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Coral response to dredging


Defining thresholds and indicators of coral response to dredging-related pressures

Other Details: 

Dredging Science Program: Theme 4
Location: Pilbara and Kimberley
Project Leader: Ross Jones, AIMS
Telephone: 6369 4015


Synthesis report: Defining thresholds and indicators of coral response to dredging-related pressures_WAMSI DSN Report 4.0_Jones et al 2019_FINAL

Assessing Impacts of dredging on corals_a review_WAMSI DSN Project 4.1_Jones et al 2017_FINAL

Effects dredging on water quality_WAMSI DSN Project 4.2_Fisher et al 2017_FINAL

Estimating sediment deposition fields around dredging activities_WAMSI DSN Project 4.3_Stark et al 2017

Continuous in situ monitoring of sediment deposition_WAMSI DSN Report 4.4_Whinney et al 2017_FINAL

Coral biogeography of Western Australia Review WAMSI DSN Report 4.5 Jones 2016_FINAL

Laboratory-based studies examining the effects of sediments on corals: Executive summary and management implications_WAMSI DSN Report 4.6_Jones et al 2019_FINAL

Coral Demography_WAMSI DSN Project 4.7_Babcock et al 2017_FINAL

Mucous sheet production in Porites_WAMSI DSN Project 4.8_Bessell-Browne et al 2017_FINAL

Effects of dredging and dredging related activities on water quality: Impacts on coral mortality and threshold development_WAMSI DSN Project 4.9_Fisher et al 2019_FINAL


SUMMARY: In Australia, and especially in sub-tropical and tropical north-western Australia, there are many examples of current and planned major dredging projects where millions of cubic metres of sediments require removal. These volumes are significant by global standards and since the released sediments can reduce or block light, clog filtering and feeding apparatus and smother benthic organisms they carry a significant environmental risk. To manage this risk, there is a critical need to establish quantitative relationships between dredging-relating pressures and the responses for key biota, especially iconic and ecologically important groups such as corals.

The ultimate objectives of the proposed work are to:

  1. better understand the effects of dredging and dredge spoil disposal on corals by identifying the principle mechanisms by which suspended and settling sediments affect adult colonies in the short and long-term;
  2. establish pressure-response relationships for relevant pressure parameters that will provide water quality guidelines for dredging projects around coral reef environments; and
  3. produce protocols that describe how to incorporate this information into environmental impact assessment and monitoring programs. This will reduce uncertainty and environmental risks associated with large scale dredging projects and provide a mechanism for industry to ensure compliance with regulatory conditions.

Work is divided into four projects, with projects 1 and 2 involving analysis of existing data and reviews, project 3 involving laboratory manipulations and including project 4 involving field work. The work program is staggered and integrated, with projects 1 and 2 informing project 3. The field-work component (Project 4) is associated with recovery modelling [as opposed to deriving pressure-response relationships] as the latter was considered to be far too risky an approach given the uncertainty of field work.


Whinney J et al. Continuous in situ monitoring of sediment deposition in shallow benthic environments. 2017 WAMSI Research Conference (audioPresentation slides

Jones R et al. Dredging and bleaching events 2017 WAMSI Research Conference (audioPresentation slides

Bessell-Browne et al.Sub-lethal indicators of dredging pressures – mucous sheet production in Porites corals. 2017 WAMSI Research Conference (audioPresentation slides

Bessell-Browne et al. Specific and interactive effects of total suspended solids, light attenuation and sediment deposition on adult corals. 2017 WAMSI Research Conference (audioPresentation slides


Bessell-Browne P, Negri A.P., Fisher R, Clode P.L., Jones R (2017) Impacts of light limitation on corals and crustose coralline algae Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/s41598-017-11783-z

Bessell-Browne P, Negri A.P., Fisher R, Clode P.L., Jones R, (2017) Cumulative impacts: thermally bleached corals have reduced capacity to clear deposited sediment Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/s41598-017-02810-0

Bessell-Browne P, Fisher R, Duckworth A, Jones R, (2017) Mucous sheet production in Porites: an effective bioindicator of sediment related pressures Marine Pollution Bulletin 2017

Bessell-Browne P, Negri A.P., Fisher R, Clode P.L., Duckworth A, Jones R, (2017) Impacts of turbidity on corals: The relative importance of light limitation and suspended sediments Ecological Indicators 2017

Duckworth A, Giofre N, Jones R (2017) Coral morphology and sedimentation Marine Pollution Bulletin

Fisher R, Bessell-Browne P, Jones R (2019) Synergistic and antagonistic impacts of suspended sediments and thermal stress on corals. Nature communications 10:2346.

Fisher R, Walshe T, Bessell-Browne P, Jones R. (2017) Accounting for environmental uncertainty in the management of dredging impacts using probabilistic dose–response relationships and thresholds. J Appl Ecol.

Fisher R, Stark P, Ridd P, Jones R (Dec 2015) Spatial Patterns in Water Quality Changes during Dredging in Tropical Environments PLOS DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143309

Jones R, Fisher R, Bessell-Browne P (2019) Sediment deposition and coral smothering. PLoS ONE 14(6): e0216248.

Jones R, Bessell-Browne P, Fisher R, Klonowski W, Slivkoff M (Dec 2015) Assessing the impacts of sediments from dredging on corals Marine Pollution Bulletin doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.10.049

Jones R, Fisher R, Stark C, Ridd P (Oct 2015) Temporal Patterns in Seawater Quality from Dredging in Tropical Environments PLOS DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0137112

Whinney J, Jones R, Duckworth A, Ridd P (Dec 2016) Continuous in situ monitoring of sediment deposition in shallow benthic environments Coral Reefs DOI 10.1007/s00338-016-1536-7