Coral diseases are reported to be one of the most significant threats to tropical coral reef ecosystems. Recent assessments show that approximately 19% of the world’s coral reefs have been effectively destroyed with no immediate prospects of recovery (Wilkinson 2008). An additional 15% are under imminent risk of collapse through human pressures within the next 10-20 years, and a further 20% are under a longer-term threat of collapse.
The first outbreak of black band disease (BBD), a virulent disease that causes rapid loss of coral tissue and currently threatens reef corals worldwide, was observed on an inshore reef in the central Great Barrier Reef in 2006. An ongoing monitoring program has recorded recurring summer outbreaks, causing significant damage and the total collapse of coral in susceptible types of coral. Numerous studies have linked increasing impacts of disease on global ocean warming, highlighting the urgent need for improved understanding of the biology and ecology under predicted climate change scenarios. Such knowledge is critical to enable reef managers to predict future disease consequences and develop appropriate strategies to mitigate the impacts of this emerging threat to coral health on the Great Barrier Reef.
There is, however, a gap in our knowledge about coral disease, which represents a major stumbling block for developing potential management strategies. This expedition seeks to address this knowledge gap and ensure the development of better management and conservation strategies for Great Barrier Reef corals in the future.
Meet the Scientists
Dr. David Bourne
Research Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science
Dr Bourne has been involved in a number of research themes at AIMS including marine microbes for drug discovery and microbial dynamics in aquaculture (Rock Lobster) focussing on larval rearing systems. More recently his work is solely focussed on understanding microbial interactions with corals. This work is divided essentially into two areas, the first investigating the normal microbial communities associated with corals and their functional roles in maintaining coral fitness. The second research focus is to elucidate pathogens and mechanisms of disease onset in corals and the implications this has on a stressed reef ecosystem in light of climate change being a major driver of coral reef degradation.