Developing a climate change resilience index for the Great Barrier Reef: Part 2

Bill Dennison ·
20 February 2014
Science Communication | 

Following a day of scientific talks where the various climate change resilience indicators were presented, we had dinner at a nice restaurant on The Strand, a popular Townsville promenade overlooking the harbor. On the second day, we sketched a few conceptual diagrams, generated a prototype reef resilience index and storyboarded a trifold document. In addition, all of the scientists drafted text and Emily Saeck was able to quickly produce a first draft of the trifold and we conducted a plenary review and editing of the text, figures and diagrams. It was nice to be able to walk away from the workshop with a complete draft of the workshop summary in the form of a trifold.

Group photo at Great Barrier Reef climate change resilience index workshop, James Cook University.

There are various threats to the Great Barrier Reef that have been studied for many years like crown-of-thorns seastars, thermal bleaching, and cyclones; but the emergence of ocean acidification as a major threat to the Great Barrier Reef is cause for concern. Unlike bleaching, crown-of-thorns and cyclones that are episodic and often localized, ocean acidification is chronic and widespread. Ocean acidification is also cumulative, with little opportunity for refuge for affected corals.

Defining the word 'resilience' is a topic often discussed by ecologists. Our approach to defining the word is to separate the elements of resilience into a) resistance to change and b) recovery from disturbance and creating a conceptual diagram which contrasts less resilient from more resilient. In this way, producing a conceptual diagram helps to clarify as well as communicate the term 'resilience'.

A bonus of this workshop was that I was able to visit with two former Marine Botany members following the workshop. Catherine Collier, seagrass scientist at James Cook University, and her husband Dieter Tracey, who worked with me producing the book 'Where river meets sea: Exploring Australia's estuaries (2004)', live in Townsville with their very cute children Amelia and Luca. Dieter showed me a science communication project that he is working on with another Marine Botany group member, Simon Albert. Both Cath and Dieter are very talented science communicators.

Cath Collier and Dieter Tracey with their daughter Amelia and son Luca.

I wrote a poem about the workshop which is as follows:

Keeping the Great Barrier Reef Great


           William C. Dennison


It's warming up in the sea

We can't burn fuel for free

It's causing us problems, you see

And it's getting more caustic every day

Volcanic seeps are showing us the way

Pink crusts and pink sands will go away

But along will come bright green seagrass

Generating some big plant biomass

Creating nice gardens for the wrasse

If we keep on going at this rate

The Great Barrier Reef won't be great

A truly awful, terrible fate

Using mass specs and an underwater submarine

The scientists are really very keen

To make future reefs a better scene

Developing an index for all to see

Indicators and thresholds are the key

To climate resilience and habitat complexity

Adapting to climate is a challenge supreme

We need lots of good tools and a great team

Using science to solve problems is not just a dream

We gathered together on the campus of JCU

We gave ourselves various chores to do

So that we can create something brand new

We can evaluate with good data not just belief

To avoid setting ourselves up for grief

Producing a climate report card for the Great Barrier Reef.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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