In 1998, the gobies vanished from a section of the Great Barrier Reef as the corals became bleached. The corals have now re-colonized the bleached areas, which are located just of Orpheus Island, but the gobies haven’t returned. This lack of goby fish is puzzling Australian researchers, who had assumed that the gobies would return as soon as the corals bounced back.

Professor David Bellwood from James Cook University says the goby’s failure to repopulate the coral is disturbing, and that it may be an indicator that fish will not return to damaged reefs as fast as first thought.

“What’s happening is they’re not bouncing back, they’re not coming back as fast as we’d expect”, says Bellwood. “These gobies only live for a few weeks – you’d expect them to be turning over very, very fast and they become like an indicator of how the future might be. The reef may never be the same ever again – it’s going to be different, we may have a reef but it’s not going to be like the one we remember and it’s more variable and more unpredictable than we thought.”