Is monitoring for mass spawning events in coral assemblages in north Western Australia likely to detect spawning?
In north Western Australia coral reefs occur near ports being developed to support rapidly expanding resources industries. Dredging for port construction is required to stop during significant mass coral spawning events due to the sensitivity of gametes and larvae to increases in turbidity and sedimentation, but the timing of this event can vary between seasons and years so monitoring is used to predict when spawning is imminent. Here we used simulations to mimick sampling strategies currently used in some coral spawning monitoring programmes in Western Australia, to assess the ability of these programmes to be able to predict multi-specific mass spawning events. We found that current practices may sometimes miss spawning events that are likely to be considered large enough to warrant stopping dredging. Generally, sampling fewer individuals in a large number of species is a better way of monitoring for upcoming spawning than sampling a large number of individuals in a small number of species, but overall, greater sampling efforts than are currently undertaken are needed if moderately sized events are to be detected reliably. Determining exactly how many samples are needed, however, depends on having a clearer definition of what actually constitutes a "significant mass spawning" event in the first place.