The climate emergency is driving global ocean heating, acidification and disruption of major surface currents. Waves of mass coral bleaching rolling across the world's oceans are providing dramatic visuals of the consequences of these changing environmental conditions. We are witnessing a profound rearrangement of tropical reef ecosystems – can we expect them to support diverse and productive fish assemblages into the future? In the wake of mass coral bleaching, macroalgae has been suggested as one alternative group that may emerge to dominate tropical reefs. In this talk I explore the relative productivity of alternate reef states, such as coral and macroalgae, and ask whether macroalgal reefs can support diverse and productive fish and fisheries for the many maritime nations dependent on tropical reefs for their wellbeing. Given the emerging responses of macroalgal reefs to climatic forcing, the news is both good and bad, but it will be catastrophic if we do not make the right decisions over the near to medium term.
Chris Fulton is an Associate Professor in Marine Ecology and Conservation at The Australian National University in Canberra, where he leads a diverse team of scientists who conduct research, provide tertiary education, and advise industry and government on threats to the health and function of marine and freshwater ecosystems. Chris is interested in how environmental conditions shape the evolution and ecology of fishes and their habitats, and the implications for managing marine social-ecological systems. Chris is also interested in exploring novel mechanisms for science communication and knowledge transfer.