will need to be decreased to ~0.2 mg m−3 for sustaining coral reef communities.

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Acknowledgments

Stafford Bettridge provided several underwater video clips. Paul Treloar, Anisul Islam, and Stephen Coombs prepared the SeaWiFS and CZCS images from data provided free of charge from the NASA archives. This support is gratefully acknowledged. Also, we wish to thank the reviewers of the manuscript who provided a number of constructive suggestions. This is contribution #1904 from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, Ft. Pierce, FL.

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Bell, P.R.F., Elmetri, I. & Lapointe, B.E. Evidence of Large-Scale Chronic Eutrophication in the Great Barrier Reef: Quantification of Chlorophyll a Thresholds for Sustaining Coral Reef Communities. AMBIO 43, 361–376 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-013-0443-1

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Keywords

  • Coral reefs
  • Eutrophication
  • Corallivores
  • Coral skeletal disease
  • Coral bleaching