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Shifts in coralline algae, macroalgae, and coral juveniles in the Great Barrier Reef associated with present-day ocean acidification.


Seawater acidification from increasing CO is often enhanced in coastal waters due to elevated nutrients and sedimentation. Our understanding of the effects of ocean and coastal acidification on present-day ecosystems is limited. Here we use data from three independent large-scale reef monitoring programs to assess coral reef responses associated with changes in mean aragonite saturation state (Ω ) in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBR). Spatial declines in mean Ω are associated with monotonic declines in crustose coralline algae (up to 3.1-fold) and coral juvenile densities (1.3-fold), while non-calcifying macroalgae greatly increase (up to 3.2-fold), additionally to their natural changes across and along the GBR. These three key groups of organisms are important proxies for coral reef health. Our data suggest a tipping point at Ω 3.5-3.6 for these coral reef health indicators. Suspended sediments acted as an additive stressor. The latter suggests that effective water quality management to reduce suspended sediments might locally and temporarily reduce the pressure from ocean acidification on these organisms. © 2020 Commonwealth of Australia. Global Change Biology © 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.