1. Climate change is the greatest and most pressing challenge. It affects coral reefs through warming sea surface temperatures (see Death by bleaching), ocean acidification, increasing storm intensity and rising sea levels. Suggested policy goals: transition away from fossil fuels; invest in renewable energy; reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
2. Port development impacts coral reefs by producing sediment from dredging, increased shipping activity and contaminants from materials in transit. Suggested policy goals: stop further port development; limit shipping channels through protected reefs; mandate sealed covers for materials in transit; and totally ban dumping of dredge spoils at sea.
3. Water quality: Run-off from agriculture and other coastal development produces excessive nutrients, sediments and pollutants, increases turbidity and reduces light. This impacts coral diversity and coverage. Suggested policy goals: regulate and reduce use of fertilisers and pesticides; mandate records; reinstate vegetation management legislation; establish nutrient reduction targets.
4. Fishing has significant consequences for reef ecosystems. Suggested policy goals: ban fishing of herbivorous species; set sustainable catch limits for other species; increase no-take marine park zones.
5. Crown-of-thorns starfish: COTS is one of the greatest contributors to coral loss. Suggested policy goals: increase protection of known COTS predators (e.g. pufferfish, triggerfish); develop an integrated management plan for the rapid detection and control of outbreaks.
6. Non-compliance and non-enforcement of marine management policies. Suggested policy goals: increase patrol boats in marine protected areas; provide an accessible information system for recreational and commercial fishers; install additional moorings to reduce anchor damage.
7. Beach erosion associated with rising sea levels is endangering turtles and other species which rely on beaches for breeding. Suggested policy goals: contain climate change (see above); protect beach habitats from sand harvesting; limit destructive development; re-seed damaged habitats with sand-producing species.
8. Anthropogenic noise affects foraging, communication, navigation and other functions in a wide range of marine species. Suggested policy goals: create quiet sanctuaries; create buffer zones for shipping lanes; require proper servicing of boat motors.
Three of the scientists involved in preparing this ACRS paper have done research at the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station; Lauren Nadler, Steve Doo and Sue Anne-Watson. Professor David Booth is Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee at SIMS.