Abbey et al. 2013

scientific article | Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol

Deglacial mesophotic reef demise on the Great Barrier Reef

Abbey E, Webster JM, Braga JC, Jacobsen GE, Thorogood G, Thomas AL, Camoin G, Reimer PJ, Potts DC


Submerged reefs are important recorders of palaeo-environments and sea-level change, and provide a substrate for modern mesophotic (deep-water, light-dependent) coral communities. Mesophotic reefs are rarely, if ever, described from the fossil record and nothing is known of their long-term record on Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Sedimentological and palaeo-ecological analyses coupled with 67 14C AMS and U–Th radiometric dates from dredged coral, algae and bryozoan specimens, recovered from depths of 45 to 130 m, reveal two distinct generations of fossil mesophotic coral community development on the submerged shelf edge reefs of the GBR. They occurred from 13 to 10 ka and 8 ka to present. We identified eleven sedimentary facies representing both autochthonous (in situ) and allochthonous (detrital) genesis, and their palaeo-environmental settings have been interpreted based on their sedimentological characteristics, biological assemblages, and the distribution of similar modern biota within the dredges. Facies on the shelf edge represent deep sedimentary environments, primarily forereef slope and open platform settings in palaeo-water depths of 45–95 m. Two coral–algal assemblages and one non-coral encruster assemblage were identified: 1) Massive and tabular corals including Porites, Montipora and faviids associated with Lithophylloids and minor Mastophoroids, 2) platy and encrusting corals including Porites, Montipora and Pachyseris associated with melobesioids and Sporolithon, and 3) Melobesiods and Sporolithon with acervulinids (foraminifera) and bryozoans. Based on their modern occurrence on the GBR and Coral Sea and modern specimens collected in dredges, these are interpreted as representing palaeo-water depths of < 60 m, < 80–100 m and > 100 m respectively. The first mesophotic generation developed at modern depths of 85–130 m from 13 to 10.2 ka and exhibit a deepening succession of < 60 to > 100 m palaeo-water depth through time. The second generation developed at depths of 45–70 m on the shelf edge from 7.8 ka to present and exhibit stable environmental conditions through time. The apparent hiatus that interrupted the mesophotic coral communities coincided with the timing of modern reef initiation on the GBR as well as a wide-spread flux of siliciclastic sediments from the shelf to the basin. For the first time we have observed the response of mesophotic reef communities to millennial scale environmental perturbations, within the context of global sea-level rise and environmental changes.

Research sites
Depth range
46- 173 m

Mesophotic “mentions”
61 x (total of 8597 words)

* Presents original data
* Focused on `mesophotic` depth range
* Focused on `mesophotic coral ecosystem`


Overall benthic (groups)
Scleractinia (Hard Corals)

Australia - Great Barrier Reef

Dredging / trawling

Author profiles