Conservation value of a subtropical reef in south-eastern Queensland, Australia, highlighted by citizen-science efforts
Subtropical reefs are important habitats for many marine species and for tourism and recreation. Yet, subtropical reefs are understudied, and detailed habitat maps are seldom available. Citizen science can help fill this gap, while fostering community engagement and education. In this study, 44 trained volunteers conducted an ecological assessment of subtropical Flinders Reef using established Reef Check and CoralWatch protocols. In 2017, 10 sites were monitored to provide comprehensive information on reef communities and to estimate potential local drivers of coral community structure. A detailed habitat map was produced by integrating underwater photos, depth measurements, wave-exposure modelling and satellite imagery. Surveys showed that coral cover ranged from 14% to 67%. Site location and wave exposure explained 47% and 16% respectively, of the variability in coral community composition. Butterflyfishes were the most abundant fish group, with few invertebrates being observed during the surveys. Reef impacts were three times lower than on other nearby subtropical reefs. These findings can be used to provide local information to spatial management and Marine Park planning. To increase the conservation benefits and to maintain the health of Flinders Reef, we recommend expanding the current protection zone from 500- to a 1000-m radius.