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Present and future impacts of climate change on calcification of coral reefs and crustose coralline algae

Other Details: 

Kimberly Marine Research Program: Project 1.3.2
Location: King Sound
Project Leader: Malcolm McCulloch, UWA
Telephone: 6488 1921

Final Report

Resilience of Kimberley coral reefs to climate and environmental extremes: past, present and future_WAMSI KMRP Report 1.3.2_McCulloch 2017 FINAL


60 Second Science

Dr Verena Schoepf (UWA) - Thermal tolerant Kimberley corals not immune to bleaching (October 2017)

Project Summary


  • Assess seasonal variation in nutrient and carbonate chemistry around King Sound
  • Measure organism- and community scale rates of calcification.
  • Assess the functional response of reef calcifiers to changes in light, temperature, salinity and elevated pCO2.
  • Assess historical rates of calcification and environmental change using Porites coral cores from the Kimberley.

Proposed Methods

  • Measure in situ growth and calcification rates of key reef calcifiers including coral and crustose coralline algae.
  • Measure community scale rates of net calcification along intertidal reef communities throughout King Sound.
  • Conduct manipulative experiments on coral and crustose coralline algae in flow-through mesocosms at the Kimberley Marine Research Station at Cygnet Bay.
  • Recover cores from massive coral to determine past records of environmental change and coral growth.  Methods that will be employed include measurements of Sr/Ca (temperature proxy), 18O (salinity proxy), Ba/Ca (river sediment proxy) and boron isotopes (pH proxy).

Project Duration 2014-2016

Geographic Range

  • Large-scale surveys of King Sound chemistry and water quality.
  • Work on inter-tidal platforms at Shenton Bluff, Talon Island, and Sunday Island.
  • Experimental work at the Kimberley Marine Research Station at Cygnet Bay.
  • Coral cores from sub-tidal waters of Cygnet Bay


  • Document seasonal and spatial variation in nutrient and carbonate chemistry throughout King Sound.
  • Document seasonal and spatial variation in coral and coralline algae calcification rates.
  • Determine overall sensitivity of Kimberley reef calcifiers to past, present, and future environmental change.

Longer term goals beyond the life of the project

To develop approaches for anticipating, monitoring and mitigating the impact of future climate change on reef communities throughout the Kimberley.

Research Articles

Le Nohaïc M, Ross C, Cornwall C, Comeau S, Lowe R, McCulloch M, Schoepf V (2017) Marine heatwave causes unprecedented regional mass bleaching of thermally resistant corals in northwestern Australia. Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/s41598-017-14794-y

Schoepf V, Stat M, Falter JL, McCulloch MT (December 2015) Limits to the thermal tolerance of corals adapted to a highly fluctuating, naturally extreme temperature environment. Nature Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/srep17639



McCulloch M et al. Climate change as registered by Sr/Ca, Li/Mg, d11B and B/Ca systematics in an ~100-year old Porites coral from the thermally extreme Kimberley region of northwestern Australia. 2017 WAMSI Research Conference (audioPresentation Slides

McCulloch M et al. Heat tolerance of Kimberley corals and impacts of the 2016 marine heatwave on coral reefs in the inshore Kimberley region 2017 WAMSI Research Conference (audioPresentation slides

Chen X, McCulloch M.T, The long-term drivers of environmental change in King Sound, Kimberley: the coral records. WAMSI Presentation at Parks and Wildlife, Kensington (27 July 2017)  (Presentation Audio) (Presentation Slides)  

Schoepf V, Stat M, Le Nohaïc M, Jung M, Cornwall C, Comeau S, McCulloch M.T., Impact of the 2015/16 marine heatwave and unprecedented mass bleaching in Kimberley corals. WAMSI Presentation at Parks and Wildlife, Kensington (27 July 2017) (Presentation Audio) (Presentation Slides)


  1. The ocean heatwave that killed a WA reef (Perth Now 3 Nov 2017)
  2. Coral bleaching badly affected reefs of Kimberley, study finds (The Guardian 4 Nov 2017)
  3. Research examines impact of coral bleaching on WA coastline (UWA media statement 3 Nov 2017)
  4. Naturally resilient Kimberely coral reefs vulnerable to climate extremes (WAMSI Bulletin May 2017)
  5. The third global bleaching event took its toll on Western Australia's super-corals (The Conversation)
  6. Super-coral may take heat off Great Barrier Reef bleaching (The Age)
  7. Thermally tolerant Kimberley corals are not immune to bleaching (WAMSI)
  8. Even the super-corals of Australia’s Kimberley are not immune to climate change (The Conversation)
  9. WA 'super coral' more resistant to bleaching, but still hit by rising sea temperatures(ABC News)
  10. Thermally tolerant Kimberley corals are not immune to bleaching (The Conversation)