Fish help coral reefs bounce back

By Natsumi Penberthy 14 July 2009
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Herbivorous fish may be key to shoring up coral resilience.

NEW RESEARCH SUGGESTS that herbivore fish species such as the parrotfish and surgeonfish may underpin coral reef resilience to damage.

The study, which was partially funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, focussed on the coral reefs off Moorea, in the central Pacific, which have rebounded on five occasions despite sustaining heavy damage from four bleaching events and a cyclone in the past 18 years.

ARC researcher Dr Lucie Penin says that these fish act like weeders, restraining the algae that invades the vacant space left by damaged and bleached coral. Lucie says that this has helped Moorea corals regain ground after invasions of turf and micro algae.

While evidence of the ability of reefs to recover from damaging events is encouraging, Lucie also warns that over-fishing may tip the balance in favour of invasive algae.