Hard branching coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water
Subtidal coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water, dominated by branching hard corals.
Disclaimer: Ecosystem type descriptions are based on biophysical attributes identified in Central Queensland through expert advice and supported by scientific literature. Not all ecosystem types are mapped based on current inventory, and many of the ecosystems described here may also occur in other parts of Queensland.
Select from the links below to view related ecosystem type categories
Subtidal branching hard coral on consolidated substrate in shallow water to deep water on fringing reefs, reef slopes, patch reefs or platform reefs. Typically dominated by Acropora spp. or Pocillopora damicornis, noting that Acropora spp. can also exist in other forms (e.g. tabular). Branching hard corals are also known as staghorn corals.
Branching corals often experience some wave action and if pieces are broken off by a storm they can disperse vegetatively. Branching corals can be very fast-growing and are capable of recovery after events such as flooding.
Species diversity of the Acropora genus is highest in north Queensland and on the offshore reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, and also on coral rocky communities influenced by the East Australian Current further south. Inner shelf and fringing reefs have a lower species diversity, especially towards their range limits where high latitude specialists such as Acropora bushyensis occur. Some shallow water Acropora spp. are depth generalists, also found in mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs. i.e. low-light coral ecosystems).
The values of Queensland’s coral reefs are internationally recognised in the World Heritage and Ramsar conventions. The Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area is based on four criteria (vii), (viii), (ix), (x). The Ramsar convention also includes coral reefs as one of its wetland types which make up part of a site’s ecological character (a combination of the ecosystem components, processes and services of the wetland). The Great Sandy Strait Ramsar wetland includes coral reefs (e.g. Woody and Round Island reefs, coral communities at Little Woody Island, and soft corals on coffee rock reefs). Shoalwater and Corio Bays Ramsar wetland and the Moreton Bay Ramsar Wetland also include fringing coral reefs.
Branching corals are significant reef-building species that create structural substrates and are highly valued for their recreational (snorkelling, spear-fishing, angling) tourism and aesthetic values. They form important fish habitats for a variety of coral-dwelling fish species and support major line fin fisheries (e.g. coral trout, red throat emperor, slatey bream Diagramma picta, tuskfish and wrasses such as parrotfish) and sharks.
Coral reefs and communities also stabilise the shoreline preventing erosion and protect the coastline by moderating the impacts of waves.
Benthic depth 'Shallow (0–10m)', 'Deep (10-30m)' however mapped coral mostly occurs in shallow water to 8 metres
Structural macrobiota 'Hard coral - branching'
Period and Trend qualifiers are relevant to subtidal branching hard coral ecosystems that fluctuate in their extent and composition subject to storm, cyclone and flood events. Physical breakages can disperse the coral pieces to form new colonies with rapid growth (Zann pers. obs.). The Cover qualifier is relevant as percentage cover of branching corals is of relevance to coral ecosystem monitoring.
Branching corals in shallow to deep water constitute the major reef-building corals of the outer Great Barrier Reef platform reefs and coral cays, and are also found on inshore fringing reefs such as the far north Queensland coastline, on continental islands such as the Whitsundays, Magnetic Island and the Keppels, and in creeks and bays such as Pancake Creek and Hervey Bay in Central Queensland. Further south the warm East Australian Current influences offshore branching coral-dominated communities of rocky reefs of the Sunshine Coast (e.g. Inner and Outer Gneerings) and Moreton Bay (Flinders Reef, Flat Rock and Shag Rock), off the New South Wales coastline at Byron Bay and the Solitary Islands, and further offshore at Middleton Reef and Lord Howe Island. Branching corals are present in Moreton Bay but do not form significant stands (e.g. at Myora on North Stradbroke Island).
The following relates to distribution of this ecosystem type within the Central Queensland mapping area:
Other relevant attributes include Energy magnitude (wave) as branching corals frequently grow where there is some wave action, at levels imperceptible by the very coarse wave energy attribute dataset. Water clarity and Freshwater volume are relevant water column attributes as nearshore branching coral reefs in the path of river flood plumes are shaped by these plumes, as is Sediment texture of suspended sediment/sediment deposited by floods. Water clarity is a strong determinant of the commonly-occurring branching genus Acropora in term of occurrence and depth. Acropora is also very sensitive to human-related impacts.
Water temperature is critical to all corals as they are sensitive to extremes of heat and cold, resulting in bleaching due to the loss of endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (e.g. zooxanthellae) and therefore the ability to photosynthesise.
Benthic rugosity of coral reefs, particularly branching corals, is important for creating three-dimensional living space for biota including fish. This also allows more shading which can protect corals during bleaching events.
Protecting the Great Barrier Reef - Queensland Government
Coral - Department of Environment and Science
Coral reefs - Queensland Museum
The Reef - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Nationally (DIWA) and internationally important (Ramsar) wetlands - WetlandInfo
Coral Indicators for the 2017 Gladstone Harbour Report Card - Australian Institute of Marine Science
Reef Report Card 2016 - Queensland Government
Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Monitoring inshore reefs - Australian Institute of Marine Science
Reef Check Methods - Reef Check Australia
Coral reefs - Museum of Tropical Queensland
Remote Sensing Research Centre - The University of Queensland
Last updated: 18 July 2019
This page should be cited as:
Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2019) Hard branching coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water, WetlandInfo website, accessed 1 February 2023. Available at: https://wetlandinfo.des.qld.gov.au/wetlands/ecology/aquatic-ecosystems-natural/estuarine-marine/descriptions/74/