Stella Fulton

MSc Candidate

Stella is a new postgraduate student in the TropWATER team working on coral reef restoration. Her project centres around macroalgal removal as a coral reef restoration technique, based out at Magnetic Island. The growing dominance of fleshy macroalgae on many coral reefs is recognised as a threat to coral health and the people who depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods. Physically removing macroalgae has been proposed as a method to improve coral dominance on algal-dominated coral reefs. The current state of knowledge surrounding macroalgal removal was reviewed in 2018. This review highlighted important knowledge gaps related to the physical and ecological consequences of macroalgal removal. The objective of this project is to further our understanding of the ecosystem-wide impacts of macroalgal removal and to determine its potential as a localised recovery strategy for inshore reefs. Specifically, the sedimentation dynamics and benthic community composition associated with macroalgal removal will be explored using a variety of techniques. Data collected will be used to quantify the impact of macroalgal removal on inshore coral reefs. A key focus of the project will be the development of mathematical models to predict long-term effects and define thresholds for macroalgal removal as an active intervention strategy for coral recovery. Such models may prove instructive in a management and conservation context, further synthesising the efficacy of macroalgal removal as an economically, socially, and environmentally viable restoration technique. It is expected that this project will help inform decision making by end-users and assist in developing science-based best-practices for coral restoration on the Great Barrier Reef.

Stella’s work forms part of a larger project funded by EarthWatch Institute, allowing for citizen science engagement. The overarching project went through a pilot study and scale-up phase in 2018-2019 establishing the best way forward to progress with macroalgal removal in terms of experimental design and methodology. Stella will build off the work already completed and incorporate the existing data into her analysis of the ecosystem-wide impacts of macroalgal removal on Magnetic Island reefs. Since she commenced in January this year, Stella has participated and helped organise a couple of field trips out to Magnetic Island to collect data for her project and continue monitoring the sites already established as part of the pilot study. Currently, Stella is developing a partnership with AIMS under the guidance of her advisors to help build capacity and extend the scope of her work.

MSc Advisors: David Bourne, Ian McLeod, Cathie Page and Hillary Smith.



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