Coral Reef Project

Coral reefs cover less than 0.1% of the marine environment but serve as a home to over a quarter of all marine biodiversity. They also serve as principal spawning, nursery, breeding and feeding areas for a lot of organisms. In addition to their importance to biodiversity, reefs also support local populations with food, coastal protection, building materials, medicines, and economic benefit from tourism and fisheries.

Despite their importance, several human impacts threaten coral reefs: overfishing, pollution, coastal development, destructive tourism activities, and climate change. Recent climate change models predict an increase in the frequency and severity of mass coral bleaching events, an increase in coral mortality, and phase-shifts in the ecosystem structure where competitive algae overtake corals in reef habitats.

One of the key factors that inhibit the transition from coral to algal dominance is the grazing activity of herbivorous fish and sea urchins. Herbivores regulate the competitive relationship between macroalgae and coral communities by removing competitively dominant algae that can inhibit coral growth. Studies conducted on herbivorous fish and sea urchins also showed that elevated grazing activity positively affects the density and diversity of coral recruits settling to reefs, indicating that herbivores play a vital role in the recovery of reefs by opening and maintaining space for coral recruits following disturbance.

It is likely that herbivores will play a vital role in the resilience and recovery of coral reefs amid climate change increases in the degradation of reef habitats. However, it is unclear the magnitude and extent of the impact of herbivores under increasing sea surface temperatures. The physical conditions within the Arabian Gulf make this area an ideal place to study the effects of climate change on oceanic processes, and possible future changes in general coral reefs, due to its strong variation in sea surface temperatures and high salinity.

With this study, EDA tries to understand how herbivorous functional group affects the structure and function of benthic communities in a natural environment with high variations (sea-surface temperatures and salinity). This study will help determine the key herbivorous groups that will possibly play a key role in the resilience and recovery of reefs in future extreme environments. As so, the extrapolation of these results can help in predicting alterations likely to occur in other regions worldwide as a consequence of climate change.