We have monitored coral within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area with James Cook University since 2006. Coral communities are a critical coastal marine habitat and a key indicator of overall marine health. We currently survey over 3km of paths across six inshore islands near our three east coast ports.

In the dashboard below you can view coral data from the past ten years.

We monitor diversity and abundance of corals and algae; extent of juvenile recruitment (baby corals); and indicators of coral health such as incidence of bleaching, disease and sediment deposition. This long-term data set can be used to help understand the dynamics and resilience of inshore coral communities and to support coastal resource management of our waterways.

Our twice-yearly coral surveys are undertaken by Sea Research Pty Ltd, coordinated by scientists at James Cook University (JCU). Through JCU and NQBP's higher education partnership, our monitoring program has the potential to support wide-ranging research opportunities.

Our coral data also feeds into broader Great Barrier Reef and regional report cards, including the Healthy Rivers to Reef Report Card, which measure the inshore health and resilience of coral communities and define their regional condition across catchments. You can read more on how we monitor coral including how divers collect data.

More information on the broader reef health is available at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website.

What makes up a coral community

At each of our monitoring sites, benthic (seafloor) cover is classified into categories of cover type. The data we collect here provides information on the dominant reef structure (hard or soft), as well as the extent of macroalgae and sponges. Knowing the proportion of macroalgae and sponges is important to  understanding the condition of the coral community.

Click on the images to learn more about the different coral and other cover types.

  • We survey transects (paths) across each of our island communities in the Mackay and Hay Point region, both pre and post-wet season. The inshore communities have been monitored since 2006; with Keswick Island monitoring completed from 2015. At each transect, benthic (seafloor) cover is classified into categories of cover type and provides information on the dominant reef structure (hard or soft), as well as the extent of macroalgae, which can impede the growth of corals. Information on the extent of bleached, diseased or damaged corals is also determined, which provides information on the health of the coral community. Click below on each monitoring location.

    Monitoring Locations
    Keswick Island
    • Macroalgae cover, known to impact the health of coral communities, has remained relatively stable over time. Coral cover, also stable, comprises typical mid-shelf reef communities and the associated clearer water quality.

      Mean percentage of Benthic Composition

    • Presence of disease in the inshore coral communities of Mackay and Hay Point has fluctuated significantly over 13 years of monitoring. Bleaching, however, has only been recorded alongside accumulated sea surface temperature peaks, such as in 2017.

      Mean density of affected coral colonies per 40 square metres

    Slade Rock
    • Slade Island has shown a steady rise in macroalgae and steady drop in hard coral cover over time, with notable reductions in 2010 and again in 2017, following tropical cyclones.

      Mean percentage of Benthic Composition

    • Presence of disease in the inshore coral communities of Mackay and Hay Point has fluctuated significantly over 13 years of monitoring. Bleaching, however, has only been recorded alongside accumulated sea surface temperature peaks, such as in 2017.

      Mean density of affected coral colonies per 40 square metres

    Round Top Island
    • Round Top Island has the highest soft coral community of all inshore locations monitored. This island community has seen a steady rise in macroalgae cover over time; however, coral cover has remained between approximately 25-35%.

      Mean percentage of Benthic Composition

    • Presence of disease in the inshore coral communities of Mackay and Hay Point has fluctuated significantly over 13 years of monitoring. Bleaching, however, has only been recorded alongside accumulated sea surface temperature peaks, such as in 2017.

      Mean density of affected coral colonies per 40 square metres

    Victor Island
    • Victor Island held a steady hard coral cover of between 22% and 27% until TC Debbie in 2017, after which it saw a sharp drop accompanied by a rise in macroalgae.

      Mean percentage of Benthic Composition

    • Presence of disease in the inshore coral communities of Mackay and Hay Point has fluctuated significantly over 13 years of monitoring. Bleaching, however, has only been recorded alongside accumulated sea surface temperature peaks, such as in 2017.

      Mean density of affected coral colonies per 40 square metres

    1. Please note y-axis max differs between Drivers of Health and Benthic Composition charts.2. SEs (standard errors) can be accessed in the full reports on our reports and research page.3. Divers of Health chart represents pre-wet survey dates only, full survey data can be found in reports download4. Note: Small sponge readings up to approx 0.3 % may not be visible. Please refer to the downloadable data file.

