Global Warming and the Mass Bleaching of Corals

Friday 31 March 2017
6.00 – 7.30 pm

This event has passed


ABS Lt 1040, Abercrombie Business School | Cnr Coddrington & Abercrombie streets, the University of Sydney


Discussing the future of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of climate-induced coral bleaching.

In partnership with SYDNEY IDEAS and Greenpeace Australia Pacific

In this special Sydney Ideas public lecture, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Professor Terry Hughes and the distinguished panel of academics and environmental activists will discuss the future of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of climate-induced coral bleaching. Our panel and audience will have the unique opportunity to hear about the state of Barrier Reef corals from one of its most internationally distinguished analysts. Professor Terry Hughes will discuss with the panel and the audience the key findings of his up-to-the minute study of recurrent coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, the fruits of major study about to appear in the preeminent scientific journal, Nature.

In 2015-2016, record temperatures triggered a pan-tropical episode of coral bleaching, the third global-scale event since mass bleaching was first documented in the 1980s.  Having used aerial and underwater surveys combined with satellite-derived sea surface temperatures, Professor Hughes will outline the nature and severity of recurrent major bleaching events around Australia. He will also offer informed answers to frequently asked questions as to whether water quality, crown of thorns starfish damage, and fishing pressure exercise significant additional pressures on such bleaching outbreaks. He will further discuss likely outcomes for the long-term survival of the Reef should the present patterns of recurrent bleaching continue or intensify in the future. Finally, Professor Hughes and the panel will also ponder what can be done to slow or prevent the present alarming rates of coral ‘die off’ associated with severe and/or recurrent coral bleaching.


  • Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
  • David Ritter, Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific
  • Professor Maria Byrne, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Sydney
  • Professor Iain McCalman, Research Professor of History at the University of Sydney, and Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute

Professor Terry Hughes is the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. He received his PhD in 1984 from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA and was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara before moving to Australia and James Cook University in 1990. Terry has broad research interests in ecology, marine biology and the social-ecological dynamics of coral reefs. Terry was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2001 in recognition of “a career which has significantly advanced the world’s store of scientific knowledge.” In 2007, he was awarded the Sherman Eureka Prize for Environmental Research, and in 2008, he received the prestigious quadrennial Darwin Medal of the International Society for Reef Studies. From 2008-2010, he was a member of the ARC Advisory Council. Terry has been awarded three Federation/Laureate Fellowships by the Australian Research Council, from 2002-2017. In 2014, he was awarded an Einstein Professorship by the Chinese Academy of Science, and in December 2016 he was recognized by Nature magazine as one of the Ten people who mattered this year.

David Ritter is the Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.  He has been with Greenpeace for nine years, campaigning to secure an earth capable of nurturing life in all its amazing diversity. He is an affiliate of both the Sydney Environment Institute and the Sydney Democracy Network.

Maria Byrne is the Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Sydney. She an expert in the biology and ecology of marine invertebrates with a current focus on the impacts of climate change on coral reef species. In recent research, Prof Byrne and her colleagues and students have investigated ecologically important species such as the crown of thorns starfish, the sea cucumbers that comprise the tropical beche-de-mer fishery, foraminifera as key calcifying species and the change in coral reef habitat following bleaching. Most of this research is conducted at One Tree Island and Lizard Island reefs. Over the last 25 years, Professor Byrne’s research has investigated the role of the evolution of development in generating larval diversity and as a mechanism underlying speciation in the sea. Professor Byrne served as President of Australian Marine Sciences Association and on the boards of the National Oceans Advisory Group and the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies. She has published over 200 refereed articles and book chapters.

Iain McCalman is currently a Research Professor of History at the University of Sydney, and Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute. Over his long academic career, Iain has established a national and international reputation as an historian of science, culture and the environment whose work has influenced university scholars and students, government policy makers and broad general publics around the world. He is the author of The Reef —A Passionate History. The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change (2014). In 2007 Iain was awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia for Services to History and the Humanities. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, and the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Royal Society of  New South Wales.