[ASC-media] Media Release: Reef Researchers Find a ³Prophet of Doom²

Control Publications science at control.com.au
Fri Feb 21 00:07:16 EST 2003

21 February 2003

For immediate release

Reef Researchers Find a ³Prophet of Doom² while Australian Reef is Chosen
for Largest Global Survey

Coal miners of old used to carry canaries in cages down mines to provide
warning of dangerous levels of toxic gases. Now, an Australian researcher is
launching a campaign to establish a spectacular fish as a symbolic mascot of
impending death of coral reefs.

Following studies by Japanese scientists, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is
promoting the orange-spotted or harlequin filefish (Oxymonacanthus
longirostris). In an exclusive cover story in the March issue of
Australasian Science, Prof Hoegh-Guldberg says the harmless filefish feeds
exclusively on living coral polyps, is easily identified by its spectacular
colour and markings and is not threatened by commercial fishing or minor
collecting for aquaria.

The filefish is found throughout tropical reefs of the Indian and Pacific
Oceans. Its population on a reef provides an instant snapshot of the state
of a reef before the results of detailed studies can be fully analysed. When
bleaching hit coral reefs off the Japanese island of Okinawa in 1998, the
fish rapidly disappeared. Prof Hoegh-Guldberg says: ³It is at the heart of
the question of what happens after coral is lost from reef systems. It is
one of the first fish to disappear rapidly when coral cover vanishes².

Australasian Science also reveals that the reef around Heron Island, a true
coral rubble island in the Southern section of the Great Barrier Reef, 50 km
off Gladstone in Queensland, is one of only four representative habitats
around the world to be chosen for a major World Bank/UNESCO project. With
funding of $24 million, it will be the most comprehensive and coordinated
set of studies for identifying the cumulative effects of human disturbances
and impacts of climate change on coral reefs on a global scale.

Other habitats for study are Bolinea (Philippines), Puerto Morelos (Mexico)
and Zanzibar (East Africa). Six groups of 10-12 specialists each will
shortly start testing hypotheses about factors that threaten the health of
coral reefs. Prof Hoegh-Guldberg, who is Director of Marine Studies in the
University of Queensland, is chairing the group studying coral bleaching and
related ecological factors. Other groups are focussing on coral diseases,
restoration and remediation, large-scale ecology, remote sensing and

The reef at Heron Island has been well studied from its UQ research station
over 50 years. It is home to 60% of species of fish and 72% of species of
coral in the 2,600 km-long GBR.

For international comment, World Bank panel members can be advised.

Please cite AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE as the source of this story.

Video footage and still photos of the filefish and of Heron Island reef
from air and underwater are available from Prof Hoegh-Guldberg; ph (07) 3365
1156; (0401) 106 604; email via Veronica Westacott
[v.westacott at marine.uq.edu.au].

For the full text, call Editor, Guy Nolch, on (03) 9500 0015. Recent photos
of Prof Hoegh-Guldberg on the GBR can be obtained from Peter Pockley on (02)
9660 6363.
Guy Nolch
Editor, Australasian Science
Control Publications Pty Ltd
PO Box 2155
Wattletree Rd PO  VIC 3145

Phone (03) 9500 0015
Fax (03) 9500 0255
Web: control.com.au
ABN 46 006 591 304

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