Key Info

  • Position Title
    Scientific Officer
  • Section
    Marine Research
    Australian Museum Research Institute

Email Dr Zoe Richards

I am committed to the conservation of coral biodiversity hence my research spans multiple biological disciplines including systematics, evolution and ecology. I gained valuable experience in these disciplines during my PhD when I examined the causes and consequences of rarity in the Coral Genus Acropora.

Research Interests

My research generally revolves around coral biodiversity and how best to monitor and protect it. The immediate problem that I am addressing is that most existing coral reef surveys and monitoring programmes measure cover [the amount of coral per unit area] rather than measuring biodiversity directly, and this means we could be losing coral biodiversity to pollution and climate change without even knowing it. Thus in one aspect of my current research I am exploring how well broad surrogates of biodiversity reflect fine species-level patterns.

I am also interested in the conservation of endangered species and particularly those that are currently designated by the IUCN as ‘data-deficient’.

I am interested in conservation genetics and specifically how hybridization contributes to the generation of genetic diversity in rare species. I am also interested in the impact that pollution has on coral communities and in a recent NOAA funded project, I quantified the diversity and abundance of macro-debris in Majuro lagoon (Marshall Islands) and found the standing stock of macro-debris in Majuro lagoon is the highest reported to date from any marine benthic habitat in the world. Lastly, in an ongoing research project, I am documenting coral biodiversity in the Kimberley region of Australia. Corals in this region are exposed to extreme environmental conditions and in the future I intend to examine the traits that underpin the high level of thermo-tolerance of Kimberley corals.


  • PhD (Biological Science), James Cook University, Townsville, Australia 2010, Rarity in the coral genus Acropora: Implications for biodiversity conservation. Supervisors: David Miller, Bette Willis, Madeleine van Oppen
  • BSc Hons, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia 1998, Bachelor of Science with Honours: VIS Characterisation Methodology – A methodology for using values, issues and sensitivity in Coastal Resource Management.
  • BSc (Biological Science), James Cook University, Australia 1997, Undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and Environmental Science.

My coral taxonomic expertise was developed under the guidance of Dr Carden Wallace at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. In collaboration with Dr Wallace; I have described one new species (Acropora rongelapensis) and published the novel discovery of a new population of ‘elkhorn’ coral in the Pacific Ocean. In my capacity as a coral expert, I have worked for government, industry and NGO’s on a broad variety of national and international coral monitoring, capacity building and research projects.

In my most ambitious and globally significant research project, I documented the resilience of coral biodiversity at Bikini Atoll 50 years after the cessation of nuclear testing. A particularly important conservation outcome of this research was that it contributed towards the recent listing of Bikini Atoll as a World Heritage Area.

Professional Associations

  • Member of the IUCN Coral Specialist Group under the IUCN Species Survival Commission.
  • Journal reviewer for Marine Pollution Bulletin and Marine Biology.

Research Grants

  • Current: Chadwick Biodiversity Fellowship to conduct coral biodiversity research at the Australian Museum.
  • 2011: DOFSubsea – DOMGAS Summer Survey, Rapid Visual Assessment of coral biodiversity at Onslow, WA.
  • 2010: Winifred Violet Scott Estate, Monitoring biodiversity and water quality in the ultimate centre of diversity – Indonesia.
  • 2010: NOAA, Monitoring at Majuro Atoll, in collaboration with the College of the Marshall Islands.
  • 2007: Winifred Violet Scott Estate, Monitoring and Research at Rongelap Atoll - In collaboration with the College of the Marshall Islands.
  • 2005: International Society of Reef Studies Fellowship, PhD Research at James Cook University.
  • 2005: Queensland Smart State PhD Funding.

Collaborative Projects

  • Threatened status of shallow water Indo-Pacific corals More
  • Bikini Atoll World Heritage Area More
  • Kimberley Marine Life Project More
  • Live Action of coral research in the Kimberley More
  • New discoveries from the Kimberley More
  • Natural Resource Assessment Surveys in the Marshall Islands More
  • Ashmore Reef National Marine Reserve
  • Coringa-Herald National Marine Survey More

