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Hard non-branching coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water

Short description

Subtidal coral ecosystems on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water, dominated by non-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.

Subtidal coral at Point Vernon. Photo by Kirsten Wortel, Queensland Government

Classification categories

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Long description

Subtidal non-branching hard coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water, predominantly on fringing reefs and the inner Great Barrier Reef shelf but also on reef flats, reef slopes, patch reefs, platform reefs or rocky foreshores. Non-branching corals include massive, submassive, plate/table, bushy, vase/foliose or encrusting growth forms. Growth forms of coral are influenced by biophysical factors including depth, light and currents. Generally, non-branching corals tolerate more turbid waters than branching corals (e.g. coral cores in Hervey Bay[6]). Non-branching coral ecosystems can have high species diversity, particularly within the subtropics where both tropical and temperate species co-occur at the limit of their range[3].

Non-branching corals include those with a tolerance to low Water clarity, low/fluctuating Water temperatures and seasonal Period, suited to high latitudes and inshore (turbid) waters. High latitude corals occur from the subtropics southward into temperate waters, where well-developed reefs are usually replaced by coral communities on consolidated substrates (see type 100 and refer to Figure 1 Fringing reefs - Definition of terms and typical dimensions of reefs[17]. There may be a change in dominant growth form from branching and other erect growth forms to either massive or encrusting[16][3]. High latitude generalist species also found in the tropics include Goniastrea australensis, Turbinaria mesenterina and Turbinaria frondens[16]. Specialists confined to high latitudes include Turbinaria bifrons, Turbinaria radicalis, Turbinaria conspicuaAcanthastrea lordhowensis, Acanthastrea hillae and Acanthastrea bowerbanki,[8][18] together with the latter two in turbid, strong current influenced reefs of Shoalwater Bay[2].

Non-branching corals of inshore waters can also be significant reef-builders even in the subtropics. Massive corals can live for hundreds of years and grow to several metres in diameter, for example scientists have drilled cores from Porites spp. coral to document environmental change of the Great Barrier Reef. Corals of the families Dendrophyllidae and Merulinidae (formerly Faviidae) tend to be tolerant of low light and high nutrient conditions experienced on nearshore fringing reefs. Turbid water specialists of the inner Great Barrier Reef are capable of rapid growth, forming monospecific stands of many hectares[4][13][2][18]. Both genera are heterotrophic (i.e. capturing planktonic prey as an alternative to photosynthesis), a distinct advantage in turbid waters[1].

Special values

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 also includes coral reefs (e.g. Woody and Round Island reefs, coral communities at Little Woody Island, and soft corals on coffee rock reef). Shoalwater and Corio Bays Ramsar wetland and the Moreton Bay Ramsar wetland also includes fringing coral reefs.

Non-branching corals may be significant reef-building species on mainland fringing reefs, islands of the inner continental shelf and in turbid waters, have high coral cover double that of shelf reefs[13][18], or represent large old individuals[8] (e.g. Porites spp. and Psammocora spp. brain corals)[9]. These create structural substrates valued for their recreational (snorkelling, spear-fishing, angling), tourism and aesthetic values. They also occur on rocky reefs at high latitudes. They form important fish habitats for a variety of coral-dwelling fish species (and support major line fin fisheries) and sharks. Certain colourful non-branching corals are targeted by aquarium collectors and may have restricted range (e.g. Acanthastrea lordhowensis).

Coral reefs and communities also stabilise the shoreline preventing erosion and protect the coastline by moderating the impacts of waves[15].

Diagnostic attributes

Inundation 'Subtidal'

Benthic depth 'Shallow (0–10m)', 'Deep (10-30m)' however mapped coral mostly occurred in shallow water to 8 metres

Consolidation 'Consolidated'

Structural macrobiota 'Hard coral - branching'


Period and Trend qualifiers are relevant to subtidal non-branching hard coral ecosystems that fluctuate in their extent and composition in response to freshwater and suspended sediment from storm, cyclone and flood events (e.g. Hervey Bay and Great Sandy Strait fringing reefs[5][6]). Cover qualifiers are important for monitoring purposes, as the proportion of branching corals to non-branching corals can be informative and can characterise different types of communities experiencing different environmental conditions.


Non-branching corals in shallow to deep water constitute the dominant reef-building corals of inshore fringing reefs and coral communities. Non-branching coral fringing reefs and coral communities often occur in closer proximity to land and continental islands such as the Whitsundays, and in southern Queensland are a major feature of the Keppel Islands.

Dominant structural forms and genera vary in latitude and in proximity to the edge of the continental shelf and shoreline. Non-branching corals dominating Paluma Shoals reef complex in Cleveland Bay included the genera Montipora, Turbinaria and Porites (also branching Acropora spp.)[13]. At Shoalwater Bay and in Hervey Bay foliose, cabbage-like Turbinaria spp. corals and the flower-like submassive Goniopora spp. whose polyps are emergent in the daytime and are often mistaken for soft corals[18]. Massive brain corals (Merulinidae, formerly Faviidae) are characteristic of Moreton Bay coral communities growing on rocky substrate and on old limestone reefs, but do not form significant reefs today[10][12].

