Publication Details

Leon, J. X. & Woodroffe, C. D. (2013). Morphological characterisation of reef types in Torres Strait and an assessment of their carbonate production. Marine Geology, 338 (N/A), 64-75.


Coral reefs represent major accumulations of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The particularly labyrinthine network of reefs in Torres Strait, north of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), has been examined in order to estimate their gross CaCO3 productivity. The approach involved a two-step procedure, first characterising and classifying the morphology of reefs based on a classification scheme widely employed on the GBR and then estimating gross CaCO3 productivity rates across the region using a regional census-based approach. This was undertaken by independently verifying published rates of coral reef community gross production for use in Torres Strait, based on site-specific ecological and morphological data. A total of 606 reef platforms were mapped and classified using classification trees. Despite the complexity of the maze of reefs in Torres Strait, there are broad morphological similarities with reefs in the GBR. The spatial distribution and dimensions of reef types across both regions are underpinned by similar geological processes, sea-level history in the Holocene and exposure to the same wind/wave energetic regime, resulting in comparable geomorphic zonation. However, the presence of strong tidal currents flowing through Torres Strait and the relatively shallow and narrow dimensions of the shelf exert a control on local morphology and spatial distribution of the reef platforms. A total amount of 8.7 million tonnes of CaCO3 per year, at an average rate of 3.7 kg CaCO3 m− 2 yr− 1 (G), were estimated for the studied area. Extrapolated production rates based on detailed and regional census-based approaches for geomorphic zones across Torres Strait were comparable to those reported elsewhere, particularly values for the GBR based on alkalinity-reduction methods. However, differences in mapping methodologies and the impact of reduced calcification due to global trends in coral reef ecological decline and changing oceanic physical conditions warrant further research. The novel method proposed in this study to characterise the geomorphology of reef types based on classification trees provides an objective and repeatable data-driven approach that combined with regional census-based approaches has the potential to be adapted and transferred to different coral reef regions, depicting a more accurate picture of interactions between reef ecology and geomorphology.

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