    Coral and Benthos Cover at Hay Point & Mackay

    Corals and benthos (sea floor) cover naturally acclimatise to disturbances like cyclones, high water temperatures, and freshwater influx and elevated turbidity (sediment in water) from flooding. Measuring coral cover, alongside diversity, juvenile recruitment, and bleaching and disease, can help us to anticipate recovery potential.

    What the chart shows

    Total hard coral cover has consistently been highest at Keswick Island (approximately 30% during recent surveys), compared to the three inshore locations.

    Over the past 12 months, hard coral cover has started to increase significantly following 2017 Tropical Cyclone Debbie in the three inshore locations. The only exception is the decrease seen at Keswick Island due to disease prevalence between July 2018 and Jan 2019. Read more on cyclone impacts on the coral near our ports.

    You can see more analysis on the data in these reports.

    Hard coral cover at Hay Point & Mackay

    1. Please note y-axis is dynamic and therefore differs between each tab.2. SEs (standard errors) can be accessed in the full reports on our reports and research page.3. Note: Pre and post wet season annual surveys commenced in 2015.

    What the chart shows

    Soft corals have never been common in the inshore islands monitored (historically ranging from 2% to 9% of cover); however, they have consistently been significantly more abundant on Round Top and Keswick. Most recently, soft corals accounted for between 6% and 9% of cover on these two islands.

    Between July 2018 and June 2019, soft coral cover increased significantly at Round Top, but has declined more recently. It has fluctuated at Keswick and only increased marginally at Slade and Victor. Read more on cyclone impacts on the coral near our ports.

    You can see more analysis on the data in these reports.

    Soft coral cover at Hay Point & Mackay

    1. Please note y-axis is dynamic and therefore differs between each tab.2. SEs (standard errors) can be accessed in the full reports on our reports and research page.3. Note: Pre and post wet season annual surveys commenced in 2015.

    What the chart shows

    Four extreme cyclonic weather events impacted these inshore island locations between 2010 and 2017. (Cyclone Yasi occurred in January 2010.) These events not only had significant effects on hard coral cover - with reduction at Slade Islet and Round Top - but also preceded a marked increase in macroalgae at all locations.

    From 2010 to 2017 Macroalgae increased from 6% to 22% on Round Top Island, from 15% to 25% on Slade Islet and from 21% to 28% on Victor Islet. At Keswick, where monitoring began in 2015 macroalgae decreased from 41% to 27% in 2017. Read more on cyclone impacts on the coral near our ports.

    You can see more analysis on the data in these reports.

    Macroalgae cover at Hay Point & Mackay

    1. Please note y-axis is dynamic and therefore differs between each tab.2. SEs (standard errors) can be accessed in the full reports on our reports and research page.3. Note: Pre and post wet season annual surveys commenced in 2015.
  • We survey transects (paths) across each of the two island communities in the Abbot Point region, both pre- and post-wet season. At each transect, benthic (seafloor) cover is classified into categories of cover type and provides information on the dominant reef structure (hard or soft), as well as the extent of macroalgae, which can impede the growth of corals. Information on the extent of bleached, diseased or damaged corals is also determined, which provides information on the health of the coral community. Click below on each site.

    Monitoring Locations
    Camp Island
    • Camp Island has a comparatively high macroalgae cover; however, it was also able to maintain hard coral cover through TC Debbie with only small reductions. The Camp Island coral community is dominated by fast growing hard corals.

      Mean percentage of Benthic Composition

    • The 2018-19 summer sea surface temperatures and accumulated heat stress were significantly milder than levels in 2016-17. Hence, the 2018 and 2019 pre-wet surveys show no evidence of bleaching. Elevated temperatures in early 2020, however, contributed to a comparatively high occurrence of bleaching. Damage from predation and disease has also been consistently recorded at Holbourne Island.

      Mean density of affected coral colonies per 40 square metres

    Holbourne Island
    • Holbourne Island has comparatively very low macroalgae cover; however, TC Debbie was shown to have had a devastating impact on coral cover, with a loss of more than 75% of coral cover. Recovery of these communities remains, to-date, negligible.

