Spatial and temporal variations in coral growth on an inshore turbid reef subjected to multiple disturbances
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Coral growth rates (linear extension, density, calcification rates) of three fast-growing corals (Acropora, Montipora, Turbinaria) were studied in situ on Middle Reef, an inshore reef located on the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR), to assess the influence of changing environmental conditions on coral condition and reef growth. Middle Reef is subjected to both local (e.g. high sediment loads) and global (e.g. coral bleaching) disturbance events, usually associated with reduced coral growth. Results indicated, however, that Acropora growth rates (mean linear extension = 6.3 cm/year) were comparable to those measured at similar depths on offshore reefs on the GBR. Montipora linear extension (2.9 cm/year) was greater than estimates available from both clear-water and turbid reefs, and Turbinaria’s dense skeleton (1.3 g/cm3) may be more resilient to physical damage as ocean pH falls. Coral growth was found to vary between reef habitats due to spatial differences in water motion and sediment dynamics, and temporally with lower calcification rates during the summer months when SSTs (monthly average 29 °C) and rainfall (monthly total >500 mm) were high. In summary, corals on Middle Reef are robust and resilient to their marginal environmental conditions, but are susceptible to anthropogenic disturbances during the summer months.
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