Nick is a Royal Society Research Fellow and a Professor in Marine Ecology at the Lancaster Environment Centre, UK. Prior to joining Lancaster University, Nick was based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, Australia. He is a Highly Cited Researcher, and was awarded the 2019 International Coral Reef Society Mid- Career Scientist Award. Much of his research over the past 15 years has been in the western Indian Ocean region. He tackles large-scale ecological and social-ecological coral reef issues under the overarching themes of climate change, human use and resilience. He has assessed the impacts of climate-induced coral bleaching on coral reef fish assemblages, fisheries, and ecosystem stability. He has studied the patterns and processes by which degraded coral reefs recover, and how this can be influenced by management. He has worked extensively on the ecological ramifications of fishing and closed area management. He works with social scientists linking social-ecological systems for natural resource assessment and management.
The 2016 coral bleaching event has devastated coral reefs across much of the Indo-Pacific. Many reefs have lost substantial amounts of live coral, are vulnerable to collapse, and the knock-on effects to the wider ecosystem are still unfolding. While this is an unprecedented event, nearly 20 years ago, the 1998 bleaching event had similar impacts to much of the western Indian Ocean region. In this talk, I will draw on the lessons learnt from research in the aftermath of these two major bleaching events, and the decades between them. Boom and bust dynamics of keystone reef structures are now evident, with major responses in fish and benthic configurations. Strong feedbacks are maintaining some reefs in a degraded state, and these feedbacks may need to be weakened to encourage recovery. Fisheries may not be as vulnerable to these changing configurations as anticipated due to fast-growing productive species. The performance of marine protected areas has changed through the long-term post-bleaching coral reef reorganization, with the species benefiting from protection now being quite different to those on pre-bleaching reefs. Careful management of fisheries and ensuring the right nutrients reach coral reefs may help enhance coral reef functions and reef recovery rates from major bleaching events.