Our research

The CRTR Bleaching Working Group’s research over the past five years was focused on exploring key gaps in our understanding of mass coral bleaching and related ecological phenomena, and has pursued research projects that range from establishing a better understanding of why corals bleach and get diseased, to the impacts of coral mortality on fish populations and human dependents. The associated research has been conducted across four Centres of Excellence (COE’s) within the CRTR program: Heron Island (Australia), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Bolinao (Philippines) and Puerto Morelos (Mexico).

It has drawn together international experts to investigate these critical issues that surround the impact of global climate change on the world’s coral reefs.  The knowledge needed by management to be effective is by nature enormous and diverse. 

While the contribution of new knowledge and understanding of the impacts of global climate change by the BWG has been significant, the project has also contributed to a series of new technologies useful to the management of coral reefs. Development of low cost colour cards for detecting bleaching (in partnership with Justin Marshall and UliSeibeck at the University of Queensland) as well as ecological methods for detecting sub-chronic change on coral reefs will provide important contributions.

The ecological studies undertaken by the BWG produced a Common Sampling Protocol outlining ecological techniques used at all Centres of Excellence. These techniques allowed us to determine which vital rates were responsible for the state of the reef and allowed us to derive novel yet pragmatic models that predict population changes and the future state of the reefs.

The BWG has also played a very significant role in influencing policy development at a national and international level. Papers such as that published by BWG members in December 2007 (now ISI’s hottest and most cited paper over the past two years in the areas of “climate change” and “ocean acidification”) are playing an important role in the climate change issue. The results of papers like this are playing very significant roles in helping policymakers understand the serious consequences of approaching or exceeding atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of 450 ppm.

In conjunction with the activities outlined above, the Group has produced over 230 peer-reviewed papers, trained 17 postgraduate students and has supported many more through its regional workshops and research projects.


The Working Group’s Findings from Phase One describes the scientific outcomes, major training achievements, and the outreach activities and outputs undertaken by the BWG within the CRTR program. Most importantly, this report describes a series of exciting and innovative contributions to the understanding of how climate change is, and will, affect the world’s most diverse and important marine ecosystem.

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