The following relates to distribution of this ecosystem type within the Central Queensland mapping area:

  • Non-branching corals are recorded on Rundle Island[7] and near Rat Island[12] inside Facing Island. Outside Facing Island is also dominated by non-branching corals including massive and foliose growth forms[2].
  • The southernmost mainland fringing reefs in eastern Australia at Hervey Bay are dominated by non-branching coral reefs chiefly composed of Turbinaria spp. and Goniopora spp. reef-building corals (Hervey Bay)[18].


Consolidation indicates other potential areas of inshore non-branching coral communities and reefs. Energy source (e.g. wave, currents and tides) and Energy magnitude propels sediment from the substrate into the water column. Water clarity is relevant because of suspended sediment in the water column either in response to wind-driven waves, or from sediment runoff in floods and cyclones. Freshwater influence and Freshwater volume are other water column attributes related to flood events influencing inshore non-branching coral ecosystems. 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[11].

Benthic rugosity of coral reefs is important for creating three-dimensional living space for biota including fish, and allowing more shading which can protect corals during bleaching events[14].

Additional Information

Protecting the Great Barrier Reef - Queensland Government

Coral - Department of Environment, Science and Innovation

Coral reefs - Queensland Museum

The Reef - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Corals of the World

Great Barrier Reef - UNESCO

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


  1. ^ Anthony, KRN & Connolly, SR (2004), 'Environmental limits to growth: Physiological niche boundaries of corals along turbidity-light gradients', Oecologia, vol. 141, no. 3, pp. 373-384.
  2. ^ a b c Ayling, AM, Ayling, AL & Berkelmans, R (1998), Shoalwater Bay fringing reef resource assessment, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
  3. ^ a b Beger, M, Sommer, B, Harrison, PL, Smith, SDA & Pandolfi, JM (2014), 'Conserving potential coral reef refuges at high latitudes', Diversity and Distributions, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 245-257, Wiley Online Library.
  4. ^ Browne, NK, Smithers, SG & Perry, CT (March 2013), 'Spatial and temporal variations in turbidity on two inshore turbid reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia', Coral Reefs. [online], vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 195-210. Available at: [Accessed 15 March 2019].
  5. ^ Butler, IR, Sommer, B, Zann, M, Zhao, J & Pandolfi, JM (2013), 'The impacts of flooding on the high-latitude, terrigenoclastic influenced coral reefs of Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia', Coral Reefs, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 1149-1163, Springer.
  6. ^ a b Butler, IR (2015), Flood response and palaeoecology of the high-latitude, terrigenoclastic influenced coral reefs of Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. PhD thesis, School of Biological Sciences The University of Queensland.
  7. ^ Ceccarelli, DM, Ayling, AM & Ayling, AL (2013), Changes in Benthic Communities on Fringing Coral Reefs around Facing Island: August 2013.
  8. ^ a b Devantier, LD (2010), Reef-building corals of Hervey Bay, South-East Queensland. [online] Available at:
  9. ^ Done, TJ (1995), 'Ecological criteria for evaluating coral reefs and their implications for managers and researchers', Coral Reefs, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 183-192, Springer.
  10. ^ Fellegara, I & Harrison, PL (2008), 'Status of the subtropical scleractinian coral communities in the turbid environment of Moreton Bay, southeast Queensland', Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop: The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay, Queensland, pp. 277-291.
  11. ^ Hoegh-Guldberg, O (1999), 'Climate change, coral bleaching and the future of the world's coral reefs', Marine and Freshwater Research. [online], vol. 50, no. 8, p. 839. Available at: [Accessed 11 June 2019].
  12. ^ a b Lybolt, M, Neil, D, Zhao, J, Feng, Y, Yu, KF & Pandolfi, J (2010), 'Instability in a marginal coral reef: the shift from natural variability to a human-dominated seascape', Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 154-160, Eco Soc America.
  13. ^ a b c Morgan, KM, Perry, CT, Smithers, SG, Johnson, JA & Daniell, JJ (September 2016), 'Evidence of extensive reef development and high coral cover in nearshore environments: implications for understanding coral adaptation in turbid settings', Scientific Reports. [online], vol. 6, no. 1. Available at: [Accessed 21 March 2019].
  14. ^ Muir, P, Wallace, C, Bridge, TCL & Bongaerts, P (25 February 2015), 'Diverse Staghorn Coral Fauna on the Mesophotic Reefs of North-East Australia', PLOS ONE. [online], vol. 10, no. 2, p. e0117933, ed. S C A Ferse. Available at: [Accessed 19 March 2019].
  15. ^ Siebentritt, M (2016), Understanding sea-level rise and climate change, and associated impacts on the coastal zone. CoastAdapt Information Manual 2.
  16. ^ a b Sommer, B, Harrison, PL, Beger, M & Pandolfi, JM (April 2014), 'Trait-mediated environmental filtering drives assembly at biogeographic transition zones', Ecology. [online], vol. 95, no. 4, pp. 1000-1009. Available at: [Accessed 19 March 2019].
  17. ^ Van Woesik, R & Done, TJ (1997), 'Coral communities and reef growth in the southern Great Barrier Reef', Coral Reefs, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 103-115, Springer.
  18. ^ a b c d e Zann, M (2012), The use of remote sensing and field validation for mapping coral communities of Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Strait and implications for coastal planning policy, The University of Queensland.

Last updated: 18 July 2019

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2019) Hard non-branching coral on consolidated substrate in shallow to deep water, WetlandInfo website, accessed 18 March 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation