Publication Details

Puotinen, M. L. (2005). An automated GIS method for modeling relative wave exposure within complex reef-island systems: a case study of the Great Barrier Reef. In A. Zerger & R. Argent (Eds.), Congress of the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (pp. 1437-1443). Melbourne, Australia: Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand.


Patterns of wave energy play a significant role in shaping the long-term structure of coral reef communities worldwide. For example, sections of reefs have been shown to vary greatly in morphology (dominant size class, growth form) as coral colonies adapt in response to local-scale differences in the wave heights typically experienced. These differences result in zonation (crest, lagoon, and slope), producing characteristic growth forms and species assemblages that vary in their vulnerability to damage from waves (Done 1993). Those communities experiencing the greatest typical wave energy align themselves parallel to the water flow, adopt stream-lined forms and are usually smaller in size – all of which reduces their vulnerability to wave damage (Tunnicliffe 1982). Also important to the state of reef community structure at a given time is the recent history of waves generated by high intensity, episodic events such as tropical cyclones (Hughes and Connell 1999). The greatest potential for cyclone damage occurs when waves approach a part of a reef that is typically sheltered from heavy wave action under routine conditions (Harmelin- Vivien 1994). In this case, corals are often more fragile and/or weakly attached to the reef, and much less wave energy is required for damage to occur than in for corals that are routinely exposed to the same forces.