This volume of papers grew out of a session titled ‘Modern reefs and reef islands: reflections and resonance of David Stoddart’s contributions to coral reef science’ held on the first day of the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu, Hawaii in June 2016. The session aimed to recognize the late David Stoddart’s pioneering research and organizational initiatives in the development of coral reef science over the last few decades. The present contributions are a derivative of that session and are arranged in sequence that reflects major phases of Stoddart’s field activity from British Honduras (Belize) in the early 1960s through French Polynesia in the 1990s. This sequence is introduced in a summary of over 240 of Stoddart’s writings on coral reefs that covers the key themes and regions as well as a comprehensive bibliography of those writings. Two locations where Stoddart had a constant interest were Belize on the Atlantic coast of Central America; and Aldabra in the western Indian Ocean. Contributions on both of these locations are included here: the first being a review of marine research in the Belize atolls since the early work of Stoddart, who noted that these were not Darwinian atolls but part of a massive carbonate platform; the second being a study of the benthic communities and bathymetry of the lagoon at Aldabra.
In 1973 Stoddart led his largest, longest and most complex expedition to the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Four papers relate specifically to that expedition three of which include members of the 1973 team as authors. The first deals with the ‘voyage of discovery’ to explore the deltaic and ribbon reefs of the then virtually unknown northernmost sector of the GBR, whilst the second documents decadal scale shoreline changes at Heron Island at the southern end of the GBR. The other two papers on the GBR trace their roots directly back to the 1973 expedition with one reflecting on the last four decades of debate about Holocene sea level history and the legacy of the 1973 expedition to that debate, and the other investigates patterns in the number of plant species on 43 reef islands and identifies significant differences between the northern and southern GBR islands. Reef top vegetation, specifically mangroves, is also the theme of the next paper that compares mangroves on the ‘islands’ or ‘ranges’ within the Belize barrier and those on the ‘low wooded islands’ of the GBR, the contrasting mangrove extent and diversity providing insights into the geomorphology of both reefs and morphodynamics of the islands that form on them.
The final two papers are formerly unpublished contributions by Stoddart. The first is a critique on field survey accuracy, tidal datums and the interpretation of results relating to the atolls and islands of French Polynesia, whilst the second reflects Stoddart’s interest in some of the great personalities in the history of coral reef research in this case Alexander Agassiz. Context and background material on both of these contributions is given in special introductory comments.