      Mean percentage of Benthic Composition

    • The 2018-19 summer sea surface temperatures and accumulated heat stress were significantly milder than levels in 2016-17. Hence, the 2018 and 2019 pre-wet surveys show no evidence of bleaching. Elevated temperatures in early 2020, however, contributed to a comparatively high occurrence of bleaching. Damage from predation and disease has also been consistently recorded at Holbourne Island.

      Mean density of affected coral colonies per 40 square metres

    1. Please note y-axis max differs between indicators of health and benthic composition charts.2. SEs (standard errors) can be accessed in the full reports on our reports and research page.3. Indicators of health chart represents pre-wet survey dates only, full survey data can be found in reports download4. Note: Small sponge readings up to approx 0.3 % may not be visible. Please refer to the downloadable data file.

    Coral and Benthos Cover at Abbot Point

    Corals and benthos (sea floor) cover naturally acclimatise to disturbances like cyclones, high water temperatures, and freshwater influx and elevated turbidity (sediment in water) from flooding. Measuring coral cover, alongside diversity, juvenile recruitment, and bleaching and disease, can help us to anticipate recovery potential.

    What the chart shows

    Surveys at Abbot Point commenced in 2016. A clear impact from Tropical Cyclone Debbie was shown 18 months later at Holbourne Island, which was most affected, given the cyclone's trajectory. Holbourne Island has struggled to recover from these impacts and has also been predated by crown-of-thorns.

    Camp Island hard coral communities, however, were somewhat protected by the angle of approach of the cyclone and have shown strong recovery since then. At the most recent survey, however, coral bleaching was found to be affecting corals at all locations, with just below 40% of corals bleached and a high percentage of mortality at Camp Island (cover reduced from 24% to 17%).

    You can see more analysis on the data in these reports.

    Hard coral cover at Abbot Point

    1. Please note y-axis is dynamic and therefore differs between each tab.2. SEs (standard errors) can be accessed in the full reports on our reports and research page.

    What the chart shows

    Surveys at Abbot Point commenced in 2016. A clear impact from Tropical Cyclone Debbie was shown 18 months later at Holbourne Island, which had a high soft coral cover prior to this and has struggled to recover since.

    While appearing slow to recover, the soft coral increases shown since 2018 for Holbourne are significant and indicate potential improvement in recovery rate. Camp Island communities however have never recorded high percentages of soft coral cover, being dominated by hard corals, such as the fast growing Acropora spp. corals (47%) and Montipora spp. (39%).

    You can see more analysis on the data in these reports.

    Soft coral cover at Abbot Point

    1. Please note y-axis is dynamic and therefore differs between each tab.2. SEs (standard errors) can be accessed in the full reports on our reports and research page.

    What the chart shows

    Holbourne Island is a more mid-shelf location than Camp Island. As is usually the case on inshore fringing reefs, reefs around this island did not show high levels of macroalgae. Cover during the most recent surveys was only around 1.5%.

    Camp Island, by comparison, was found to have much higher macroalgae cover at 35%; nonetheless, this was a significant reduction from 41% previously recorded. The decrease was likely influenced by normal seasonal nutrient fluctuations.

    The main influences on coral health at Holbourne Island are predation by sea snails and crown-of-thorns, rather than macroalgae. By comparison, the coral communities at Camp Island appear more susceptible to the higher levels of macroalgae and to high temperatures causing bleaching effects.

    You can see more analysis on the data in these reports.

    Macroalgae cover at Abbot Point

    1. Please note y-axis is dynamic and therefore differs between each tab.2. SEs (standard errors) can be accessed in the full reports on our reports and research page.

Marine monitoring at NQBP

We conduct a wide range of marine monitoring at our ports and in the surrounding Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Areas year-round. Kevin Kane, NQBP director environment, and our partners at James Cook University's TropWATER, take us on a tour.

Watch dive surveys in action

NQBP undertakes a comprehensive ambient marine monitoring program, looking at a variety of elements including seagrass, coral and water quality.

Extensive ambient marine environmental monitoring of water quality, coral and seagrass by our environmental partners James Cook University and TropWATER assist us to ensure risks to the environment are managed and ship trade continues in and out of our ports.

Watch JCU scientists in action on the reef while completing monitoring in our Port waters off Mackay in May 2021.