Heron Island Field Trip

Author: Andrew Baird

Project Phoenix recently visited Heron Island Research Station in the Capricorn Bunker Group on the Great Barrier Reef in their ongoing hunt for coral topotypes and new species. At least 7 nominal species of Scleractinia have type locations in the region and we are confident we found representatives of most of these, including Acropora baeodactyla (Brook 1892), Montipora capricornis (Veron 1985), M. socialis (Bernard 1897), Porites heronensis (Veron 1985) and Turbinaria heronensis (Wells 1959; pictured below).

Topotype of Turbinaria heronensis collected during this trip, Photo credit: Hanaka Mera

In addition to these topotypes, there are almost certainly many undescribed species on the reefs surrounding Heron Island. Many of these are likely to be endemic to the region because the reefs look very different to those further north. For example, we did not see a single colony of either of the two table Acropora spp. that dominate the reefs in the Palm Islands; Acropora pectinata (Brook 1892) and one we are calling Acropora “neat”. On Heron Island, these have been replaced by one species that might be A. hyacinthus (Dana 1846) and a number of others that we are calling A. “spikey-table”, A. “fleshy-table”, and A. “hyacinthus-bifurcata”.

Acropora cf. hyacinthus and “hyacinthus-bifurcata”, Photo credit: Andrew Baird

Other notable discoveries on the trip were the fact that at least two species of Acropora had mature eggs. A coral spawn slick observed on morning of the 6th February 2021 suggests they might have spawned 8 nights after the full moon on 28th January. The reefs around Heron Island are in great shape, with sensational coral cover at most sites, despite some evidence of low levels of mortality from the bleaching early in 2020 at some sites.

A coral spawn slick in the water off Heron Island on the 6th February 2021, Photo credit: Tom Bridge

Project Phoenix thanks Jeremy Horowitz, who paid for the field work with his Danielle Simmons Award from Australian Coral Reef Society, ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies and the staff at Heron Island Research Station who were all wonderful.

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