Great Barrier Reef, Keppel Bay
Keppel Bay Reefs and Islands, Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The Keppel Islands are a group of 16 continental islands lying 18 km off the coastal town of Yeppoon, in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Located in the shallow basin to the north of Keppel Bay, the islands are host to a patchwork of fringing reefs in various forms of development. Coral communities are abundant in some locations, with coral cover as high as 70%. Additionally, some of these reefs are dominated by extensive stands of branching Acropora that extend into shallow water.
Reefs within the Keppel Bay area have been affected by both flooding and bleaching events fairly regularly over the last 20 years. Most notably, a severe flood in 1991 devastated shallow reefs in the area. The mass bleaching events of 1998 and 2002 also impacted local reefs, and in the summer of 2006, most sites experienced at least 30% bleaching-induced mortality of corals due to a highly localized and severe warming event. Furthermore, during the latter half of 2006 an extremely low tide coincided with a heavy rainfall event killing many of the reef-flat corals throughout the reefs of the Keppel Bay. Despite these histories of disturbance, the Keppel Islands are still home to some of the most luxuriant and accessible coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef region.
The Keppel Islands and surrounding waters are popular with a range of users. Historically, tourism has mainly focused around Great Keppel Island, and camping is available on seven other islands. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority (GBRMPA) and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) jointly manage the area. Many of the islands are also National Parks, and together with the Marine Park form part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Although there is increasing residential development along the mainland coast, there is also increasing participation in community groups, including the Capricorn Coast Local Marine Advisory Committee (LMAC), that have interests in the management of local environmental issues.
The broad objective and vision of the GBRMPA is to provide for the protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef in perpetuity, through the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Increasingly, this will involve implementing both routine and reactive strategies to mitigate stressors that interact with those of climate change, in an effort to build resilience of the reef to all manner of future threats.
Resilience is a central goal in the management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and specific resilience-building activities have been part of the management response from the earliest stages of planning and consultation. The Climate Change Group at the GBRMPA developed a resilience assessment and monitoring protocol in late 2007 that was applied to 31 sites within the Keppel Bay region. The initial focus was to test and refine a method for assessing the resilience of reef sites, as a basis for implementing spatial management tools (such as no-anchoring zones). The preliminary resilience assessment involved an identification of reef sites important to local users and assessed them against a suite of broad-scale and local-scale putative resilience indicators derived from preliminary resilience measuring protocols developed by The Nature Conservancy, IUCN Working Group on Climate Change and Coral Reefs, and the GBRMPA. The results of the preliminary resilience assessment were integrated into a numerical score that was used to rank sites on the basis of likely resilience to climate change.
Based on the outcomes of the resilience assessment, a 'Resilience assessment and capacity building' workshop involving the GBRMPA, QPWS, Traditional Owners, the LMAC, and the local stakeholders was held in September 2008. This workshop identified candidate sites for the installation of voluntary no-anchoring zones as a mechanism to restrict anchor damage (and hence increase resilience) due to the increase in recreational use of the Keppel Bay region. In November 2008, 16 no-anchoring buoys were installed by QPWS staff at four sites in the Keppel Bay region. A follow-up January 2010 monitoring assessment revealed that the no-anchoring buoys appear to be having a positive influence on coral health, and very few instances of recent anchor damage was observed within the no-anchoring sites. In addition, all instances of past (pre-no-anchoring buoys) anchor damage were showing good signs of recovery.
Broad-scale conservation initiatives implemented in recent years have been aimed at restoring and maintaining system resilience. Some initiatives in place in the Keppels include:
- A comprehensive network of marine protected areas in the area following the GBRMPA’s Representative Area’s Program, which came into effect in 2004
- The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, which includes an extensive Reef Water Quality Monitoring Program
- Minimal take of herbivorous species by recreational and commercial fishers
- Voluntary moratorium (at some locations) on commercial collection of some aquarium fishery species, identified through risk assessments as potentially vulnerable to the combined impacts of disturbance (bleaching and flooding) and fishing; industry and community-based monitoring program to monitor population status of these species
Community engagement is also a key aspect of this resilience-based management initiative. Local reef users are an important source of knowledge on patterns of use, resource condition and dynamics. Also, effective restoration of ecosystem resilience requires active and willing participation of reef users in efforts to reduce local stresses. Finally, meaningful engagement by the local community in development and implementation of resilience-based management actions also help ensure that social and economic impacts are minimized.
- Resilience is a relative concept. For example, a site within one reef region having ‘high’ resilience, may have only ‘low’ or ‘medium’ resilience when compared to sites within other regions, and vice versa. This suggests that absolute values such as high and low should be used with caution. A relative approach (higher or lower), applied within a defined context, is likely to be more meaningful in most situations.
- Quality standards for monitoring protocols should be developed, to reduce biases introduced by differing perspectives and expertise, therefore improving the use of this data for management decisions.
- There is value in using a simple, semi-quantitative approach to assessing resilience, using local and scientific expertise to estimate values for resilience indicator variables. Although coarse, this approach provides sufficient resolution for prioritizing management actions. However, further work is required to validate the choice of indicator variables and their weights. Observing response of survey sites to any future climate stress (i.e., bleaching events) and comparing their resilience indicator scores will allow the selection and weight of indicator variables to be refined.
- Community engagement at every step of the process was highly beneficial and as such, the no-anchoring zones appear to be having a positive influence on reef health despite being voluntary and non-enforceable.
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
- Environmental Protection Agency and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
2-68 Flinders Street
PO Box 1379
Townsville, Queensland 4810
- Australian Institute of Marine Science
- James Cook University
- University of Queensland
- Central Queensland University
- Queensland Parks and Wildlife
- Pro-vision Reef Inc. (peak body for Queensland aquarium fishery)
Biophysical assessment of the reefs of Keppel Bay: a baseline study April 2007, Climate Change Group, GBRMPA.