Selected Web Links


  • Richards, Z.T. and Beger, M. (2011). A quantification of the standing stock of marine debris in Majuro Lagoon, Republic of the Marshall Islands and its effect on coral communities. In-press- Marine Pollution Bulletin.
  • Ceccarelli, D., Beger M, Kospartov M.C., Richards Z.T., and Birrell, CL. (2011). Population trends of remote invertebrate resources in a marine reserve: the case of trochus and holothurians at Ashmore Reef. In-press - Pacific Conservation Biology.
  • Richards, Z.T. and Hobbs, J.P.A. Prehistoric Pacific Island Kings entombed in truncated coral pyramids. In-press - Coral Reefs.
  • Richards, Z.T., Wallace, C.C., and Miller, D.J. (2010). Archetypal ‘elkhorn’ coral discovered in the Pacific Ocean. Systematics and Biodiversity. 8(2): 281-288. Abstract
  • Richards, Z. T., M. Beger, S. Pinca, and C. C. Wallace. (2008). Bikini Atoll coral biodiversity resilience revealed; five decades after nuclear testing. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 56, 503-515 Paper
  • Richards, Z.T., van Oppen, MJH, Wallace, CC, Willis, BL and Miller, DJ. (2008). Some rare Indo-Pacific coral species are probable hybrids. PLoS ONE. September Vol. 3. Issue 9. E3240. Paper
  • Kent E. Carpenter, Muhammad Abrar, Greta Aeby, Richard B. Aronson, Stuart Banks, Andrew Bruckner, Angel Chiriboga, Jorge Cortés, J. Charles Delbeek, Lyndon DeVantier, Graham J. Edgar, Alasdair J. Edwards, Douglas Fenner, Héctor M. Guzmán, Bert W. Hoeksema, Gregor Hodgson, Ofri Johan, Wilfredo Y. Licuanan, Suzanne R. Livingstone, Edward R. Lovell, Jennifer A. Moore, David O. Obura, Domingo Ochavillo, Beth A. Polidoro, William F. Precht, Miledel C. Quibilan, Clarissa Reboton, Zoe T. Richards, Alex D. Rogers, Jonnell Sanciangco, Anne Sheppard, Charles Sheppard, Jennifer Smith, Simon Stuart, Emre Turak, John E. N. Veron, Carden Wallace, Ernesto Weil, and Elizabeth Wood. (2008). One-Third of Reef-Building Corals Face Elevated Extinction Risk from Climate Change and Local Impacts. Science. Vol 321, Issue 5888, p. 560-563 Abstract
  • E. L. Peterson, M. Beger, Z. T. Richards. (2008). Thinking Outside the Reef. Science Letter, Vol 319, p1759.
  • Beger, M., Jacobson, D., Pinca, S., Richards, Z., Hess, D., Harriss, F., Page, C., Peterson, E., Baker, N. (2008). "The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the Republic of the Marshall Islands" in: The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the US and Pacific Freely Ass.States: 2008, Waddell, J.E. and A.M. Clarke (eds.), NOAA. Chapter & Book
  • E. L. Peterson, M. Beger, Z. T. Richards. (2007). Hydrodynamics and biodiversity used to propose MPAs at Rongelap Atoll. IMPAC1 Proceedings.
  • Richards, Z.T. & Wallace, C.C. (2004). Acropora rongelapensis sp. nov., a new species of Acropora from the Marshall Islands (Scleractinia: Astrocoeniina: Acroporidae). Zootaxa, 590: 1-5. Paper
  • Wallace, C.C., Richards , Z., and Suharsono. 2001. Regional distribution patterns of Acropora in Indonesia and their use in conservation. Indonesian Journal of Coastal and Marine Resources, Vol. 1, September, 2001. Abstract

Technical Reports

  • Richards, Z. DOMGAS Summer Survey Report – Rapid Visual Assessment of Coral Biodiversity, prepared for DoFSubsea and Aquenal.
  • Richards, Z., Beger, M., Hobbs, J-P., Bowling, T., Chong-seng, K., and Pratchett, M. 2009. Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve and Cartier Island Marine Reserve Marine Survey 2009. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Produced for the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.
  • Cecarelli, D. Choat, H, Ayling, T. Richards, Z., Van Herwerden, L., Ayling, A., Ewels, G and Hobbs, JP and Cuff, B. 2008 Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve Marine Survey 2007. Prepared for the Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts, by C&R Consulting and James Cook University.
  • Cecarelli, D., Kospartov, M., Beger, M, Richards, Z and Birrell, C. 2007. An assessment of the impacts of illegal fishing on invertebrate stocks at Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve. 2006. C & R Consulting, for DEWHA.
  • Beger, M & Richards, Z. 2007. Finding Napo: Conservation of Napoleon Wrasse and Rare Corals. An assessment of rare coral reef organisms from Rongelap and Rongelap Atolls in the Marshall Islands prepared for BO-Conservation Programme. Report
  • Kospartov, M., Beger, M., Ceccarelli, D., and Richards, Z. 2006. An assessment of the distribution and abundance of sea cucumbers, trochus, giant clams, coral, fish and invasive marine species at Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve and Cartier Island Marine Reserve: 2005. Uniquest Pty Ltd. For DEWHA. Abstract
  • Pinca, S., Beger., M., Richards, Z., and Peterson, E. 2002. Coral Reef Biodiversity Community-based Assessment and Conservation Planning in the Marshall Islands: Baseline surveys, capacity building and natural protection and management of coral reefs of the atolls of Bikini and Rongelap. Report to the Rongelap Government, Republic of the Marshall Islands. Report